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



The rapid development of iPads and other mobile technology in recent years is affecting both the study and practice of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) and impacting on service delivery, the work of speech and language therapists (SLTs) and families of people who use AAC.

It has been found that most parents of children who use AAC had positive views of their benefits and family involvement is crucial in achieving good AAC outcomes. Therefore families need to be involved throughout the AAC assessment and teaching process.

Parents generally want close relationships with professionals in training and information sharing regarding AAC devices and implementation.

The relatively low price of mobile technology has made the use of these as AAC systems a possibility through self-funding rather than seeking external or third party funding which is often needed for dedicated high-tech communication aids.

The proliferation of mobile technology is also increasing public awareness of this as a form of AAC so the development of communication apps is increasing rapidly.

Another effect of the emergence of mobile technology is the change in service delivery in AAC from being clinician led following detailed assessment of the clients' needs, to being led by families making purchases independently then requiring support to help people use the system.

This leads to SLTs needing to change their models of working to be more collaborative, respecting families' wants and needs, and matching features of apps to individuals appropriately. It is therefore important that SLTs have a good knowledge and understanding of mobile technology and apps in order to best support families to develop AAC users communication and avoid abandonment of devices.

What did they do?

The researchers used an online survey to investigate what the families of children who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) wanted from technology and the support services around this.

The majority of participants had children who had either autism spectrum disorder or some form of intellectual disability. All had 50 or fewer spoken words.

What did they find?

The majority of participants who already had an iDevice had not had an assessment prior to making the purchase and in most cases it was to be used by other family members in addition to the AAC user, not as a dedicated communication system.

Chief reasons for choosing a particular device were ease of use, affordability and the multiple functions e.g. social, entertainment and information, available. Ease of use and affordability were the primary reasons for selecting apps too.

Participants said they wanted more information and support from professionals about how their child could use the app for communication. They also wanted help with customisation of and technical support for the device and apps, and help with navigation of the system.

When asked about the amount of support they wanted most felt that between one and four hour long sessions with a professional would be needed.


The researchers conclude that the development of mobile technology presents challenges to established forms of service provision.

There is a danger that the lack of detailed assessment might lead to devices being purchased that are not the 'best fit' for individuals.

There are implications for speech and language therapists particularly, in needing to change their ways of working to support individual families in the choices of systems they have made. It is also important for professionals to maintain up-to-date knowledge of communication apps as they develop in order to offer appropriate support.


The survey was piloted with only one family and the on-line distribution method means it was likely to be completed by families who regularly use technology and who were active advocates for their children. It might not be representative of a wider cross-section of families. A larger number of participants would have been beneficial.

As most of the families had children with autism or intellectual disabilities the results might not generalise to all families of children who use iDevices and communication apps.

Things you may want to look into:

The iPad and Mobile Technology Revolution: Benefits and Challenges for Individuals who require Augmentative and Alternative Communication

The right communication aid?

A Comparison of Communication Using the Apple iPad and a Picture-based System

Added to site August 2015