Therapists & Interventionists

Removing The Limits Of AAC

It’s an exciting time in the world of AAC. Every year advancements and discoveries bring a new world of developmental opportunities for individuals with differences of speech or language expression, but with these differences also come challenges. Despite the strides made by AAC experts, it is all too common for these challenges to persist. For every method in the interventionist’s toolbox there is an uphill battle in applying it to its fullest potential.

Symbol speaking can be difficult

When an individual who is nonverbal is introduced to a symbol system, the difficulty in language expression is not overcome immediately. Symbol speaking can be just as difficult in the beginning as verbal language expression. This difficulty is about the communication partner developing proficiency with the speech-generating device. To put it simply, even interventionists struggle to communicate with symbol speakers with anywhere near the same frequency and complexity of language as with verbal speakers. As a result of that inherent difficulty, many symbol speakers are limited in their immersion and exposure to their symbol system. It’s estimated that symbol speakers only receive aided AAC input for 10% of the total verbal input they receive from trained families and interventionists (Romski & Sevcik, 2003). Does that mean it can take the symbol speaker ten times longer to develop expressive language as English speakers? Could it be that the symbol speaker will only develop 10% of their language potential, or that the symbol speaker will only communicate 10% of the meanings for 10% of the reasons? We don’t know for sure, but the current outcomes indicate that many symbol speakers do not develop beyond one-word messages (Erickson & Geist, 2016).

Proficiency requires consistency

Perhaps the greatest hurdle with introducing an AAC symbol system is taking it from the training session into everyday life. It may seem daunting or even cumbersome to many parents or childcare providers to utilize the symbol system in every interaction, every context, and with every person in the learner’s life, yet the developing expressive language is diminished without that necessary level of immersion. If symbol speakers do not receive the same level of meaningful engagement with symbolic communication as verbal speakers, then they are not afforded the same meaningful modeling that is taken for granted in verbal speakers or even with sign language. The inherent difficulties faced in developing nonverbal communication into verbal symbolic communication are compounded by inconsistent immersion of the symbol system. 

Consistency requires immersion

Such causes of intermittent communication in symbols vary based on the communication partner’s lack of proficiency with the symbol speaker’s speech-generating device or AAC system to the lag time between verbal and symbolic speech (von Tetzchner, 2018). Even the disparity between matching the communication partner’s verbal speech with the speech-generating device can account for breaking the immersion. Once the immersion is lost, then the attention of the symbol speaker is not far behind. Without increasing immersion to consistent and constant levels, the symbol speaker’s glass ceiling of language development cannot be breached.

AAC in groups

The difficulties presented on a one-on-one basis multiply exponentially in a group setting. Attempts to manually switch between multiple low-tech communication systems or AAC devices in any sort of continuous capacity are extremely daunting to say the least. The ability to quickly switch between symbol systems is currently lacking for therapists and teachers. Script-based therapy where the interventionist and/or communication partner quickly falls by the wayside when the symbol speaker falls off script. This makes dynamic conversation almost impossible, especially in a group setting.

As a result, many symbol speakers settle only for developing key words rather than rising to full syntax in their expressive language. (Erickson & Geist, 2016)

sisters using the Symbol-It app

Symbol-It is designed to address all of these difficulties

Symbol-It allows the communication partner to speak continuously with the symbol speaker in mutually meaningful and unscripted expressions with no delays. Symbol speakers will develop their receptive language in their symbol system as Symbol-It displays the symbols associated with verbal speech at the speed of verbal communication. This real-time speech-to-symbol translation simulates the melody and inflection of verbal speech while producing messages in picture symbols. Easy switching between symbol systems allows for fluid communication between multiple symbol speakers in every conversational setting, including classrooms. Symbol-It allows even those who are unfamiliar with symbol systems to communicate proficiently with symbol speakers, which expands the pool of potential communication partners to literally anybody with the mobile app.

Symbol-It accomplishes Dual-Symbol Immersion

By overcoming the difficulties of current options, Symbol-it unlocks the full potential of AAC language development. Symbol speakers will not only learn to communicate with the proficiency and confidence associated with verbal speech, but are able to begin developing the literacy skills also associated with verbal language. With the Dual-Symbol Immersion between verbal and symbol speech, the symbol speaker is positioned to overcome the asymmetrical language code barrier (described by Smith & Grove, 2003) between their symbol system and their environment. 

Once Symbol-It removes these obstacles, then the symbol immersion level rises far above the estimated 10% of verbal input into a rate that tracks with normative developing language skills. With Symbol-It in hand, AAC is finally able to deliver the language development outcome that was never thought possible.

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