-TRIVENI GOSWAMI VERNAL
Registered Special Educator (A64010)
AUGMENTATIVE AND ALTERNATIVE COMMUNICATION (AAC)
All forms of communication, apart from Speech, that can enable individuals to express their thoughts, feelings and needs, is referred to as Augmentative and Alternative Communication. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), there are several types of AAC (https://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/aac/):
“NO-TECH /LOW TECH OPTIONS” such as
• Gestures and Facial expressions
• Spelling words by pointing to letters, and
• Pointing to photos, pictures, or written words
HIGH-TECH options such as
• Using an app on a device to communicate
• Using a computer with a “voice”, sometimes referred to as a speech generating device.”
THE AVAZ APP
The Avaz app (https://www.avazapp.com/) is a picture and text based AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) application that enables an individual with communication difficulties, to express their needs, ideas, opinions and thoughts. As an AAC, the Avaz app provides a tool to the individual to be an active participant in the learning process.
In a country like India, where there are multiple languages, an advantage of using the Avaz app is that the words on the app can be recorded in multiple languages…Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Marathi and Gujarati, apart from English.
There are several features within the app that make it accessible for individuals with diverse communication needs.
As mentioned in the website https://info.avazapp.com/avaz-aac-new-features-2022/, new modifications have made “it easier for switch and eye gaze users to communicate using the app…like the morphological forms of words shown in Avaz”. Besides these major modifications, one can also make changes to the Zoom button and the High Contrast button, to help an individual’s visual needs. Care has also been taken to ensure that individuals with fine motor issues, who are unable to point and tap the screen accurately, can do so by adjusting the settings on the device.
Avaz has several categories of Core Words and Phrases, both at the beginner level and advanced level (with grammar etc). And because it is both a Picture based as well as a Text based app, one can make folders on various topics, starting from basic identification of oneself, one’s family members, of objects, places to visit, favourite food, emotions, hobbies, books, favourite music etc using both text as well as photos that can be uploaded from the gallery on the device/ symbols already available on the app /the internet (if the device is logged on to it). In addition to the photos, one can also record the voice of the given text, in one’s preferred language. This makes it easier for the individual, especially a child in India for example who might not be familiar with an accented pre-recorded voice.
Another feature that is extremely helpful is being able to create a low-tech communication board or an Avaz book, based on a folder, made on the app. A print out of the Avaz book can be taken, and then used in multiple settings. For example, if one is travelling somewhere and is not able to have access to the device, one can take a print out of the Avaz book for further communication with the individual.
TEACHING BASIC CONCEPTS: FEW EXAMPLES
Modelling is a strategy to be adopted to teach basic concepts. While Modelling, the educator/caregiver can highlight the chosen word on the Avaz app (from its section of Core words), using it in a variety of sentences and situations. Please note, for each activity that is introduced, the learner must have pre-requisite knowledge regarding it.
1) TEACHING THE COLOUR RED: For example, if the educator wants to teach the colour Red to the individual, the educator can perhaps do an activity with the individual, where he/she can highlight the word Red. For example, a Craft Activity that comprises of Colouring a sheet of paper and pasting, where she can model the word “Red” on the app for the child while saying the following:
a) Take the RED colour pencil.
b) Colour the circles RED.
c) Paste the RED circles on the paper.
2) TEACHING the words OPEN AND CLOSE in a Vocational Activity (opening and closing the lid of a biscuit tin)
a) OPEN the cupboard and take out the biscuit tin.
b) OPEN the lid of the biscuit tin and take out the biscuits.
c) CLOSE the lid.
d) OPEN the cupboard and put back the biscuit tin.
3) TELLING A STORY IN FOUR SENTENCES
“THE THIRSTY CROW”
a) It was a HOT day.
b) The crow WANTED TO DRINK water.
c) It SAW a pot with water below.
d) It PICKED stones and PUT in the pot and the water came UP.
4) DEVELOPING SOCIAL SKILLS
a) When I MEET someone, I will say HELLO!
b) When the ASK me, “HOW ARE YOU?”
c) I will ANSWER, “I AM FINE”
d) I will then ASK them, “HOW ARE YOU?”
USING AVAZ FOR VISUALIZATION IN READING
Since Avaz is a text and picture-based app, one can summarize the plot of an entire story, in images taken from the device’s photo gallery/symbols pre-loaded on the app/ from the internet, and add the text for each image recorded in our own voice. This can be used not only for a story, but also any lesson that one wants to teach. For example, Internal and External Organs, Landscapes, Plants…just about anything that one wants to teach, that can be augmented with Visuals for the learner.
AVAZ BOOK ON THE STORY “DANDYLION” BY LIZZY FINLAY
AVAZ BOOK ON INTERNAL ORGANS
PLAYING FUN GAMES ON AVAZ
The app need not be only used for literacy and communication, in the conventional sense, but it can also be used for fun games, like Name, Place, Animal, Thing. Since Kabir is not very familiar with Names and Places, we often play with the categories, Animal and Things. It is a great activity, for turn taking as well as learning new names of animals.
ANIMALS AND THINGS
In this example, Kabir and I played the game for every alternate letter, A, C, E, G etc.
One can customize the game, including a category that the child has a special interest in. For example, names of vehicles, brand names, names of books, names of songs, names of flowers/trees etc., anything that the child likes and shows an interest in.
The process of Learning does not have to be drab and boring. As educators and caregivers, we must infuse the 3 E’s –energy, enthusiasm and excitement. Only then will the child find the motivation to engage with us and be open to try new ways of learning.
Avaz Inc. provides several training programs for parents, educators and professionals. A brief description of each:
1) Avaz Certified Educator: it is an online certification course specially designed for Special Educators, targeted for successful AAC implementation in schools and classrooms . Enrolment for this course is currently underway. It is for Special Educators, Shadow Teachers, ABA therapists and non-Speech Language Pathologists. All details are provided on the website https://www.avazapp.com/ace/ . The course will begin on May 8th, 2023.
2) Avaz Certified AAC Professional: An online certification course covering everything that you need to know for successful AAC implementation. It is for Speech Language Pathologists, Speech Therapists and Audiologists (https://www.avazapp.com/acap/)
3) Avaz Aarambh: It is for parents who have just started using Avaz or want to re-start their child’s communication journey (https://www.avazapp.com/avaz-aarambh/)
Avaz Inc also provides the services of Teletherapy (https://www.avazapp.com/avaz-teletherapy-2/)
**The author is an Avaz Certified Educator (Jan 2023)
Author Triveni Goswami Vernal
Triveni Goswami Vernal is an Autism advocate, registered Special Educator (CRR A64010) and an Independent Researcher. Her areas of interest include Autism, Disability Rights, Gender, Art and Northeast studies. She is a mum to an 11 year old on the Autism Spectrum.
Creative representation for this blog is done by our extremely talented CreativeSaathi associate Kabir Vernal