As a travelling Speech and Language Therapist, I find that the size of my handbag is ever increasing due to the sheer amount of resources that I carry from place to place. Toys, stickers, games, therapy materials and a full battery of comprehensive assessments….I can just about lift the bag!
When working with my AAC caseload, I find my bag is somewhat lighter. I considered this recently and came to the conclusion that this is due to the lack of formal, standardised assessments for this population….And yet, assessment is so important when it comes to working with children using AAC. It helps us to set targets, monitor progress and highlight those areas that a child really requires extra support within.
A few years ago, I made my own informal assessment screening tool. It’s not that impressive- it’s a word document with tick boxes that requires you to have a bank of core symbols, communication boards, switches and motivators to hand!
But more recently, a number of new AAC assessment tools have been developed…And being a Geek SLT, I am loving trying them out! So I thought I’d list some of the tools I’ve been experimenting with and provide a brief low-down for teachers and SLTs who are keen to expand on their AAC assessment range!
The Dynamic AAC Goals Grid
This is a pretty exciting resource that I am currently a little obsessed with. Created by Tobii Dynavox it can be downloaded for the iPad alongside their fabulous communication app ‘Snap + Core First’. The sister app is called Pathways and it’s within this app that you find the Goals Grid.
One of the things that I love most about the Goals Grid is that it considers Janice Light’s well established research within the field of AAC. She discusses the 4 key areas of communication competency required to be a successful AAC user: linguistic competence, operational competence, social competence and strategic competence.
The Goals Grid takes these 4 areas and gives you a checklist for each. The iPad app then provides you with a handy percentage so that you can quickly see the ‘level’ that your child is functioning within- emergent, emergent transitional, context dependent, transitional independent and independent.
You can then quickly see the areas that the child needs to focus on to progress to the next level. The clever thing about the app is that there is also a ‘Build Skills’ section which provides you with top hints, handouts and in-depth information on targeting specific core words! Amazing!
If, like me, you quite like a paper version of your assessment, here’s the link: https://www.mydynavox.com/Content/resources/slp-app/Goals-Goals-Goals/the-dynamic-aac-goals-grid-2-dagg-2.pdf
Handy to print out, fill in and place in a student’s file to frequently review progress!
The Communication Matrix
This is a fabulous free (love that word!) online resource. All you need to do is create an account here: https://communicationmatrix.org/Matrix/MatrixChart/Mobile/270538
You can then create profiles for multiple students.
The Matrix asks you a series of questions about skills that the child you are working with may be displaying. One of the nice features is that it also shows you a video clip of the skill in question e.g. examples of how a child might attract attention/protest/request more of something, etc. This includes non-verbal responses that may be used pre-AAC such as body movements or vocalisations.
When you have completed the question section, you are then presented with a colour-coded grid, clearly demonstrating skills that are consolidated, emerging or not yet present.
I find that this is a useful tool for starting out with a child on their AAC journey as it starts with the basics and considers simple factors such as non-verbal cues and vocalisations. It can give you an indication of the first steps for a child who doesn’t currently have a formal communication system. You can also save and print the Grid and return to it as an when you need to update information.
The Pragmatics Profile for People who use AAC
If you are an SLT you are probably aware of the standard Pragmatics Profile and have spent many an afternoon completing it with parents and teachers!
This is a clever adaptation of the original profile but specifically for AAC users. You can find it here, on the ACE Centre website: https://acecentre.org.uk/resources/pragmatics-profile-people-use-aac/ Again, it’s FREE!!
This is a nice way to gather information and evidence about a child’s communication skills, involving the people who know them best- family and/or education staff. It provides really comprehensive information that you can then consider when setting goals.
CARLA (Computer based accessible receptive language assessment)
One of the reasons why typical standardised assessments can be tricky to use with some children who use AAC is that they require direct access e.g pointing to a picture or manipulating objects in Derbyshire Language style assessments. Yes, you can adapt a BPVS with something such as an E-TRAN frame but it’s highly time-consuming!
The unique feature of the CARLA software is that it has multiple access methods- eye-gaze, auditory scanning, switching and finger-pointing!! How clever is that?! You can download a free trial here: https://www.techcess.co.uk/carla/
The assessment looks at understanding of basic vocabulary from nouns and concepts to verbs. It then examines understanding of information carrying words- Can the child listen for 2 or 3 key words in an instruction? Clear, colour photographs are used to make the assessment visually accessible. Results are then transferred into a Microsoft Excel document.
So at last we have a tool that can provide quantitative data for a child who needs an alternative access method….And we can then pinpoint areas of understanding that the child may require support with before working on that area expressively through AAC.
For example, I recently used the CARLA assessment with a young girl who I work with who uses an eye-gaze communication aid. She seems to have got ‘stuck’ on single words and carrier phrases and I wanted to get to the bottom of why this may be. It soon became clear that her understanding of verbs was inconsistent. So by targeting her understanding of verbs we can then begin to develop her use of them, building towards 2 word phrases such as person + verb.
You may have noticed a theme in the assessments that I have listed… They are all free to use or trial! That’s always a bonus!
It’s definitely worth considering how each assessment can further examine different areas of an AAC user’s communication- from the beginnings of intentional communication, to receptive language, functional communication and operational use of an AAC device…There is so much to consider! Setting goals for children who use AAC just got easier!