Losing your language after a stroke or brain injury can be devastating. Re-learning how to speak, find your words, and get your ideas across is a lot of work and often takes a long time. While you’re working to improve your speech and language, you need a way to communicate.
Communication Takes Many Forms
There are many ways to communicate: speaking, writing, gesturing, drawing, facial expressions, and body language are the most common. When you have aphasia, speaking and writing typically become much more difficult, so you have to learn to use the other ways more effectively. Some people with aphasia speak volumes with just a look, while others become experts at pantomime.
There are other supports that can be put in place for people with aphasia to aid communication. These are referred to as augmentative and alternative communication, or AAC. Communication books are very common AAC tools, filled with family photos, clip art of various objects, photos of favorite foods or places, and text letting the communication partner know key facts about the person using it. Recently, these communication books have transitioned from physical photo albums or binders to digital versions. They can be an app on a phone or tablet, or a dedicated device used just for communication.
Many high-tech AAC apps or devices offer rich options for communication, with lots of symbols organized neatly into parts of speech. But stroke survivors struggle to make sense of these abstract symbols, and with the language centers of their brains damaged, they don’t think in terms of nouns and verbs anymore. The most common AAC apps were designed for children with special needs, like autism or cerebral palsy, and not for neurologically impaired adults with aphasia.
Read 5 Things People Don’t Understand About Aphasia and AAC to learn more about the challenges.
Adults with aphasia rarely rely exclusively on a device or app to communicate for them. First they try their speech, writing, gestures, and facial expressions, and when those fail, they may turn to an app to trouble-shoot the communication breakdown.
AlphaTopics – AAC for Aphasia
Early in 2015, Tactus Therapy created an app for people with slurred speech (dysarthria) to help make their natural speech more understandable. AlphaTopics – AAC is an app combining a letter board with a topic board so people can start to spell out the words they want to say after letting the listener know the topic they are going to talk about. We thought these simple supports could also benefit those with language problems, so we tested the app with people with aphasia.
When a gentleman with severe aphasia used it, he let his wife know the topic he wanted to talk about (“family”) and then pointed at the first letter of the name of the person (“T” for “Teresa”). Instantly, his wife knew he was asking whether their daughter Teresa was coming over that weekend. Success!
Another woman with more mild aphasia started using the letter board anytime she was stuck searching for the right word. She pulled out her phone, opened the app, and quickly scanned the letters until one triggered the right word in her brain. “P – predictable! The movie was very… predictable.”
In families where guessing games are the usual form of communication (and so frustrating!), starting with the topic is a great way to narrow things down. AlphaTopics provides a choice of 12 or 24 customizable topics to get started down the right path. For those who struggle to read the topics, each button speaks the word aloud.
A Feature-Rich Update
While AlphaTopics was already proving very useful for people with aphasia, it was still missing one key element; something every speech therapist keeps on hand – paper! AlphaTopics needed virtual paper to let communication partners write out choices, allow people to draw a picture, and let those with aphasia write a first letter or a whole word to get their point across.
The new whiteboard feature lets you write with a finger or stylus in a variety of colors and thicknesses. All the options are right on the screen with nothing hidden in menus, helping those with memory difficulties. There’s no excuse to draw letters in the air or write invisibly on tabletops now that you’ve got a whiteboard right on your tablet or phone.
The other great new feature is the ability to export any screen – letters, topics, or whiteboard. Save any screen to your Photos app or send it as an e-mail. If there are any lovely drawings you want to save, just export them. If you rely on the customized topic board but can’t take your iPad everywhere you go, print out a copy to put in your pocket.
Easy and Affordable
AlphaTopics is so easy to use. It has just 3 screens that can be accessed anytime. There are settings to customize the experience for those with visual or physical access problems. It’s affordably priced at only $4.99 US. That’s right, for a fiver, you can have 3 powerful communication tools at your fingertips. AlphaTopics is ready to support you anytime you have something to say.
Get AlphaTopics today on the App Store for iPhone and iPad. If you already have the app, new whiteboard and export options are a free update. AlphaTopics is part of the Tactus Collection Part 2 – Clinical Tools app bundle.
All Tactus Therapy apps are yours for life with free updates. Let us know which features you’d like see added to your apps!
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