Let’s Talk About AAC Evaluation Genie

I thought it would be a good idea to initiate the blog portion of the website with a discussion of our most popular app, AAC Evaluation Genie. Most of you probably know that I am an SLP specializing in AAC assessment. In fact, it’s pretty much the primary responsibility at my regular job. I provide AAC assessments and complete speech generating device (SGD) claims as a part of the assessment process. That puts me in the middle of the payment restrictions for our highly skilled services, as well as the funding hurdles that have to be dealt with in order for persons with complex communication needs (PWCCN’s) to receive the assistive technology they need to manage their expressive communication activities of daily living. In order to keep up with these demands, I had to learn to work smarter and faster. That’s why AAC Evaluation Genie was conceptualized. I needed a quick and efficient way to look at the vision, vocabulary and language skills of a PWCCN’s in order to make clinical judgments about potential SGD’s for ongoing assessment and device trial. In this post, my goal is to look at each of the sections for AAC Evaluation Genie and discuss how the information obtained can be used for this purpose.

The two vision subtests evaluate the visual skills related to successful AAC use. The impact of visual perceptual capability and skill on the operational competence of a person who uses AAC (PWUAAC) cannot be underestimated. Did you know that visual problems occur in approximately 48% to 75% of children and adults with developmental delays and cerebral palsy and 75% to 90% of children with severe/profound cognitive disabilities? The purpose of the visual skills subtests is to determine the appropriate visual discrimination level for device trial implementation. I look at the visual identification subtest to estimate the SGD vocabulary grid size that can be used, and then compare that to the visual discrimination skills in order to determine the most comfortable visual scheme for the PWUAAC. For example, it’s not unusual for someone to be able to identify a one inch visual target within a 32 item blank grid display, and then demonstrate greater levels of difficulty as the actual discrimination tasks increases. With this information, I can look at robust SGD vocabularies, and hide vocabulary so that the SGD display does not exceed that level of comfortable visual discrimination.

The vocabulary subtests are extensive and a great way to look at how the PWCCN’s is able to recognize common vocabulary, as well as the diversity and flexibility of their vocabulary skills. There are seven vocabulary subtests that can be administered. In my practice, I look more for patterns of skills rather than rely solely on accuracy percentages. For example, it’s not uncommon to see patterns of strong noun and verb vocabulary recognition, with comparatively weaker demonstrated understanding of category and association vocabulary. I am convinced that the majority of these PWCCN’s have difficulty with language processing, word fluency and retrieval. With these individuals, I have to look closely at the cues that they respond best to, and then closely look at an SGD language and vocabulary organization that can support or even emulate these cues. I think the point with the vocabulary subtests is that it is important to rely on your skills as a speech-language pathologist to diagnostically interpret the communication skills and behaviors of a PWCCN’s.

The next section of AAC Evaluation Genie is the core vocabulary subtests. I often talk to professionals who would like to see picture sets from other vendors in this section. To be honest, I never intended this section to be about measuring a particular picture vocabulary set. I see it as a way to look at how well a PWCCN’s is able to apply meaning to core vocabulary words that are not easily represented using pictures. I am not interested in the recognition of one vocabulary set vs. another. In fact, I think this mindset can be very limiting. In my practice, the core vocabulary subset I gain the most useful diagnostic information is the Unity Patterns subtest. This organization of words by semantic and linguistic features is nothing short of brilliant. All of us who work in the field of AAC should be cognizant of the contributions made by Bruce Baker, the developer of Minspeak.

Next is the Picture Description subtest. Initially, my goal with this subtest was to be able to obtain a rough estimate of mean length of utterance and apply what is known about typically developing language milestones to the SGD device trial. I still find this subtest a valuable tool, however I think we all need to be flexible in how the Picture Description subtest is administered and the communication behaviors of non-speaking persons are interpreted. This test attempts to look at expressive communication skills of persons who have little to no means to be a communication partner. Once the task is reviewed, aided language modeling is almost always required in order for the PWCCN’s to be successful. It’s ok to model, as long as it is documented in the final written evaluation report. The goal is to help the PWCCN’s to be successful. Aided input will certainly be a central component to intervention. Why not support your diagnostic interventions by modeling?

Finally, there is the Word Prediction subtest. This subtest is not a literacy test. Literacy assessment is a very complex and multidisciplinary assessment process. This subtests just looks at how well someone with complex communication needs can use their literacy skills to discriminate related words from a list. The stimulus items were chosen to simulate how word prediction would be implemented on an SGD. The Word Prediction subtest in AAC Evaluation Genie is simply designed to give information about whether or not word prediction is a high priority feature for the SGD device trial.

This blog post is a very basic overview of AAC Evaluation Genie. My goal is to continue to develop meaningful articles that can be valuable to professionals who work in the field of augmentative communication. Please comment and/or contact me at the Hump Software Tip Top Apps Facebook page.


References

Helling Celeste and Rush Elizabeth (Libby). New Ways to Jump Start Your AAC Evaluation Process: Including a Free Evaluation Protocol and Cost Effective Items for an Updated Toolkit. Closing The Gap 2010

Sarah W. Blackstone, Ph.D. CCC-SP, (2005). Vision and AAC. Augmentative Communication News. 17