Would you prefer to listen to an interview? Check out this Speech Science podcast interview with Heidi LoStracco, MS, CCC-SLP! The Speak for Yourself portion starts at 20:21.
Speak for Yourself AAC Language App is an application designed by two ASHA certified speech-language pathologists (SLPs) who work exclusively with clients who are functionally nonverbal. Heidi LoStracco, MS, CCC-SLP and Renee Shevchenko, MA, CCC-SLP have worked together for several years teaching children who are not able to talk to use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices.
The pair have seen success, and have presented results and videos at several national conferences. Following the implementation of an AAC device and the use of motor planning principles, five of the twenty-eight children in their study diagnosed with autism, developed verbal speech, and no longer needed to use the device to communicate. Of course, Mrs. LoStracco and Mrs. Shevchenko caution that “not all children will develop verbal speech, but our data shows that using this strategy and an AAC system with specific features has expanded language skills for individuals regardless of their age or disorder. Mrs. LoStracco added, “As the children begin to gain knowledge of their communication system, we’ve seen a decrease in negative behaviors.
When someone is not able to talk, they use behaviors to communicate. This is true even for people whose only diagnosis is laryngitis. If your voice doesn’t work, you gesture, sometimes wildly, you try to take people to the item you’re referencing, or you just withdraw as much as possible from society because it’s just too frustrating to be without your voice. These behaviors are seen in children with autism and other individuals who are nonverbal, but they’ve been without their voices for years.”
The Shift to Using the iPad as an AAC Option
Mrs. LoStracco and Ms. Shevchenko began to see a shift in the field when the iPad® was released. Ms. Shevchenko says, “Districts and parents were buying an iPad® with an ‘AAC’ app on it and saying, ‘Make this work.’ We would try to reprogram the applications with the language that the children needed, but it took forever and it was never really ‘right.'” Heidi and Renee say that it got to the point that someone was asking them about iPad® applications for AAC every day, and they decided that they needed a better answer. Heidi says, “We would tell them, there’s not really an effective AAC app out there yet, but when there, is, we’ll be the first to tell you about it.” Then we started thinking that we could create something that followed motor learning principles and gave individuals access to the language they needed to communicate effectively, and that’s when we designed Speak for Yourself.” Renee says, “We’ve always believed that communication is a basic human right, and the only AAC pre-requisite skill that a nonverbal person needs is a pulse.”
Renee and Heidi say that their goal is to provide access to communication to anyone who needs it, in accordance with the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) zero-exclusion policy regarding access to communication. It’s estimated that only ten percent of nonverbal individuals currently have access to an AAC system. Renee says, “Unfortunately, people don’t realize how devastating the inability to communicate is until it hits close to home and they have a family member who has a stroke or autism and isn’t able to talk.” Heidi and Renee say they’d like to “change the world, and we can do that for people who can’t talk by giving them a voice. It is a basic human right to have the ability and means to ‘Speak for Yourself.‘”