Nov 24, 2014

AAC Device Vocabulary Selection and Customization.

We have been in the process selecting a new AAC vocabulary for Ainsley's NovaChat7 AAC device.  I have spent countless hours on the computer researching, testing, and mostly editing over the last month.  What started out as me editing Ainsley's existing vocab and adding new pages morphed into a major editing. After spending a 3rd weekend in a row doing little else I want to explain why with a video. First you need to understand the underlying shift in thinking that is explained in this excerpt from the blog PrAACtical AAC. I've underlined the points I want to emphasize.
Among the many changes that the AAC field has experienced in the last decade is the notion that core vocabulary is (or should be) an integral part of any AAC system. We grew to understand the limitations of AAC supports that consist primarily of nouns and descriptors, realizing that those kinds of communication displays restricted our clients to requesting and labeling. Our field realized the inadequacy of providing only prestored messages (e.g., limited the client’s ability to communicate anything novel, not flexible enough to meet most communication needs, etc.). In essence, we realized that without core vocabulary, we were imposing a ceiling on language development.
Read the full article here.
If the only way to provide the ability to truly communicate in a way similar to speaking individuals (assuming the choice of an AAC over other options like ASL) is through an AAC using a word based sentence building system (rather than a phrase based one) then that is the direction we need to go for Ainsley. We want that for her. The big question is when to make the switch. I got a bit of pushback from some of the school staff but I'm holding my ground and we are making the change now. I understand their reservations. Initially I didn't think she was ready to take on a more complex system because she has primarily used her device for requesting and labeling. As I thought more about it it dawned on me that there is no way for us to know if she was ready to build sentences because her old vocabulary didn't have the capability and limited the things she could express with it, simply by its design. She would never be able to demonstrate capability with a device that isn't capable.

Although there is logic to the idea that "if it aint broke don't fix it" how do you know it "aint broke" when your child can't tell you or show you? There is no reason to wait until she is frustrated by the limited AAC. Certainly there is no question that there are things Ainsley would like to express that she couldn't with her previous vocabulary and that will only increase over time because the old vocab had a limited number of words and phrases. Although we could expand it again, as we have in the past, that would just delay the inevitable and still leave her with a limited AAC without working on sentence building skills. I think the real the question is can she learn to use a more sophisticated system. I say YES! I know it will take time and work but she is capable. The reason to do it now is that lately she has shown a real increase in her desire to communicate. This is a mindset shift.  It is not just that she is much more interested in her AAC but also that she is asking questions using body language and signs as well as trying to comment about what she sees going on around her, using the limited means she has. In other words she WANTS TO COMMUNICATE. She is eager and ready to learn and that is why I'm working so hard to try to give her a means to do so.  The video below explains and shows the reasons we selected the new vocabulary and why we are taking on the huge task of customizing it.


  1. My most sincere thanks, this was really helpful. <3

  2. Slowly catching up on Ainsley's progress... so happy she is doing well & decanulated. You are doing wonderful things.
    -Bodie's Dad.