‘‘It’s got to be more than that’’. Parents and speech-language pathologists discuss training content for families with a new speech generating device (summary)



Parents have a central role in supporting children who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) to become competent and effective communicators. They are often the main teacher, programmer and advocate for the user and device in a variety of settings. High-tech speech generating devices (SGDs) are complex systems that require a great deal of learning by new users in terms of understanding the technology and how to use it as well as maintaining it.

If parents lack confidence in using the device or are not adequately supported this can contribute to a lack of success or abandonment of the system.

It has been found that families often feel that there is insufficient training offered when a new SGD is recommended. The importance of this increases as systems become increasingly complex.

Families also often require training in how best to teach and model language on the device and how to change their own communication style when interacting with the SGD user.

The views of parents and professionals about what training is needed for families are not always the same. Whilst broadly similar the emphasis given to different areas varies and parents have been found to want training in areas professionals might not have considered, or additional focus on areas such as organisation of vocabulary and programming.

There has been limited research into which areas parents and professionals regard as priorities for training for families with a new SGD.


What did they do?

This study investigated the views of parents of children who used SGDs and experienced and novice (less than 2 years’ experience in AAC) speech and language pathologists (SLPs) working with people who use AAC. Seven parents took part, six mothers and one father. They each took part in a single, private semi-structured interview.

Ten experienced and three novice SLPs were involved in the study. The experienced professionals took part in focus groups and the novices were interviewed individually using a similar, semi-structured format to that used with the parents.

The data gathered was analysed into themes which were then organised into three primary focus areas. This study considers just one of those areas; SGD training for families.

What did they find?

A wide range of training needs were described, including an initial process to support understanding about and acceptance and uptake of SGDs, home practice strategies and advice about language teaching and goal-setting as well as support around the technology, programming etc.

All participating groups felt that it is important to overcome reluctance to accept the device by giving clear information at an early stage, making the system appropriate to the user and increasing confidence and competence in its use.

Some parents found the technology intimidating and needed hands-on time and support to feel comfortable with its use. Several parents thought that introducing additional features of the devices such as music player, camera and simple environmental controls as well as communication would help with acceptance of the system.

SLPs felt that information should be given about the impact an AAC system might have, that it will not stop a child from developing speech but that it will not solve all difficulties. The importance of being clear about the time and workload needed to develop competence in AAC use was stressed by the SLPS.

Several participants suggested that parents should be given advice about advocating for and negotiating the use of SGDs in different settings and with different people.

A second area identified as needing training was around communication development and aided language. Families needed an understanding of the language system and representation on their device, particularly to enable the parents to model aided language to their child. They also required support in setting communication goals and targets.

The importance of developing parental skills in teaching language through AAC was identified by all participants and the need for ideas to help maintain children’s motivation to use the system was also stressed.



Parents and SLPs identified a range of training needs relevant to families of children with a new SGD.

It is acknowledged that each family is different and a family-led approach to training is likely to be most beneficial. Whilst some generic training can be useful there will always be a need for individual support.

There was an overlap between the SLPs perceptions of training needs and those of the families there were also differences, indicating the importance of consulting all stakeholders when planning support.



The small number of families involved in this research means that the findings cannot be generalised to all families with an SGD. The inclusion of only one father in the parent group is significant as the training and support needs of mothers and fathers have been reported to be different.

The children involved in this work mainly had diagnoses of cerebral palsy or autism so the training needs of families of children with other diagnoses might not have been identified.

Things you may want to look into:

Alternative service delivery models for families with a new speech generating device: Perspectives of parents and therapists

Speech-language pathologists' views on mentoring by people who use speech generating devices

iPads, Mobile Technologies, and Communication Applications: A Survey of Family Wants, Needs, and Preferences

Professionals’ and parents’ shared learning in blended learning networks related to communication and augmentative and alternative communication for people with severe disabilities

Added to site July 2016