There are problems with the old progression model. The issue being that these more simple devices or 'low tech' don’t provide space for children to grow into; to develop and explore new vocabulary and practice using a communication aid. If a device
is programmed with just 2 or 3 symbols then they can only say 2 or 3 things. This is fine until they have mastered the technique because unless somebody is ready to quickly replace the device, they can be stuck for the foreseeable future.
Starting with a ‘robust’ vocabulary. Often what is now considered ‘best practice’ is to start with a device with a big vocabulary, but hide (or ‘mask’) lots of the symbols that aren’t being used. Some apps such as CoughDrop support this vocabulary
scaling automatically. While most symbols are hidden at first, the ones that are displayed retain their same location, even years later when the device is full of symbols. This draws on the benefit of muscle memory, or motor planning, whereby
the location of the symbol is as important as the symbol itself. Learn more about what is meant when we talk about a robust vocabulary in AAC.
Too many symbols? If during the assessment or afterwards,
it is felt that there is too much vocabulary on the screen at any given time, contributing to inattention and lack of motivation, it is easy to be flexible. The typical way to deal with this situation is to hide or ‘mask’ symbols until you
feel that the child is ready. Thus we can start with two cells with symbols or buttons (just as one would with a low tech aid) such as ‘more’ and ‘stop’, before gradually adding new symbols as their language develops. Most AAC apps on tablets
and dedicated communication aids offer this option. It can also be easily achieved when using paper-based communication aids.
Masking is when we hide one or more symbols on a board
Using masking helps to:
- Reduce distraction caused by having too many symbols that that are not immediately useful
- Keep the few core words/symbols always in the same position to develop sequential motor patterns
- Lower cognitive load when learning the system
- Provide positive feedback with fewer words/symbols that are easier to learn
But it is important not to remove words that could be useful and to be able to quickly unmask them and not to presume a certain level of competence. Look at the sample boards made by the TechOwl AAC Community.