Bottom Line: This first-rate AAC app for individuals at the beginning stages of communication development is expandable, flexible and inexpensive. Two major updates since its release make it a Top Pick and leader in its category.
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Shortly after the first iPad was released, apps began to emerge targeting those who needed Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). AAC has existed in one form or another for years. There are "low-tech" and "high-tech" systems—from laminated picture cards on a strip of Velcro to a laser system that reads eye gaze to understand communicative intent. What the iPad does is make speech generating devices more accessible and affordable for those in need of a "voice."
Of course, AAC apps (and the iPad) are not magical. Parents often hear of one particular AAC app, and think it will be a miracle cure for their child. So they buy an iPad, buy the $200+ app for AAC, and are disappointed when their child fails to communicate in complete sentences overnight. Parents must keep in mind that a child still moves along a continuum of speech-language development, and some apps are better suited to a particular child than others. This review, along with the iPad in general, cannot replace the input of a Speech-Language Pathologist and Assistive Technology specialist who are able to make recommendations based on an individual's vision, motor and cognitive abilities.
What developer Close 2 Home Apps, LLC does with So Much 2 Say - Picture Communication is provide a low-cost AAC system for the earliest communicators. It helps children with a wide variety of speech-language difficulties and/or cognitive impairment develop basic communication competence, and it can provide the necessary foundation to even consider a high-cost AAC system.
So Much 2 Say has a simple and flexible interface, which makes it appropriate for a variety of learners. The app always starts on the home page, which can be customized with one, two, four, six, nine, or twelve different icon choices. Icons can be set up as single pictures for beginners, or they can represent categories (toys, fruit, morning routine…) which link to multiple screens. On the setting for 12 cards, there are two different screens, allowing for up to 24 different choices. At first I thought this design would be too limiting, but since each category can have multiple pictures, users have enough options to comment, connect and get their needs met with this system.
This format is very similar to the evidence-based Picture Exchange Communication System often used for students with autism. The Close 2 Home website which provides some guidance, written in collaboration with two certified Speech-Language Pathologists, on how to get started with the app even suggests a PECS-style teaching system. They recommend starting with one card and using physical prompts for the child to tap (or "exchange") the picture for a highly desired object. Once this process is mastered, the communication partner can turn the Sentence Strip on—which can be set to 2, 3, or 4 cards for increasing complexity. This mode requires sentence starters like "I want," or "Can I have" before the object is requested.
In addition to the flexible layout, users of So Much 2 Say can create unlimited picture cards with the library of 9000 SymbolStix® symbols, or they can use the iPad's camera (on the iPad2 and new iPad) to create cards with actual photos that will be much more concrete for teaching communicative intent. This freedom to customize allows the parent or therapist to help transition the child to a symbol-based system. When the child can understand the more iconic line drawings, teachers, therapists and parents can incorporate use of other AAC supports, including Boardmaker. This also moves the user closer to the ability to recognize alphabetic writing as representational.
So Much 2 Say is also very useful to SLPs and teachers for context-specific situations. Categories and pictures can be added, and then be easily removed when that situation is complete. One could set up a category for a field trip, providing a student the ability to comment on pumpkins, request a hay ride, or describe apples. I have used it for all students needing visual support to respond to questions, and it can be used to try out AAC for a student. I can quickly increase or decrease complexity to get a better understanding of an individual's level of communication.
It is easy to create new cards, though somewhat time-consuming. There are some pictures with pre-recorded voice, but most need to be recorded when the card is made. This process requires entering the edit menu, selecting the Card Library, creating a new card or category, choosing the desired symbol, entering a label, and recording a voice. This process then has to be repeated for every created card. There is an ability to share cards between devices which can save time for teachers and therapists.
In spite of the somewhat laborious process to create cards, So Much 2 Say is an excellent first AAC app. It provides the therapist, teacher, or parent the ability to customize the system for each child, and provides room for growth, all for a very reasonable $24.99 price tag. SLPs and teachers can use this app for a variety of students, giving it even greater value. For the target audience of early AAC users or those with significant cognitive limitations, So Much 2 Say is among the best apps available. Adding a built-in voice to streamline card creation and have consistency is the only suggestion I have for improvement.
There are many how-to videos on the Close 2 Home website, showing even the completely clueless adult how to set it up. The developers recommend guidance from a child's own speech-language pathologist and teachers. My respect for the developers increased knowing that while they created an interface to address communication, they don't discount the input of knowledgeable professionals.
Heather Hetler is disappointed that "Indiana People" is not included in the SymbolStix. She can, however, use Speech Pathologist, Mother, and Wienermobile hotdogger. Jill Goodman contributed to this review. smartappsforkids.com was paid a priority-review fee to complete this review in an expedited manner.