I think too often professionals and caregivers of AAC users only focus on using AAC – especially symbols-based systems – for communicative functions such as requesting. That really limits how much can actually be done with these powerful apps! I use my symbols-based AAC (Proloquo2Go) in a much wider variety of ways; here’s some examples:
Picture schedule: Why buy a separate set of physical or electronic event/task images when you already have symbols based AAC? AAC users or our support people can create a page to edit each night for the upcoming day, or create folders for the sequences of steps in complicated activities like cooking. Many of us who struggle with transitions and executive dysfunction can benefit from visual supports like this.
Flashcards: By creating a folder of vocabulary we’re trying to learn in a second language, setting the buttons to show image only, and programming the speak field to feature the foreign word, AAC users can use their symbols-based AAC system as a flashcards studying app. This is especially useful for learners like me who do best in immersion settings – other flashcards and picture dictionaries are always mixing in English, which can make it harder to learn the new language. (Please note that this idea should be used only for self-directed learners, not for forcing emerging communicators to go through drills to prove their competence.)
Navigate meltdowns: Some AAC users who usually use text-to-speech on a QWERTY keyboard may find that they lose this ability during meltdowns and shutdowns – but that they may still be able to use a symbols-based system during these times. One major reason I like having Proloquo2Go as well as Proloquo4Text (which is QWERTY-based) is that I can switch to symbols when necessary. Last year I had to go to class in the midst of this situation, and it turned out my classmate was totally cool with me composing messages via images to say things like “have meltdown hard communicate”. Normally I’d be able to type on QWERTY more complex sentences like “I just had a meltdown and am still having a hard time communicating”, but in that moment if it weren’t for a symbols-based program I wouldn’t have been able to interact at all.
Write poetry: AAC users can select images that evoke a scene and then use the words to write a poem describing the feeling it gives us. I especially enjoy poetry because poets are given more leeway to break the rules of “proper English”, something that AAC users are often discouraged from doing. But communication is about conveying an idea, not about grammar and syntax and spelling and pronunciation! If we can get our message across using a haphazard series of nouns and verbs, that is still valid communication. Poetry is a venue where this kind of creative use of words can be valued.
Write prose: AAC users can write school assignments or even extracurricular fiction by composing their sentences in a symbols-based app and then copy and pasting into a word processor. I have written sections of my novels this way!
Post to social media/emails: Similarly, by composing a message in our symbol-based apps and then copy and pasting to social media or email, AAC users can participate in online communities using the kind of communication we prefer. I sometimes use my symbols-based app to livetweet my favorite TV shows; it’s a great way to share my special interests with others and get more familiar with the app.
Give presentations: AAC users can program our scripts into a series of buttons and practice by running a stopwatch to make sure our words play in the desired amount of time. This could be for a school project, an open mic night, advocating for ourselves at an IEP meeting, or meeting with our senators on disability rights issues. I regularly use my device to give presentations about autism, disability, accessibility, and AAC.
Special interest infodump: Autistic AAC users like me might enjoy utilizing the way symbols-based systems organize categories and folders to store information about our special interests. I have folders full of hundreds of Harry Potter characters, spells, et cetera, so that I can talk about the canon I love with other fans.
Vocal stimming and echolalia: Many autistic people like me use vocal stimming and echolalia to modulate our sensory environment and communicate. This shouldn’t be limited to speaking people; it’s a totally valid way to use AAC! Don’t discourage us from “playing” with our systems – having the freedom to press buttons over and over, to use buttons that repeat phrases from our favorite movies, or to play buttons at random as experimentation can encourage emerging communicators to feel comfortable using AAC.
Prompt speech: This isn’t commonly understood, but some of us can speak words aloud only when they are in front of us visually. So we can use an AAC system to compose what we want to say, and once we have selected the right buttons we may be able to read the screen aloud rather than using our device’s synthesized speech. Please don’t pressure us to do this, and don’t expect us to read a message you composed for us! This is just one more tool that may give us additional agency over our communication.
I hope you got some new ideas from this list that you can try out and share with other AAC users! If you have discovered more creative uses for your own AAC, please add your thoughts in a comment below.