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Posted on February 9, 2023

Core and pragmatic approaches are two popular ways of organising AAC vocabularies. These influence the content available in a vocabulary and how it is organised, and interacted with by the user.

Two of our most popular symbol-based and research-grounded vocabularies in Grid 3 and Grid for iPad are Super Core and Voco Chat. These apply core and pragmatic approaches respectively. Applying knowledge from Smartbox SLTs and Assistive Technology Specialists, we guide you through the features of each to help you make an informed decision on which would be the best fit for the AAC user you are supporting.

Super Core and Voco Chat

Super Core

As the name suggests, Super Core is the Smartbox solution developed on a core-based approach. Core vocabulary refers to single words, letters, and phrases we use most commonly in conversation. These words make up around 80% of the words we speak day-to-day. Most core words are pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and prepositions such as “I”, “go”, “want”, “this”, “is” and “of”. The other 20% is made up of fringe vocabulary. These are more specific to an individual, situation or time, such as “horse”, “cloud”, “tomato” or “computer”.

As such, core words take up much of the home grid page, colour coded depending on word class. Dynamic columns divide a combination of core and fringe words and phrases into activity specific sections.

Voco Chat

Alternatively, Voco Chat applies a pragmatic-based approach. Pragmatic-based vocabularies focus on the reasons we communicate, how we interact using language, and successfully getting your message across. Messages are built by combining phrases rather than single words, leading to messages which may not be grammatically perfect, but can still be understood by the listener (e.g. Can I tell you something → about a thing → vehicles → see → plane). This approach has been supported by The Pragmatics Profile for People who use AAC (Martin, Small & Stevens, 2017), which gives a comprehensive overview of the reasons we communicate and how we participate in conversations.

Applying this, Voco Chat is organised intuitively. The home Grid features a section of six message pathways, each designed to build a message, based on why you are communicating. The quick communication column adds useful words and phrases such as ‘‘more’’, ‘‘stop’’ and ‘’finished’’. Everyday word cells are shortcuts or jumps to personal vocabulary such as people’s names, places and more.

Topic areas

Super Core and Voco Chat, have two versions, with content for children, and teens/adults. These are fully customisable, meaning they can be personalised to the user’s requirements. You can access each in a variety of ways (Switch, Touch, Pointer, Eye Gaze) and choose between popular symbols (Symbol Stix, PCS, Widgit). Both vocabularies are used around the world, providing access to several languages for multilingual people.

Super Core

Super Core is available in two versions, Super Core 30, and Super Core 50. Each version has the corresponding number of cells on their home grid for users with varying needs. Both versions contain the same vocabulary, with approximately 2250 pre-set words and 250 phrases.

Vocabulary in Super Core comprises of core, extended core words and fringe words, suitable for everyday conversations, feelings, positions, school, routines and more. Topic grids organise over 1000 fringe words semantically (by meaning) to help learners quickly find the words they need.

Sentences constructed in Super Core are grammatically correct, meaning that emerging communicators can develop their grammar skills using this grid set. Super Core also supports learning, literacy, and language development with features like a phonetic keyboard to explore sounds and simplified learning grids with various symbols, including a high contrast option.

Additionally, Super Core has in-built shortcuts for accessible apps which lets you tap into music, video, camera, email and more.

Voco Chat

Voco Chat hosts 12 large communicate cells on its home grid, helping AAC users who may not be able to access smaller cells to quickly reach a more appropriate selection of vocabulary that matches their reason for communicating in that moment. Though small in number, these 12 cells are entry points to approximately 1500 pre-set words and 375 phrases.

Vocabulary has been selected to support AAC users of all ages and participate in a variety of conversations. This includes options to talk about mental health and wellbeing, as well as swearing, telling jokes and talking about intimacy. There is also a wide selection of categorised vocabulary for a range of other topics with ample free cells for customisation.

Voco Chat focuses on the message and not the grammar, so users will not acquire grammar skills while using this grid set. Instead, Voco Chat favours speed of communication for AAC users to join in conversation. It does this with intuitive message pathways, supported message building and fewer cells per page. Plus, Voco Chat is optimised for switch, with vertical block scanning, and quicker selection due to the lower cell count.

A final comparison

Core and Pragmatic

Super Core and Voco Chat both support communication in different ways. The primary difference is organising vocabulary in either a core or pragmatic way. This may benefit different AAC users depending on how they interact with language at a given time.

In the initial phases of helping an emerging AAC user to communicate, Voco Chat may inspire communication as options are displayed in pre-made phrases. This may be less overwhelming to some users, especially gestalt language processors who process language in chunks (such as autistic people). A phrase-based approach may also motivate AAC users who are not yet confident in literacy, as it takes away the some of the pressure of forming sentences, especially during conversation.

Alternatively, Super Core’s single-word selection approach allows for more freedom in forming sentences. Users can explore language with less restrictions, choosing the individual words they want. This could be important for some users to develop greater language skills, including gestalt language processors, so deciding which vocabulary will best support an individual’s communication needs and aspirations will be unique to them and likely to change over time.

Grammar vs efficiency

Output from Super Core is grammatically correct. When combined with educational content available, this could make Super Core a better option for someone starting to explore symbol communication, learn literacy and phonetics.

Instead, Voco Chat prioritises speed of communication for conversation and connecting phrases to meaning and responses. This makes it more suited to someone whose end-goal is not literacy or someone who is already literate but requires symbol support (someone who has developed complex communication needs later).

Cell size

The variance in cell size between the two vocabularies also makes them suitable for different people. Voco Chat has fewer and larger cells per page, which could be more suitable for an AAC user with limited control of their access method. For example, someone with less dexterity in their hands or less precision with eye gaze may require larger cells.

Overall, Creating an individual robust AAC solution may require using a combination of pragmatic and core based AAC with the option of selecting single words, phrases and keyboard AAC. This gives AAC users the freedom to explore language and express themselves without gatekeeping any words. One way Smartbox Speech and language Therapist Becky implements this with Grid users is by using the change Grid set command to offer access to both options.

A robust, individual, solution also means personalisation to a user’s, activities, interests, and personality. Manuals for each vocabulary on the Smartbox Hub detail the many ways you can personalise grid sets.

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Test out Voco Chat and Super Core in a free trial of Grid 3 (Windows) or Grid for iPad.

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