5 Stellar Apps for Nonverbal Autism
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While there are downsides to our high-tech world, there are huge benefits as well. Technology has opened so many doors for our kids with special needs and has made accessibility an easier thing to achieve. This couldn’t be truer than for our nonverbal kids. The apps for nonverbal autism are great, as there’s something for every price, quality, feature, and style you could want.
As with anything, you’ll need to access what’s best for your own child and their goals. Talking this over with your child’s Occupational Therapist can help you make the best choice and integrate it into regular therapy.
Below you’ll find reviews of a wide array of augmentative and alternative communication (ACC) apps for nonverbal autism so that you can be more informed about what your options are.
Proloquo2Go is expensive. But, for a good reason. This one heck of an app that will open up a world of vocabulary to your child through pictures. To give you an idea of its popularity, Proloquo2Go has over 2.9k reviews on the iTunes App Store, with an average rating of 4.8/5.
That’s pretty impressive for something that’s so expensive. With Proloquo2Go and AAC apps in general, you get what you pay for. In this case, you get a lot. Let’s break it down.
My favorite thing about Proloquo2Go is how beautifully it grows with your child and can be adapted for their needs at any stage in life. With a database of over 10,000 words, you can program the app to accommodate your child’s reading/vocabulary level. In addition, Proloquo2Go can be programmed to introduce new words to your child so that learning becomes a natural part of communication.
Not only is customization important for word choice, but it’s also important for grammar. Proloquo2Go can be set to used anything from basic to advanced grammar. As your child develops, you can increase the complexity of the grammar to allow for more complete sentences.
A common concern is whether an ACC app will have all of the words your child needs to effectively communicate. Well, this isn’t an issue with Proloquo2Go. All core words that are regularly used appear in a consistent location so that your child can always find them. Fringe words, or words that are more specific and less commonly used, are easy to customize and store. Within Proloquo2Go, you have access to over 11,000 unique words. You also have access to over 20,000 symbols so that you can create any additional words you may need.
Let’s not forget that a voice is going to speaking the sentences your child creates! Luckily, Proloquo2Go has over 100 voices to choose from. With different accents, tones, and ages, your child has a good chance of finding a voice that sounds like them. In addition to many different voices, you also have access to many different volumes, leading all the way to shouting.
To round out the speech customization, Proloquo2Go makes it easy for you to customize the pronunciation of words. While you can do this simply in the app, if it’s an especially unique or challenging word to pronounce, you can have someone record the word directly into the app so that Proloquo2Go can get it just right.
You may be thinking that getting your Proloquo2Go customized is a daunting process. Well, it definitely can be. This app has a lot of horsepower, which means it also needs some reigning in. As you can see from the video below though, you can take any number of routes to customize the app and acquaint your child with it.
As you can see, there can be a steep learning curve when first getting started with Proloquo2Go but, even the learning process can be beneficial for your child.
Partnerships with Amazing Tools
Proloquo2Go didn’t develop their app in a vacuum. There are some powerful tools providing the foundation of all of the words, grammar, and sentence formation that the app provides.
For example, Proloquo2Go partnered with Ultralingua, a company that specializes in linguistics and dictionary tools. The knowledge base that this added to the app now allows Proloquo2Go to conjugate any word that comes through, even ones that you add yourself.
Ease of Use Between Devices
Proloquo2Go works with the IOS operating system. With the purchase of the app, you can use it with an iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch. What’s even better is that Proloquo2Go makes it easy to export words and pass them to other devices via Apple’s AirDrop system. This means that you don’t even need a WiFi connection or separate account to pass words back and forth.
Proloquo2Go doesn’t stop at English. Feel free to switch your languages between English, Spanish, French, and Dutch. Not only can you switch easily between the languages of your choice, you can have two going at the same time, allowing you to create sentences that mix languages.
Something I love love love about Proloquo2Go is that users can transfer their text from the app to Facebook, Twitter, emails, text messages, and more. This ensures that an inability to type or spell doesn’t leave kids out of the digital communication world.
