Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Review: Revolutionary take on AAC with Avaz Together Parent-Child Communication App for Autism

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 12.05.40 PM 5 stars

Bottom Line: A revolutionary augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) app and parent-training app all in one! It’s free for a week with no cost; continued access is available for an in-app subscription of $9.99 per month. This app is perfect for families, teachers and even speech-language pathologists to learn how the Avaz communication system works, providing full access to the complete Avaz communication app along with training for the adult.

If you would like to take Avaz Together Parent-Child Communication App for Autism for a test run, use this handy link to download it for FREE as a one week trial ($9.99 monthly subscription if you decide to keep the app.)
iPad only (FREE w/in-app purchase)

This app contains no ads, and has in-app purchase and external links.
What's Free: Full access to the app for 7 days.
What's not Free: Access after the 7-day free trial.
Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 12.07.44 PM

What’s the number one problem when a child starts a new Augmentative and Alternative Communication mode? Okay, I don’t really know a definitive answer to that. But in my experience, even parents who are willing and ready to use AAC with their child struggle with figuring out the best way to interact with the voice output device. Avaz Together is designed to help bridge that gap between wanting to help children and knowing exactly what to do.

Rachel H reviewed Avaz Pro – AAC App for Autism in October, giving it a strong 4½ star rating and making it a Top Pick. It features core vocabulary, lots of options and even consistent motor planning, something that research is showing is very important in AAC apps or devices. It’s a great option for SLPs to include when completing feature matching as part of an AAC evaluation.

But a parent first opening a full-featured AAC app like Avaz Pro might have no idea how to best use it. Of course, every child using AAC should also be receiving speech-language therapy from a qualified SLP. But the time the parent spends with a child is far more than the time the SLP gets to work with the chifld. This is where Avaz Together is so amazing. It teaches parents exactly how to use the app in order to facilitate an environment that builds communication.

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 12.07.59 PMUpon launching Avaz Together for the first time, the adult user is prompted to sign in or sign up for an account. There is a free one-week trial, requiring no payment commitment. After completing the quick, free sign up, the dashboard is visible, showing eight conversation contexts where parents could use the AAC app to integrate communication into daily activities.

These areas include having a mealtime conversation, talking about what happened at school, reading a book, watching TV together and more. Research shows that children who use AAC as part of their daily life will make strong progress in developing overall communication skills.  Avaz Together trains parents to use the Avaz AAC app while talking with their child, modeling using the full board while also building overall language.

Opening one of the featured areas, such as playing a game in the park, brings up another menu screen. This menu provides multiple starter sentences (in the playing at the park scenario, there are a total of 18 different sentences) that might be used in this activity. Choose a sentence to enter practice mode.

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 12.07.44 PMEach practice sentence shows underlined words to highlight on the app. And it quickly provides feedback of which icon to select. For example, one sentence is “Let’s play ball.” The actions folder starts to wiggle after just a few seconds, showing the user where to find the first underlined word, play. If, after opening the folder, the user doesn’t quickly see the play button, it wiggles, too. Then an arrow appears to show the user to go back to the home screen to find the next word, ball.

Going through several of these scenarios on my own, I quickly understood the layout and features of Avaz. Avaz Together is a wonderful way to learn how the app works. There are so many AAC apps, and Avaz Together is not only a great way to teach parents to communicate effectively with their child using AAC, it’s also an excellent way for SLPs and teachers to learn how to use this app.

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 12.07.51 PMBack on the dashboard, there are four other options to choose on this app. Select analytics to show the vocabulary frequently used on child mode, core vocabulary used, and a mean length of utterance (SLP-talk for the average number of words in a sentence).

On the Account tab, parents can manage the subscription and see how much time is left on the free trial, as well as activate the in-app purchase for a monthly subscription. It also includes links to share their story, send feedback and provide a rating on the App Store. Multiple external links are included in this section, which is not locked from the dashboard. Make sure to supervise child use with Avaz Together—letting the child explore freely only in child mode. 

The resources section is another amazing feature of this app. There are currently 156 different tips for how to model communication with the app. It’s like having a speech-language pathologist at your fingertips—these strategies are great training for parents! The tips are brief, even just one sentence long, like “Take a walk with your child in the park, describe what you see around – e.g. the GREEN grass, the BLUE sky, the PRETTY flowers.”

This kind of communication through daily living experiences is so important for all children, and is the kind of training I try to provide for any parent looking to help their children’s language grow. I love how easily accessible it is within this app.

Within the Resources tab, there is also a section on research, divided into six sections. These sections currently feature links to 32 different research articles or researched blog posts providing solid evidence-based information on how to best communicate using AAC, motivate communication, even basic communication strategies for all children.

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 12.08.12 PMThe final Act tab features the training found in the resources tab in a quick and accessible format, with a simple pop up. At the bottom of each tip are two buttons—one to explore as a parent, and one to use it with your child. Selecting parent explore brings up the full Avaz board, while selecting the child mode indicates to the app that the child will be exploring. The boards are the same, but this matters for the data collection and analytics area. Only the words used in the child mode are tracked.

And this is where the app’s brilliance goes to a new level. This is, in fact, full access to a full communication board for children. Parents and child can use this new Avaz Together, for a monthly cost of just $9.99. Or, use this app’s free trial to try out Avaz before committing to purchasing the full app! It’s pretty rare to get to try out a full version of an AAC app before buying it, and I can’t exclaim enough how wonderful this is for families.

There were only a few things that were difficult for me, and they are completely user error. First, while in practice mode, it took me a long time to figure out how to exit the practice mode back to the dashboard. It wasn’t really complicated (there is a back arrow on the sample sentence screen), but it wasn’t obvious to me until I accidentally tapped it.

Additionally, I also had a hard time exiting the full board mode, both in parent mode and child mode. Again, it’s not hard, but it took me several tries. When tapping the button at the top to return to the dashboard, a pop up directs the user to “Please double tap to activate the buttons on the top bar.” I interpreted that to mean to double tap the pop up, and tried over and over before I realized it meant to double tap the dashboard button. Once I realized what I needed to do, it seemed so obvious.

There are only a few things I wish I could improve about this fantastic app. First, and most critical, if a child is using Avaz Together as their communication system, an adult will always have to enter the app first. This limits a child’s independence, and should be considered by SLPs when determining the best fit for a child. I would like to see the app with the option to always enter into the child’s board, with the current parent lock at the top then allowing access to the Dashboard.

The only other area I wished for is the ability to apply a discount to the full version when deciding to buy. If a parent uses the Avaz Together app for four months, then decides that Avaz is great as a long-term app, they continue paying $9.99 a month, which is much more costly than most AAC apps over the long-term. A full version purchase (without the recurring cost) would be a great addition, and I hope it's already in the works.

Overall, I am thrilled to see this app enter the app marketplace. It’s just what I need as an SLP in order to empower parents to learn to use AAC at home and help develop their child’s language, with solid, research-based information. There are even more activities I didn't mention, for the sake of keeping this review readable, but the overall content is superb. It’s like having personalized parent training sessions any time the parent needs them. This app is simply a must-download for anyone considering AAC for their child, as well as for any family using any kind of AAC, if even for the trial week to learn more about how to build communication skills for any child using AAC.

MeHeather H spent hours packing for vacation. Hopefully she remembers to actually relax when there.

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