Remote AAC Assessments—Tips, Considerations, and Unexpected Surprises

The goal of an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) assessment is to identify appropriate communication technology for a user with complex communication needs. This may be anything from a low-tech communication board (letters or symbols) to a robust AAC “speech generating device” with communication access options (an app for a tablet computer, an eye-gaze responsive device, etc.) The AAC Specialist (a speech-language pathologist), often in collaboration with an occupational therapist, assesses the end user’s communication needs and abilities to make these recommendations. AAC assessments include consideration of cognition, receptive and expressive language, sensory and motor function, communication partners and environments.
It’s a tall order for a Zoom call.
Yet in this time of Covid-19, increasingly remote AAC assessments are happening. AT3 News and Tips has discussed remote AAC assessments with assistive technology (AT) service providers in Massachusetts and Arizona. They are on the forefront of doing what it takes to get communication needs met despite the pandemic. They are also the first to admit this is not a solution for many consumers and households. What is emerging, however, are some astonishing lessons learned worth sharing. Providers in both states report that already these experiences will impact how they provide AAC assessments well beyond the pandemic.
If your organization is considering providing remote AAC assessments or is acknowledging a pressing need to determine who might benefit, read on!
Thank you to the following speech-language pathologists (SLPs) for your contributions; with Easterseals MA: Kristi Peak Oliveira, Casey McCarthy, Alyssa Savery; with the Institute for Human Development at Northern Arizona University: Staci R. McCauley and Nikkol Kramer Anderson. Also, many thanks to contributions from Jill Pleasant, Associate Director of the Institute for Human Development, NAU.
A Remote Assessment Should Only Be Considered If:

There is a pressing need to do so (Covid-19 precautions, geographically remote location, etc.)
The consumer is willing.
There is sufficient support at the remote location (a family member, personal care attendant, etc. who is available to help with technology and activities as necessary or appropriate for the consumer).
There is access to broad band internet and sufficient technology (or a way to provide it).

Prepare In Advance

Develop protocols and agreements for what to expect and use them.
SLPs should check with their State Licensing Boards to make sure they are following any state-specific guidelines for telepractice.
Conduct a remote intake first. Use this time to determine if a remote assessment is appropriate and welcome.
Determine what equipment is available at the remote location (Windows computer? iPad? Smartphone?) and if it is necessary to...