Great Support Team and Resources
Sometimes I’ll pay more for something because I know there will be a great team backing me up. Proloquo2Go is the brain child of a company called AssistiveWare. While Proloquo2Go is their shining star and main focus, AssistiveWare has a number of apps in the communication department.
When you go to AssistiveWare’s website, you instantly feel relaxed given how user-friendly they make everything. Being user-friendly is something they are rock stars at. There is a great support team to help you with any issues or questions that come up while using Proloquo2Go. They also have a blog and a community of parents you can join. Don’t worry, you aren’t spending this large chunk of money just to flounder on your own.
AssistiveWare also has amazing videos showing how the Proloquo2Go is used in many types of lives and daily routines. Below are 3 of my favorite videos, but you can see their whole collection here.
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The Bad News about Proloquo2Go
As you’ll see, the downsides of Proloquo2Go are really dependent on what your child’s specific struggles are. This app, while great, isn’t a perfect fit for everyone.
The first thing to consider is that Proloquo2Go has A LOT of words in it. While this is amazing for kids that want a lot of creativity and freedom in their communication, it can be overwhelming to others. Even the most basic of settings offers a lot of word choices, which can be overwhelming for some kids.
Words are sorted into categories. While this is great for organizing the large amount of words that Proloquo2Go offers, it also means that your child needs to understand how categories work and how to use categories to find the words they need.
Even for kids that understand categories, the large volume of words in Proloquo2Go’s database means that it can take a while to find words that your child doesn’t use often.
Quick Proloquo2Go Review
I love that Proloquo2Go can accommodate a lot of verbal needs. It’s a powerhouse that has a lot of in-house features but can also be customized for your needs. There is a bit of a learning curve though and an adult will need to spend some time setting up the app. Check it out yourself by clicking the link below:
Who It’s Great For:
–those who want a lot of choices in their communication
–those who want to develop their vocabulary
–those who have caregivers that can program and maintain the app
–those who want the shining powerhouse of all ACC apps
Who It’s Not Great For:
–those who want a simple ACC app
–those who get overwhelmed by choices
–those who don’t need an extensive vocabulary
–those who struggle with sorting and categories
Developed by speech-language pathologists, the My First AAC App features more than 250 words with related icons for your child to choose from. In addition to the ones that come with the app, you can create additional words and attach your own pictures to them.
Great Options, But Not Overwhelming
My First AAC app has enough options to make it an effective AAC device, but not so many that you’ll get overwhelmed and your child will lack ability to use it. Here are some of the features that have been simplified to make life easier for you and your child:
–250 pre-set words
–2 voices: male and female
— categories you can disable to reflect your child’s abilities
–have either 2 buttons or 8 buttons appear on the screen to accommodate for processing and fine motor abilities
–ability to hide or show icons
Easily Customize and Access Personal Details
This feature is worth its own category given how nerve wracking it can be to know that your child can’t say their name or phone number in an emergency. My First AAC makes it simple to access and practice these details. Simply navigate to the “Personal” category and record a custom message for:
Have your child practice using this section of the app so that they (and you!) feel confident that they can access their personal info when needed.
Reinforces Baby Sign Language
What’s great about the My First AAC app is that the skills your child gains from it don’t need to stay on the app. When interacting with basic expressions icons, your child will see an animation of the related sign.
This feature makes it easy to practice signs with your child and translate them to your daily life outside of the app.
This app is so cute! The word “cute” by no means devalues its abilities. This is a cute powerhouse AAC app for kids through preschool age (or beyond, if appropriate). The My First AAC app is full of fun buttons, bright colors, and adorable graphics that your child will enjoy engaging with.
Many AAC apps can be a bit sterile and technical. They serve the purpose of promoting communication, but they aren’t all that aesthetically pleasing. My First AAC app is so cute that it could almost be mistaken for a game.
The Bad News About My First AAC App
There’re not many bad things to say here. The only issue would be a mismatch in what your child needs and what the app offers. This is designed to be a beginning AAC app, so your child will likely outgrow it.
Another downside is that the app’s simplistic nature may leave some options to be desired. While I love that there isn’t an overwhelming amount of choices, you may want more. This is more of a personal preference than a downside, but it may mean that this app isn’t a great fit for you.
