Friday, October 17, 2014

Top Pick! Avaz Pro — AAC App for Autism is a highly customizable assistive communication app


Bottom Line: Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) apps are a dream come true for many special needs children who are non-verbal or have difficulty speaking. This technology turns a tablet into the voice and a means of communication for a person. Avaz Pro — AAC App for Autism offers a robust and highly customizable app that is easy to set up and use in daily life.

If you would like to download Avaz Pro — AAC App for Autism ($149.99, iPad only) please use our handy link:
App store button
External links to developer website and to share communications on social media

I admit, I am always a little nervous when I start to work with a new AAC app. In order for an app to offer any true assistance, it needs to be robust and customizable. This can be daunting for someone who is setting up the app to work for her specific needs.

Avaz1All that being said, I had no problems at all setting up Avaz Pro — AAC App for Autism. On first launch, the app runs a quick and informative two-minute tutorial explaining the basics of setting up and using the app. Not only does the video help put new users at ease, but it also informs them how to get help and encourages working with a therapist and educators to reach the full benefits of this system. Detailed tutorials are available on the Avaz website. All this support on how to use a new tool is a wonderful benefit.

One of the first things parents and therapists of kids with special needs learn is that each child is unique in their abilities as well as their needs. Setting up Avaz Pro truly takes a child’s needs into consideration. The caregiver setting up the app is led through a setup wizard to ensure that the app is customized to the child using it. Questions such as “Does the child have any sensory or motor needs?” allow the caregiver to adjust the speed at which the audio is spoken. or switch to larger images if they're needed. All options are clearly explained and the recommend settings are displayed.

Avaz2The initial settings established at setup can be modified at any time in the Settings section of the app. As the user learns and his needs change, the app can be tailored appropriately. There is even an option to track how the child is using the app. This can allow the caregiver and therapist to easily monitor and adjust settings any way they see fit.

Customizations allow the app to be personalized to the appropriate comprehension level of the user. Non-readers can use the picture-only option, while strong readers can opt to use captions only. For those somewhere in the middle, it is possible to view both captions and pictures. There is also the ability to type using a QWERTY keyboard and bypass the tiles altogether for the advanced user.

Avaz3Navigation within the app is simple and straightforward. Tapping on a tile brings it into the dialog box. Once a phrase is completed, the user can tap the dialog box to have the entire phrase spoken as a sentence.

A good AAC app must be well organized, and the user must be able to easily and quickly find the tiles to build their phrase. Avaz Pro focuses on this in many ways. Functionality, including the search feature, full functioning keyboard, color coding word tiles by type, the ability to create new tiles, create new folders and arrange and duplicate words in a way best tailored for each child, makes this app truly stand out from other AAC apps I’ve seen.

Avaz6The Quick Response screen is fantastic. This section offers ready-made dialog to allow the child to quickly express a need. Phrases such as “I need a break,” and “Thank you” can be relayed with two simple taps. I know when my son hits high anxiety from needing something quickly, the last thing he wants is to have to type out and find six different tiles to tell me he’s overwhelmed. Tapping “Quick,” and “I want to go to the toilet” lets him say what he wants with only two quick finger taps.

Avaz Pro uses the vast Symbolstix library and supports uploading your own tiles as well. Creating new words or phrases to store within the app is extremely straightforward. Simply click Edit at the top of the screen and then there is an Add New button beside the dialog field.

While in Edit mode, existing tiles can be rearranged, duplicated onto other folders and modified. Preloaded captions can even be modified to better suit the family’s dialect. Instead of “I want to go to the toilet,” the caption can easily be changed to “I need to potty” or whatever feels most natural for that household. What is really great is that it now offers multiple editing for faster and simpler editing. Multiple words can be created in a single go.

Avaz5I love the ability to choose grammatically correct versions of words to fit into the phrase. Instead of having multiple tiles for each deviation of a word, there is a text box for word forms on the edit screen. Listing multiple forms in this box and having grammar activated in the settings allows the user to select the correct form of a word within his phrase. Instead of stating the grammatically incorrect phrase, “I have two brother,” he can state, “I have two brothers.”

There's so little about this app that needs improvement that I feel bad picking on this, but depending on the size of the font, some of the longer phrases and folder titles may be difficult to read. For instance, the text on each tile is only a single line if a picture is included. Using the smallest text size with pictures, if the text is more than 24 letters, the phrase is truncated. This isn’t an issue in the bulk of the app, but does pop up quite a bit in the Quick Response section.

There are many more words and categories available than what is shown on the Home and Quick Response screens. Scrolling through the Search menu shows anything from body parts, to money, and even punctuation. For words not commonly used, scrolling though search can be slightly time consuming, but it keeps the home screen cleaner and easy to navigate. Categories commonly used for a child can be easily copied to the home screen or within a folder for continual use.

Avaz4I like the ability to not only modify settings, but to select specific vocabulary, arrange and categorize in a way best suited for my child. For instance, I can easily add the folder of over 70 weather related words for my son (who is obsessed with the forecast) to the Outdoor folder on the home screen. I can also remove the foods I know he won’t eat from the food folder to make it easier for him to find what he wants. There is even a folder full of punctuation available for users working on creating grammatically correct sentences with punctuation.

Again, this is a small gripe, but It took a little effort to figure out how to add a whole folder of pre-loaded tiles to the home screen. I wanted all 70+ weather items added at once. I started by selecting each item but that was taking forever. I then figured out I could go back a level and select the whole folder, but this wasn't intuitive. Perhaps the developer might consider adding a Copy All command within the folder when copying content.

Users can set a password for modifying settings which also applies to editing and deleting any content. This will stop little fingers from scrambling and destroying the hard work of setting everything up. The app also allows for backup and sharing with multiple devices. This is great for children who have a separate device for home and school as well as always having a backup on Dropbox or iTunes if a device crashes.

I didn't have a chance to really explore Track therapy, but I do think this sounds like a great new feature. With this feature, therapists can focus on the child rather than on tracking during their sessions. Therapy logs can be sent via mail to be stored and analyzed at any time. This could prove to be a powerful feature for therapists.

At a price tag of $149.99, this is a pretty pricey app but well worth it. There are other AAC apps available for less, but this one truly has all the bells and whistles those apps are missing. If you are looking for a highly robust, extremely customizable app that is intuitive, then Avaz Pro — AAC App for Autism is worth the investment.

Rachel H does not want to think about what to make for dinner tonight. It may be cold cereal and milk for everyone. was paid a priority review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.

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