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Families need guidance before buying a communication app for autism

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Many families who have children with autism are in need of guidance before purchasing a communication app. These apps, which are often advertised with videos showing positive outcomes, are targeted at children with limited or no functional speech. However, families often find that the app loses its novelty before any significant communication improvements are seen. In frustration, they seek help from school or medical professionals, who may refer them to experts in augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). These specialists recommend a full assessment to find the best AAC solutions for the child, which may not involve the purchased app.

This scenario has been occurring for the past decade since the introduction of the first comprehensive communication app for autism. While AAC communication apps have become more accessible to families in the past decade, thanks to lower costs and availability on mobile devices, families often purchase these devices and apps first and seek professional help later. This may not be effective for individuals with autism. Educators and medical professionals should be aware of parents being lured by promises of quick success and encourage full AAC assessments.

It is important to note that technology alone cannot fix communication without proper instruction and personalization. Mobile technologies, such as tablets and smartphones, are now central to everyday interactions, normalizing AAC use. They are more affordable than specialized AAC devices, with costs ranging from $300 to $800 compared to $7,000. Both mobile and specialized AAC devices offer a wide range of sophisticated software options. However, it is crucial to learn how to use communication apps properly, as they are often not intuitive. AAC users need instruction on both using the technology and basic communication skills.

Successful AAC users typically receive regular instruction from school-based speech-language pathologists and additional private services. Simple interventions teaching adults and peers to provide extra time and model communication with AAC can positively impact communication. Practical actions help identify AAC usage contexts, create opportunities, and practice using apps and solutions in everyday activities. Personalization is crucial for effective communication for children with autism, encompassing technology, instruction, and communication contexts.

AAC assessments determine specific needs for each child, such as symbol size, complexity, and support. Personalized instruction considers each family’s unique needs, including cultural, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds. AAC experts assist families in identifying important communication contexts and finding effective solutions. Connecting families to AAC experts and securing assessments before investing in specific apps is crucial. Regular instruction and personalized attention remain necessary even after identifying the right app for children to reach their full potential.

In conclusion, families need guidance before buying a communication app for autism. Technology alone is not enough to address communication challenges in children with autism. AAC assessments and personalized instruction are necessary for effective communication. It is important for families to connect with AAC experts and receive regular instruction to ensure the best outcomes for their children.

Cathy Binger is associate professor of speech-language pathology at the University of New Mexico.

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Psychologist

Dr. Kenneth Roberson

Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Adult Autism Psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience. Click below to ask a question or schedule an appointment.

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