I’m a big fan of topic specific communication boards. I know this is controversial. There is a really good discussion in this blog from assistiveware about what the issues are when using the topic specific board. I wholeheartedly agree with all the points in this assistiveware post And I’m not writing this to argue with any of them. Access to robust vocabulary is an essential part of AAC development. Here I want to share the real benefits I think these can bring if they’re carefully designed and used in specific situations (the assistiveware blog also talks about this).
I do use topic specific boards quite often. I’ve created a separate pages within Lucy is a AAC system where I can add topic specific parts as needed. I try and create these to include call vocabulary that I know Lucy knows and uses and a topic specific vocabulary built around core words with occasional phrases are very fringe vocabulary. In some contacts I will use the ‘stay on this board’ feature in cough drop to allow Lucy the opportunity to explore the topic specific board without the added cognitive load navigation which is still a developing skill. It also means that the rest of the system is easy to get to.
Last week I created this board for when we go watch some rugby league. It was carefully designed so that, as far as possible with a 4×4 grid the position of words matches the cell they’re found in when using the full system.
This is an image of her home board, as you can see the core vocabulary matches the words she always has available on her core board.
Here you can see that like is in the same position on the topic specific board as it is on the ‘doing words’ (verbs) page.
Using a topic specific board allowed Lucy to explore the board and use a number of language functions and have them modelled throughout the match. Here is something I modelled last week. This also probably helped her understand the general level of outrage in the stand at the time.
This weekend we went to watch the team Lucy and I support (yes I’ve decided who Lucy supports, I justify this because who really chooses their favourite teams for themselves? It’s always a combination of location and/or heritage isn’t it?) play the team Daddy vs AAC and his family support.
Lucy had her board and was choosing ‘go bulldogs’ and ‘come on Batley’ this led to a lovely interaction with my sister-in-law who was replying ‘not’ along with facial expressions and tone of voice which showed disagreement. Because of the size of cells Lucy needs visually the amount of navigation needed for this spontaneous banter would have made it incredibly difficult for Lucy and for my sister-in-law who is less familiar with the system to be so spontaneous.
So I’m going to remain mindful to honour motor planning and learning when using topic specific boards but for Lucy they are going to remain an important part of our AAC toolkit.