First, can I tell you that it was super easy to start using. The app itself is pretty self-explanatory, but even if you have some trouble, there are plenty of video tutorials (now a help section, 8.11.15) on the Avaz site. The app runs on a first gen iPad as long as it is running iOS 6.0 or higher. For those of you not in the know, that means you can have a fully functional, programmable, speaking program for your non-verbal child for as little as 250$ (a quick web search shows first gen iPads available for around 150$, but I suspect you could do better or worse depending on where you find one). I remember when my sister got a DynaVox (some 25+ years ago!) and it was limited to a dozen or so words and cost a small fortune. I am not knocking DynaVox, I’m sure they have improved with technology too (remember, my last experience with them was over two decades ago) and we all know as new tech comes out, old tech comes down in price, but to me, the growth of this type of software, and the relative ease of purchase is nothing short of amazing.
I’m just truly in awe of the power of this program. It has a full keyboard in addition to a PECS system. Everything talks. Each letter, each picture, each key. When you finish a word, it speaks the entire word. The keyboard is intuitive – it will suggest words as you’re typing, and most of the words also have pictures (M typed in “Harry” and a PECS with an illustration of Harry Potter came up, and right next to him was Ron and a few other related images). It did a pretty good job of pronouncing words that weren’t already in it’s system (like Malachai, and Eshiva ;) ) as well.
The system is programmable with your own words and images right in your photo app, you know, incase the 5000 pre-programmed words it comes with aren’t quite the words you need. You can record your own voice as well, instead of using the computer-generated voice. Every photo has the word under it. While this isn’t learning to read with phonetics, it will facilitate learning to sight-read. Avaz is even built for this. Their website boasts the ability to gradually decrease the size of the picture and increase the size of the word. It has an “alert” button! My kids tell me it sounds like a doorbell. Ok, it kind of does, but if you know what it is and know to listen for it, it works.
If you couldn’t tell, I want to tell you everything about this program. Everything. I still wish we had it when Malachai was little. I’ve said it before, but my house was literally wallpapered with tiny 1×1 and 2×2 squares of paper with pictures and words on them. We had papers with velcro on the back. We had papers tucked into page protectors. I had pictures of movies, foods, activities, places, objects, drinks, destinations, clothing. You name it, it had a picture. I had a child who could not communicate with us. I had a child who didn’t have the fine motor skills for sign language. I had a child who had daily meltdowns very much due to the fact that we just had no clue what he wanted and what he needed, even though he very much knew. This would have been a lifesaver. This would have been a much more portable PECS system than having to painstakingly pick and choose which PECS he might need today in an effort to not have hundreds (let alone thousands!) of tiny slips of paper on us at all times.
There is a free “lite” version available in the app store as well – it looks like a kind of “try it before you buy it” type deal, but I’m not 100% positive about that as I haven’t tested that version.
What else is there to say? I am beyond impressed with Avaz. I’ll certainly be recommending it to those I see who could benefit from it. I suspect, while possibly overkill, it would benefit those who can’t speak outside of the autism community as well.
I was not compensated for this review, although I was given a copy of Avaz for the iPad to test before writing it.