As a teacher of children on the Autism Spectrum with complex communication needs, I am co
nstantly looking for the most appropriate form of Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC) to use with the children at our school.
As a teacher of children on the Autism Spectrum with complex communication needs, I am constantly looking for the most appropriate form of Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC) to use with the children at our school. As a school we follow the ‘Total Communication’ approach which gives us the expose many different forms of AAC and therefore many apps. Over the past number of years we have had a great deal of success with one particular application, with many others not meeting the mark in terms of ticking all the boxes, that is until now. I must admit I had not heard of Inner Voice until I was asked to review the app and use it with some of our children. InnerVoice Communication is a fantastic AAC application that is easy to use, containing features I have not seen in other apps on the market.
The particular feature I have been really impressed with is the Avatar, an excellent feature that I have not seen in other apps or VOCAs. The app contains a library of faces that can speak the message, wants or needs through video. The videos can be shared through social media or as a message. You can even use the child’s photo as an avatar, brilliant! Whilst using Inner voice at school, we sent a message to a parent from her son who is minimally verbal, she was so happy and rang the school immediately to say how it brightened her day and would be getting the app straight away.
Upon opening the app for the first time, the developers have provided a useful, easy to follow tutorial to get you up and running straight away. Firstly, you can choose an avatar or use a photo of your child, which becomes the part of the main screen above the vocabulary/symbol grids. You are also prompted to choose the voice you would like the avatar to use. The options are quite limited here, offering adult or child and the rate at which you wish to use. I say limiting as other leading apps in the AAC market contain a greater number of voice options such as different country accents and variation on dialects through the use of more advanced speech synthesis.
However, this does not detract from the overall experience, but perhaps something that could be considered in future updates.
You have three vocabulary options; Basic, every[CW1] day and your words. Clearly Inner voice has been designed with having Core vocabulary front and centre, these are the words that account for over 85% of all everyday language. Research tells us that consistent exposure and modelling of these words are vital in language development for AAC users. It would be beneficial if the core words were accompanied by specific symbols coming from a particular symbol system such as symbolstix or widget. These symbols would support learners with underdeveloped literacy skills. The option to add buttons and folders are contained within the settings section offering you the opportunity to grow the vocabulary bank when the user is moving from basic wants and needs to more social language. You can also add Gifs to buttons, a really fun idea!
Quick communication is definitely at the heart of Inner Voice Communication, which is the most important consideration when buying an AAC app. The Avatar or photo option is what really motivated our young learners when using the app. It certainly is a motivating feature when using the app for the first time and supports early research into autism, facial recognition and avatars. Being able to change emotions from happy to sad/angry on the avatar or image is excellent and a useful tool for teaching emotions.
As I have said earlier, the video messaging feature is a wonderful feature. Being able to access social media and post videos closes the inclusion gap and further brings the field of augmented communication into the mainstream.
Backup and restore features are available within the settings, with a useful delay feature on the settings button slowing down an exit from the main screen. Guided access within iOS also can help you with locking into the main screen.
Overall, InnerVoice Communication is an excellent AAC app. It is now a firm favourite with our young communicators, their families and our speech and language therapists. It is not as complex when compared with other AAC options during initial set-up and the use of multi-sensory strategies in combining visual and auditory stimulation is wonderful. InnerVoice is a well thought out and informed design application and should always be considered when trialling AAC with people with communication difficulties. A big thumbs up to developers, well done!