Thursday, 1 May 2014

I can...get to know Minspeak!

When investigating different options for augmentative strategies, or during an AAC assessment, you may have come across something called Minspeak. Minspeak is a way to represent language using a small set of pictures (icons) and taking advantage of all the natural associations that can be made from them. This month, let’s take the time to investigate Minspeak in a bit more detail.

What is Minspeak?
Minspeak has been around since the early 1980’s, created by Bruce Baker, the founder and president of Semantic Compaction Systems. contains a wealth of information about the language. Here’s the basic introduction, taken from the website:

Minspeak uses pictures – called icons. A Minspeak icon is just a picture – a simple, easily recognized picture. Icons are chosen for a Minspeak system because they are culturally relevant and communicate a wide range of common ideas and topics.Pictures are used before, during and after a person learns to spell or read.

Minspeak systematically uses multi-meaning icons. Pictures and icons naturally evoke multiple ideas. For example, the word bed can be used to express the idea of a bed, whereas the picture or icon of a bed can express not

only the word bed, but also the idea of sleeping, living, being tired, furniture, saying goodnight, underneath, and maybe even the little word but (like in “get your butt out of bed”). Minspeak systematically uses the multiple meaningsassociated with a single picture.

Icons are combined into short sequences to code vocabulary.
Minspeak icons are combined in 2 or 3 part sequences in order to say all the different ideas that the picture codes. Say drink by sequencing JUICE with VERB ("action man"). Say thirsty by sequencing JUICE with ADJECTIVE ("paint brush"). This is the way Minspeak makes systematic use of multi-meaning icons.

  +    = Drink

  +    = Thirsty

Minspeak vocabulary codes follow rules and patterns.
Minspeak systems are developed with rules and patterns for organizing and coding vocabulary. The person using a Minspeak system learns a small set of pictures – usually less than 100 – then learns the rules for combining those icons into short sequences. As the person learns the rules and patterns, a Minspeak system becomes easier and easier to use.

   +    = Drink
  +    = Like
  +    = Sleep

Minspeak vocabulary remains the same over time
Since Minspeak systems use a relatively small set of icons to represent a large vocabulary.
  • New icons are not needed to add a new word. Most words a person uses are already available in the system, and the person using Minspeak has to learn how the word is coded. When a specific word is not available, the rules and patterns for adding new words can be used to create a code or sequence for that word. 
  • As a result, the Minspeak icons remain the same, and stay in the same location as a child grows in his or her use of the system. This makes it easy for the child to remember where the icons are, and to become more automatic in using the Minspeak system.

Minspeak Rules 
Here’s a quick overview of how Minspeak works, highlighting the four basic rules of Minspeak:
  • Minspeak uses pictures
  • Minspeak pictures mean more than one thing
  • Minspeak puts pictures together to code words
  • Minspeak codes follow simple patterns

What is Unity?
Unity is the language system that is used on most Prentke Romich communication devices. It uses a small set of Minspeak icons that can be combined in short sequences to produce words, phrases, and sentences. A person using Unity may be able to transition through various different Unity layouts, beginning with a vocabulary where one picture represents one word. More advanced users may use sequences of icons to represent words or phrases. The use of a consistent set of icons and consistent icon layout assists with vocabulary retrieval and decreases the need for re-learning as language develops.
For more information, check out these resources:‎

Minspeak & Unity by John Halloran

Who uses Minspeak?
Often when Minspeak is first introduced, people think that it looks “complicated” or feel that it will be difficult to learn. However, once the structure and the rules of Minspeak are explained and explored, the potential of this approach for many can be seen. Minspeak systems are used by individuals of all ages and at all stages in terms of language and literacy development.

You can read some of the stories about people who use Minspeak on the website, or just head to Pinterest or YouTube and search out the stories:

“Only God could hear me” is a powerful documentary featuring individuals who use Minspeak and telling the story of how Minspeak came to be. Check it out on You Tube:


How can I try Minspeak?
PASS (PRC Application and Support Software) demo software can be downloaded free of charge from Prentke Romich for a variety of different devices. PASS software allows you to create, modify, and save vocabularies, then load them into your speech generating device. You can also use the PASS to create support materials; cheat sheets, manual boards, vocabulary lists, and so on. With PASS, AAC support professionals can work on their client's device contents without needing to have the device present.

The Prentke Romich Self Study Unity course walks you through the five patterns of Unity 45, 60, 84 and 144 Sequenced. If you have a child or student using Unity, this is a very helpful resource for you to become familiar with the software.

Tips & tools for teaching Minspeak:
Minspeak needs to be taught, and working out where to start can be a daunting task. Luckily, there are lots of ready made resources that can be helpful when introducing and teaching Minspeak to children or adults.

Those of us supporting individuals who have complex communication needs, who are helping to teach Minspeak, will need a good understanding of the structure and the rules behind that structure.

The Prentke Romich company provides a solid range of training options, including Webinars, regional training courses and Self Study Courses.

The Minspeak website has examples of intervention plans and teaching materials:

Praactical AAC also highlights some tips and tricks to help support Minspeak users, incluing “A Year of Core Vocabulary, Unity Style”

Dedicated devices – what’s new?
The Minspeak system for representing language works on speech generating devices created by the Prentke Romich Company (PRC). Check out the range of devices currently available from PRC. (Please note that in Ontario, only certain devices are approved by the Assistive Devices Program for purchase or lease – check with your AAC clinician to find out what is currently available).

Is there an app for that?
The LAMP Words for Life app is based on the Unity Language system and available for the iPad. 

Unity Connect is a powerful new tool that extends the use of the proven Unity language system on your PRC communication device to an iPad. It does not contain any vocabulary but will convert your PRC device vocabulary to a format that can be used on an iPad. Having both a PRC device and an iPad with the same Unity vocabulary ensures the device user always has a backup device. The Unity Connect Reader Application can be downloaded for free in the iTunes App Store. The Unity Connect Conversion Tool is available by subscription only at iSharePRC™.

Upcoming Events:
Child Health Symposium: May 22, 9.00 - 3.00 at TVCC
Collectively Creating Connections and Collaborations: Research and Best Practices in Child Health
The Child Health Symposium is a collaborative presentation of Western University's Faculty of Health Sciences and the Thames Valley Children's Centre. It provides an opportunity for researchers, clinicians and students from all disciplines to:

  • Share their knowledge, ideas and best practices for service delivery
  • Present current research interests and questions
  • Learn more about the child health research happening in our community
  • Network and build relationships and collaborations with other professionals working in the area of child health in the community

ISAAC Conference
The 16th biennial conference of the International Society of Augmentative and Alternative Communication Conference. For those who have never attended an ISAAC conference, here is what you are missing: "The ISAAC Biennial Conference program offers something for everyone with an interest in AAC. Presentations feature leading edge research, and clinical and educational interventions and innovations. People who use AAC share their experiences and perspectives. Posters focus on a wide range of topics, and the Exhibition showcases new technologies or applications of technology, products and services".

When: July 19-24, 2014
Where: Lisboa Congress Centre, Lisbon, Portugal

Don't forget to book for summer camp!!
Looking for a summer camp that will be unique, maybe a little challenging, but most of all fun? If your child is a TVCC client who uses a speech generating device, you will want to check out: "Setting the Stage" and "On With the Show"!
If you are not sure whether these camps are right for your child, check with your ACS clinician.
This year the camps run the week of August 25th - 29th. Register now to secure a spot! click on "opportunities to participate" on left side of screen

Camp ALEC (AAC-Literacy-Education-Communication)
July 27 - Aug 2nd, 2014
Worchester, PA