Quick My First AAC App Review
This is an incredible first AAC app for kids that are just starting with this type of language world. The design is adorable and fantastic, the icons are simple and easy to understand, the voices don’t sound like robots, and the customization is plentiful without being overwhelming. My First AAC app gets my stamp of approval as a starter app for Proloquo2Go. Check it out yourself by clicking the link below:
Who It’s Great For:
–toddlers and preschoolers 18 months+
–those who need a simple, starter AAC app
–those who want an AAC that is so cute it’s almost like a game
–those who want to emphasize and practice basic baby sign language
Who It’s Not Great For:
–older kids with more advanced communication needs
–those who need more pre-set words in their AAC app
I love iCommunicate for what it offers outside of the typical sentence and word formation tools. While it can be used in this way, iCommunicate really shines in its abilities to create storyboards, visual schedules, and flashcards.
There’s a key difference between iCommunicate and other AAC apps: iCommunicate is really useful for caregivers, parents, and teachers who want to help their kids understand their daily routines. While other AAC apps may help a child say that they want to go to ballet class, iCommunicate is brilliant in helping a parent tell a child that ballet class happens after lunch and that they need to wear their pink shoes.
Here’s a great example: one reviewer commented that they used iCommunicate to record a version of The Itsy-Bitsy Spider. Her son learned that if he clicked the picture of the spider, he got to hear the song. Great for the child, but mainly great for the parent to have a way to deliver the song more easily.
Here’s another example. Let’s say that you want to help your child choose their lunch for the day. With iCommunicate, you can create a board of available foods to make it easier for your child to point to their favorite. Similarly, let’s say you want to create a schedule. iCommunicate will let you add pictures, text, and audio to make it as simple as possible for your child to know what’s coming next in the day. There’s a great option to add checkmark to indicate that a task or activity is done.
As Many Choices as You Need
iCommunicate has a database of information, but it will need to be incorporated into the flashcards, storyboards, and schedules that you need. Unlike Proloquo2Go, your child has less autonomy when using it. This is only a good thing or bad thing depending on what your child needs.
Here’s what I mean: with an app like Proloquo2Go, your child can create sentences of their choosing as long as they can navigate through the categories of words included with the app. With iCommunicate, a parent, teacher or caregiver needs to create the things that your child interacts with. Maybe you create a board that showcases your child’s favorite shirts so that they can pick their wardrobe for the day. Maybe you have a board of common words that your child can use. You can create as many boards as you need that apply to your child’s needs.
iCommunicate was built with customization in mind. You can use your own photos, record your own audio, and fully design your own boards, flashcards, and schedules. Anything you create can be shared from your IOS device via email or iTunes. As an Occupational Therapist, this is so helpful. Let’s say I needed a very specific board teaching a child the steps of tying his shoes. Not only could I create a board that laid out each step, I could use pictures of the child completing each step himself.
The high level of customization that’s available with iCommunicate makes it a really powerful teaching tool.
iCommunicate’s text-to-speech function offers A LOT of languages. If you need something other than English, it’s likely this app will have what you’re looking for. They also have a handful of voices to choose from.
Quick iCommunicate Review
I love this app for making picture schedules. Not only can you quickly make a play-by-play of the day, you can also use your own photos so that the schedule is crystal clear and unique to your child. I wouldn’t count on this as your only AAC app, but it has some great features that can be used in conjunction with another app such as Proloquo2Go. Check it out yourself by clicking the link below:
Who It’s Great For:
–those that want a simple way to incorporate their own photos
–those who need schedules and flashcards
–those who want boards on specific topics
Who It’s Not Great For:
–those who want their child to have options they can navigate autonomously
–those who don’t want to create and manage boards on a regular basis
–those who want a straightforward communication app
So many AAC apps are so complex that paying a high price for them makes sense. I get it—coding like that takes a crazy level of expertise.
But, every once in a while, you come across a high-quality app that’s completely free! Upcard has a number of great features—all of which they could charge a fortune for if they wanted to.
