All About SpeechTree: A PrAACtical AAC Learning Perspective
by Dr. Robin Parker, SLP
Overall, the Communication Leaf is a great component part of SpeechTree as an AAC app for new AAC learners and facilitators. We know that using AAC requires teaching, multiple opportunities, and a lot of practice. SpeechTree integrates evidence based AAC principles into the app design which helps make it easy for facilitators to teach and AAC users to learn. For that reason alone we are very excited. But there is more for AAC teaching…
SpeechTree also contains a Lesson ‘Leaf’. The lessons are set up using applied behavioral analysis methodology. Settings can customize anything from reinforcement to cueing. The lessons are arranged in three parts: teaching, receptive and expressive. All the lessons are organized according by category (i.e., animals, food,activities, body parts and clothing etc.). For each category the teaching part allows the learner to look at and hear target words. For receptive lessons, the learner listens and identifies spoken words. The learner sees 6 pictures and must choose the target spoken word. There are systematic prompts so if the learner identifies the wrong word, the field automatically decreases to 4 then 2 then 1. We love the focus on positive learning. Great care was taken to support AAC learners. In the Expressive learning section, the learner is asked to ‘Tell me what this is”. The learner activates the AAC symbol/picture to answer. The image goes to the message window and once the message window is activated the answer is spoken. We absolutely love this because that is how the AAC user would talk to answer questions as well as to initiate sentences and conversation. One consideration here would be to do at least some of the expressive part of the lesson with a facilitator so that if the learner answers with natural speech, the facilitator can reinforce the spoken language (preferably with an expansion – ‘yummy strawberries’ versus good talking. But it is still essential to remember that it is TALKING whether answering with a communication symbol or natural speech.
Receptive before Expressive?
Not necessarily. It is tempting to think that a learner should build receptive language skills through the interactive Lessons before beginning with the AAC app. Or it may be tempting to wait to add new vocabulary to the AAC app until it is mastered in the lessons. However, this would be a huge mistake. AAC users can communicate expressively with specific vocabulary before being able to identify that vocabulary in a receptive language identification task. We all can learn receptive and expressive language concepts simultaneously. Think about when you got your first computer. Did you read the manual before you began using it? Did you wait at all or did you start typing and clicking? Sometimes we all learn from doing. This same principle can be applied. The AAC user can begin activating their AAC device and will learn when the communication partner responds. If they activate cells and get the things they like or someone responds with a comment the learner will begin paying attention to see what happens. The lessons/vocabulary learning helps teach new vocabulary for a robust language foundation and improved auditory comprehension but are not a prerequisite for communicating with the Communication portion of SpeechTree.
Everyone will love the automatic data recording for each of the lessons. Each lesson is represented in a bar graph with correct percentages for both first and second attempts. Individual lessons can also be viewed to determine incorrect choices. Notes can be taken for each lesson which is great to chart anything atypical during the session, any patterns noticed or anything of clinical importance. These detailed data reports can be printed or emailed from within the app. The data can be collected on multiple learners which is like a dream come true for many clinicians (and teachers, and parents).
As always, we have a wish list. It would be great if many more categories of words (verbs, adjectives, etc) were added to the lessons. Word prediction would be great in the text to speech feature. Some color and grammar coding features also would be helpful. And last but not least, we always love to see a free or lite version.
SpeechTree was created by Angela Desideri, an internationally recognized speech-language pathologist with many years of experience working with children with autism and complex communication needs. She has provided significant support for learning about the app, AAC, and teaching strategies. It is so exciting to watch for updates and new features.
Watch this to ‘see’ what you just read about: http://youtu.be/viaJE_gMNXo
HOT OFF THE PRESS:
SpeechTree app was just updated to now include speak item on touch and 400-500 additional vocabulary.
Dr. Robin Parker is a Program Professor and Clinical Supervisor in the Graduate Programs in Speech, Language, and Communication at Nova Southeastern University. She also is the Senior Director of the University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (UM-NSU CARD) at NSU.
Dr. Parker works with children and adults who have significant communication difficulties due to autism spectrum disorders. She specializes in using augmentative and alternative communication strategies and technology to facilitate communication and language skills. She believes ALL children CAN learn communication, language, and literacy skills if they are given appropriate visual supports, evidence based teaching strategies, and treated with a positive interaction style and high expectations.
Dr. Parker blogs with a colleague at PrAACtical AAC- Supports for Language Learning.