What benefits will I receive from using a communication App? Part 1 of 5

The use of a communication App provides a person with a form of functional communication. Functional communication is essential for the progress of any person with complex communication needs. Functional communication is a process that occurs in a real life setting, results in the exchange of ideas and is used spontaneously (Bradshaw, 2013). The purpose of functional communication is to provide a platform for a person to be able to freely and independently express their needs, wants, desires and share information. In past times in Ireland people with complex communication needs have not had the privilege of accessing readily available Augmentative and Alternative Communication systems. This was a complex process with little or no resources. Even though, the system remains complex access to functional forms of communication is now possible. This shift in perspective is attributed to the UN Convention on the rights of people with disabilities. This convention is very clear on its position in the availability of AAC systems for people with disabilities. Thus, people with disabilities have been given the right to choose their preferred form of functional communication, which includes AAC systems. This shift has prompted a shift in the AAC sector with the development of Apps and the use of mobile devices as AAC systems. However, questions need to be posed to identify the true value of these ubiquitous systems for the population that require them. Evidence based research is required in order to establish this and definitively outline the potential benefits. As previously outlined in my other blog post (What are the benefits to using a communication app?), there are five evidence based potential benefits to using a communication App. This post provides an extensive account of the first benefit of increased communication. The increase in communication can be attributed to people’s preference to using a mobile device and App as opposed to traditional AAC methods.

Particularly for children, there is a natural attraction to engaging with a mobile device and App. The intuitive design of the Apps and devices acts as a catalyst for engagement. Due to the fact that we are predominantly visual learners, especially those with Autism Spectrum Disorders, we are naturally attracted to the use of screens and technology. Another key aspect that impacts on our motivation to engage more with technology is its behaviour. Technology behaves in a consistent manner; unlike humans. Thus, if using a device and App as a medium to communicate we eliminate the social anxieties around the concept of eye to eye communication. In order to present this benefit in full three aspects require investigation; language acquisition, spontaneous communication and verbal abilities.

Language acquisition is an ability to produce, use and understand words for the purpose of communication. There are six stages of language acquisition that a child engages in and success of each stage is dependent on each individual child: pre-talking, babbling, one word stage (holophrastic), two word stage, telegraph stage and later multiworld (Kamalani Hurley, 2015). Each of these six stages are applicable to the development of communication for a child with complex communication needs who is using a communication App with a mobile device. The use of communication Apps and mobile devices effects language acquisition for people with complex communication needs in two particular areas: spontaneous communication and verbal abilities.

Spontaneous Communication

Evidence based research suggests that as a result of communicating through a mobile device, the instances of spontaneous communication increased among people with complex communication needs. This can again be associated to their intuitive use of mobile devices which leads to a motivation to communicate. The use of a mobile device provides greater accessibility for a person to develop skills in spontaneous communication. People with complex communication needs develop expressive communication skills as a result of using a mobile device and App and increase their requesting skills as a result of using a mobile device and communication App. Instances of communication have also seen an increase through using mobile devices and Apps when compared to the use of traditional AAC methods.

The development of spontaneous communication also refers to the development of verbal abilities. Verbal abilities is the development of both expressive and receptive language skills. Research is evidencing that communication Apps encourage the development of verbal abilities for people with complex communication needs.

Verbal abilities

The development of verbal abilities is a key component of communication that is encouraged in the majority of AAC systems. If a person is unable to achieve verbal abilities they are still encouraged to attempt these through prompting from communicative partners. This in turn increases the instances of social engagement and interaction during communication exchanges. A feature that holds potential to increase verbal abilities for people with complex communication needs is voice output. A voice output feature is present when an automatic voice is produced upon selection of a symbol/image. Voice output should occur within half a second of selection of the image/symbol in order to immediately reinforce the person with complex communication needs. Failure to produce the voice output within this timeframe runs the risk of missing an opportunity for learning. Evidence suggests that there can be an 88% success rate in relation to speech development that can be attributed directly to the use of voice output. This is an important feature to consider; however, not all users require this and may in fact be distracted by the voice output. Thus, creating a barrier to communication and hindering their development.

In conclusion, this post has provided an extensive account of three aspects of communication that hold the potential to be developed as a result of using a mobile device and communication App as a form of AAC. Language acquisition, spontaneous communication and verbal abilities are important elements of communication and should be included in the prospecs of development in any communication intervention.

Miriam ❤


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