Author Archives: Helen Robinson

About Helen Robinson

Speech and Language Therapist. Assistive Technology Clinical Specialist for the Barnsley Assistive Technology Team.

Specialised Services for AAC and Environmental Control: An Update

There have been big changes within the Barnsley Assistive Technology Team over the past three years, we have been steadily recruiting more team members as we expand our services across the Yorkshire and Humber region as part of the staged roll-out of Specialised Services for AAC and Environmental Controls. You can read more about the history of this process on our website.

We are now almost at the end of this process. We currently cover most areas within Yorkshire and Humberside and will be accepting referrals from all CCG’s by the end of the year. Information regarding our care pathway and how we work with local services can be found on our website:

Supporting Local Services

We are keen to work with local services to support them through this transition period and beyond. We have already visited lots of teams to talk about our service and how we can work with each other to support people using AAC and Environmental controls.

We also offer a wide range of free training courses which can be delivered in your local area. Details of our curriculum are also on our website:

We are also trying to bring together local services to share and learn from each other. This includes setting up and arranging the Yorkshire and Humber AAC Clinical Excellence Network meeting which has been running for almost a year now. The group meets every four months to discuss a range of Assistive Technology issues and serves as a useful forum for networking and CPD.

Also on our website is a range of resources, including our popular ‘local services resource pack’ which details products and resources which local professionals will find useful:

NHS England have also recently published guidance about AAC provision from local and specialised services. This is a useful reference for local commissioners and managers when considering AAC provision:

We have received lots of positive feedback so far and are enjoying getting to know the professionals across the region supporting AAC and Environmental Controls. If you have any questions about our service or would like to arrange for us to visit your team, please email

To receive further updates and news from the Barnsley Assistive Technology Team, please sign up to our mailing list (we send a message or two per month).


Eye Gazing in April

On Wednesday 6th April, the Barnsley AT Team delivered two new eye gaze courses.

The morning session was all about developing early eye pointing skills for communication and looked at how we can identify children who might use their eyes for communication and the resources we might use to develop these skills.

IMG_0008As part of this session we compared three different low tech AAC strategies: Etran frames, symbol boards and Eye Link boards. We even ran our own mini-experiment to see which communication method was the fastest! Not many Speech and Language Therapists are aware of Eye Link, but our experiment suggested that for many people this was an easier and quicker method of communicating using eye pointing. For more information on Eye Link and details of the study we took inspiration from, see a write up of a study on Eye Link.

IMG_0007The afternoon session focused on eye tracking technology. We looked at how eye tracking technology works and compared a range of eye trackers and software. Participants were able to try out a range of communication aids and eye trackers for themselves. We explored how to achieve a successful calibration and discussed a wide range of troubleshooting strategies.

The courses were very popular and we plan to run both courses again in the near future. For details of all our training events, please visit our website:



Communication in ASD: AAC, Research & Practice Study Day – 20 April 2016

Helen Robinson, one of the team’s Speech and Language Therapists, will be presenting at the “Communication in ASD: AAC, Research and Practice” study day on 20th April in London.

Before joining the team, Helen spent many years supporting non-verbal children with ASD and has a keen interest in the evidence and clinical practice regarding the use of AAC with this client group.

Helen spent two years looking into the use of the Language Acquisition through Motor Planning (LAMP) approach and will present the findings of two projects which aimed to  identify criteria for children who are likely to be successful with the LAMP approach

Also speaking on the day are:

  • Dr Elaine Clarke, Great Ormond St Hospital
  • Darryl Morgan, The ridgeway Community School
  • Dr Greg Pasco, King’s College London

For further information and to book a place, click here booking form

Barnsley AT Team Training review-Your chance to influence the training we offer!

Part of our role as a specialised service for Augmentative Communication and Environmental Control is to support local services through training. We launched a new training curriculum earlier this year and have now completed our fist cycle. We are taking this opportunity to review the training we provide so that we can make sure we are offering what professionals from across the region require, in a way which is both effective and accessible.
We have written a short survey to gather the views of professionals across the region. You do not have to have attended any of our training to participate.You can complete the survey here
If you would like to review the training on offer before answering the questions you can access our curriculum here
Please feel free to share this with any colleagues working within the field of Assistive Technology!

Universal Principles of Assistive Technology

We have recently had the opportunity to work with Mike Thrussell from the Assistive Technology Team at Henshaw’s College, Harrogate:

Mike kindly sent us a fantastic resource Universal_Principles_of_Assistive_Technology  which he has adapted from Wendt, O., & Lloyd, L. L. (Eds.). (2011). Augmentative and Alternative Communications Perspectives Volume 4: Assistive Technology: Principles and Applications for Communication Disorders and Special Education. Bradford, GBR: Emerald Insight.

We have found it useful to summary of things we should all consider when working with assistive technology and have even displayed it in our office as a handy reminder!

Mike’s blog is at which you may wish to subscribe to, Mike is also on twitter @mikethrussell.

Please keep checking our blog and website for further resources and ideas. We love to share!

Choosing the right vocabulary package – a Barnsley AT Team study session

Members of the Barnsley AT Team met recently to spend some time looking at the evidence behind several different vocabulary/language packages for communication aids. This is a key and frequent discussion within the team and we organised a session to help develop our thinking on this.  It also links with the forthcoming research project we will be involved with funded by the  National Institute for Health Research and in collaboration with Manchester Metropolitan University (more on this later!).

