If one AAC device cannot fit all, why would one AAC app fit all?

Many years ago, when I got involved with assistive technology at Temple University’s Assistive Technology institute, the one thing I learned and heard most often was “you need to find the device that matches the needs of the child”. The lesson continues with  “ there is no such a thing as the best AAC device, but the best match for that child”. Why is it then that all of a sudden some administrators of educational institutions and even communication specialists are creating a bad reputation for the iPad as an AAC tool by recommending that schools purchase 2000 copies of the SAME communication app!?

Last school year, as I traveled all over the US presenting. the single thing I heard  most often was “ My school district bought the _____ communication application for all our special education students” and of course after they say that they wish that the administrators had consulted them because some of them don’t even like _____ app that much. My issue is of course not whether or not the therapists personally like the app, but the fact that the school will now bypass an evaluation and push that specific application for communication on all of their students. I know that this movement is partly a result of Apple’s Volume Purchase Program, which gives education institutions 50% off the purchase of the apps when more than 20 copies of the same app is purchased. The picture gets even more distorted as the mass media outlets fall in love or give coverage to just one or two particular apps with the reporters not really understanding the importance for “matching the app to the student” (or even of the existence of alternatives). Lastly, if we add into the equation the fact that many administrators can sometimes be led  to make decisions without consulting those who will be using the application or someone who knows a bit more about what is really needed, and it’s easy to see how things may have gotten a little out of hand.

I don’t think the problem of buying 3864876 copies of the SAME app would be the same if we are talking about an articulation, language, or even a fluency application; however communications apps must be chosen based on individual needs.  The number and variety of communications applications are growing daily, and in my presentations I always bring out that apps could fall on a spectrum of complexity which must be taken into consideration.

I think that many SLPs may end up buying many AAC apps, and use different ones with different students.

Even if some AAC applications offer a range of solutions, I have a hard time seeing how one app can fit all needs.

This by no means should be a post to discourage the purchase of A, B, or C application, but to alert and draw attention to the problem that many SLPs have been concerned about over the past year. Also I am hoping that administrators themselves will read this and consult with their SLPs, and special education teachers before buying a particular AAC app as specialized knowledge in this area is more critical than ever when it comes to finding what is appropriate for each student.

Lastly, I’d like to congratulate those schools who have been doing an amazing job  of creating teams for selecting and purchasing apps that best fit their individual students (especially when it comes to AAC), and best serve their student populations.

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