Upcard is based on the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), which means that it’s comprised of a library of pre-set picture cards. There’s also capability to add many of your own customized cards as well. These picture cards are key in all of the app’s features—Speak, Planner, Tracker, and Timer.
Using Upcard’s pre-set cards, or your customized cards, your child can build sentences. Each of these cards includes a picture, text, and audio. Each card is sorted into a category (Food, Games, etc.) and into a section (Action Word, Object Word, etc.). Your child has the option to choose cards in order to communicate with you, or you can choose cards to use to communicate with your child.
The neat thing about the Speak feature is that it tracks the history of how often a certain card is used. This can give you an idea of thematic or language trends in your child’s communication style. It can also alert you to additional cards that may need to be added.
Similar to iCommunicate, you can use the picture cards to create daily planners. Honestly, Upcard’s Planner feature is brilliant and beautiful. Wow.
Choose a series of cards and arrange them in the order they need to happen. If you’re running on a particular time schedule, you can pre-set these times within the plan. Once a scheduled activity is drawing near, a visual timer will pop up within the app, indicating what task is coming up and how much time is left before it needs to happen.
Another absolutely brilliant feature! The Tracker in Upcards lets you, well, keep track of things. Whether it be meltdowns, food, sleep, screen time, activities, whatever you want, this tracker will help you understand your child’s patterns and be aware of potential red flags down the road. You can also compare trends, which can give you great info as to whether one activity is having an impact on another.
This is a classic visual timer. Done well! Choose an activity (and its associated card) and either set a timer for a predetermined time or start a stopwatch to see how long the activity takes naturally. What I absolutely love about this timer is that an image of the activity is front and center, making it easy for your child to see how much longer they have playing video games, for example.
To make life easier, you can set default times to the cards, saving you the time it takes to set up the timer each time. You can also save your timer or stopwatch results, letting you see patterns in how long it takes your child to complete certain tasks.
Quick Upcard Review
I really love Upcard. The planner, tracker, and timer are absolutely brilliant and add visual aids to things that are normally verbal. It’s free, so there’s no harm in giving it a try! Check it out yourself by clicking the link below:
Who It’s Great For:
–those that want more than an AAC text-to-speech app
–those that want a user-friendly app. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles but, you don’t need them. Everything it offers is brilliant.
–those that are interested in exploring visual aids, not solely for speech
–those who want a budget-friendly option
Who It’s Not Great For:
–those who want a large range of pre-set words and sentences
–those who don’t need the additional features
This app is short and sweet, so this review will be too. TippyTalk is a fantastic option for those that struggle with typing or spelling. Through this app, users can choose pictures that then get translated to sentences that are sent through text.
Quick TippyTalk Review
I love that this app makes communication so accessible to others. While this is true of all of the other apps on the list, TippyTalk is so simple and discrete in its design. I could send a text that I formed through pictures and the receiver would never know the difference. I know the idea of “fitting in” and not standing out can be a big deal for our kids with special needs. TippyTalk really lets kids interact like any other kids. Check it out yourself by clicking the link below:
Who It’s Great For:
–those who like communicating through text messages
–those who don’t need their message spoken out loud
Who It’s Not Great For:
–those that need a lot of word options
–those that need their message read aloud
–those who are not comfortable having their message written
AAC apps range widely in their capabilities and functions. The best option is really going to depend on what your child needs. Even so, your AAC app is only going to be one tool in your child’s sensory toolbox. Think about how your chosen app will integrate with the other tools your child uses on a daily basis and whether it will be a good fit to your routine.
That said, here are my favorite choices.
If you’re looking for a comprehensive AAC app with a power horse behind it, Proloquo2Go is a fantastic choice. If you’re not ready to make such a big financial commitment, feel free to try out a free or inexpensive option first.
Keep in mind that it may not be ideal to accustom your child to an app, only to change it down the road. If you have a feeling that Proloquo2Go is going to be a good option, I suggest going for it early on.
Upcard is free and absolutely fantastic. It really should be a paid app given what it offers. The planner, tracker, and timer are beautiful in their simplicity and functionality. While this may not be a replacement for a comprehensive AAC device if you need one, this app has a lot of other features to offer. Since it’s free, might as well give it a try!