Vocabulary packages can broadly be grouped into: taxonomic (categories), schematic (activities), alphabetic, iconic encoding, visual scene displays and idiosyncratic (personalised). Some systems might use several of these methods to organise vocabulary. For this session we chose to looked at the evidence around Visual Scene Displays (VSDs) and considered the following literature (some published in peer reviewed journals, some ‘grey’ literature):

  • Drager, Light et al (2003) The Performance of Typically Developing 2½ Year Olds on Dynamic Display AAC Technologies with Different System Layouts and Language Organizations
  • Drager & Light (2010) Designing effective visual scene displays for young children. 

This work suggest that visual scene displays may:

  • be most beneficial for young children and people with significant cognitive or linguistic difficulties (e.g. Learning Disability, Aphasia, Brain Injury);
  • provide a high level of contextual support;
  • enable communication partners to engage and support the person with communication needs by providing a framework and context from which they can scaffold a conversation;
  •  support real life events and experiences as they happen, by providing a supportive narrative;
  • be highly personalised/replicate real life experiences;
  • provide language in context;
  • shift the focus away from expressing wants and needs and towards social interaction and exchange of ideas and information;
  • reduce cognitive demands by reducing visual processing;
  • access linguistic concepts via episodic memory not semantic memory;
  • exploit human capacity for rapid visual processing of visual scenes.

The above studies also discuss the limitations of VSDs suggesting that:

  • Children with motor difficulties may find it harder to access hotspots on a VSD than symbol grids.
  • VSDs may be more visually complex than evenly spaced symbols in a grid.
  • VSDs are labour intensive to produce and maintain.
  • Jackson, Wahlquist and Marquis (2011), found children performed better with a grid layout and made more mis-hits with VSDs.

We also looked at the paper: “Critical Review: Which Design Overlay is Better Suited for Early Assisted AAC Intervention in Preschoolers: Visual Scene Displays or Traditional Grid Layouts? ” Kaempffer (2013).

Kaempffer reviewed the literature on VSDs and found results of studies looking at VSDs to be inconclusive and limited. Kaempffer was also critical of methodology and statistical analysis used in studies into VSDs. Only one study has included children with communication needs and some studies have suggested grid layouts may be more appropriate.

Our team concluded that VSDs should still be considered as part of the AAC assessment process. However although the literature suggests that emergent AAC users and adults with cognitive impairments may benefit from VSDs, from this session we could not see strong evidence to suggest particular groups of individuals or situations in which VSDs may be most useful.

A number of software packages are available that support VSDs, these include:

  • Tobii-DynaVox Compass, Sono Primo
  • MultiChat 15/Touch Chat HD app
  • Therapy Box Chatable & Scene and Heard

Have you used VSDs with a communciation aid user, have we missed some important literature? We would love to hear about your experience!


Drager, K., Light, J., Speltz, J., Fallon, K., Jeffries, L. (2003). The Performance of Typically Developing 2½ Year Olds on Dynamic Display AAC Technologies with Different System Layouts and Language Organizations. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 46(2), 298-312.

Jackson, C., Wahlquist, J., Marquis, C. (2011). Visual Supports for Shared Reading with Young  Children: the Effect of Static Overlay Design. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 27 (2), 91-102.

Kaempffer, A (2013) Critical Review: Which Design Overlay is Better Suited for Early Assisted AAC Intervention in Preschoolers: Visual Scene Displays or Traditional Grid Layouts? Poster presentation at University of Ontario. Unpublished/peer reviewed, but available as PDF.

Light, J., Drager, K., & Wilkinson, K. (2010, November). Designing effective visual scene displays for young children. ASHA Conference. Lecture conducted from Philadelphia, PA.. Conference presentation avaliable as a PDF.

Launch of the new Yorkshire and Humber AAC Clinical Excellence Network

On 21st October twenty-two professionals from across the Yorkshire and Humber region came together for the inaugural meeting of the AAC Clinical Excellence Network in Leeds. The group is affiliated to the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, but membership is open to any professional working within the field of AAC across the Yorkshire and Humber region.

On the agenda was the official swearing-in of the committee members, followed by the AGM. We then shared our experiences of this year’s Communication Matters Conference which was also held in Leeds, on the 13th-15th September.

Andrea Kirton gave the group an update on the role of the Barnsley Assistive Technology Team in its role as the Specialised Service for AAC and Environmental Controls (EC). For further information please see our website pages at:

Helen Robinson talked to the group about the extensive range of training opportunities offered by the Barnsley AT Team. The current courses we offer and dates available are on our website – but please also get in touch with ideas or requests for training.

Finally, each professional gave the group an update on how AAC is currently provided in their local team. As part of the Barnsley AT Team’s role as the Specialised Service for AAC and EC we are rapidly expanding the areas we cover and it is really valuable for us to understand AAC provision across the region. Over the coming months members of our team will be meeting with local services to discuss how our service will support their clients with AAC.

There was certainly a real buzz about the CEN and attendees were pleased to have the opportunity to come together and discuss AAC. We did have quite a long list of people who wanted to attend but couldn’t due to the room capacity. Our next meeting is at Henshaw’s College, Harrogate on 20th January 2016 and we will have a much bigger room so hopefully all those that wish to attend will be able to! Tickets will be available via our eventbrite site shortly.

We hope to see you at the next meeting!