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Feature Matching: Connecting Kids with Meaningful Content & Technology

When it comes to apps, we live in a world where it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of apps on the market. To make things more complicated, app markets vary by the type of device you use. So, when it comes to app selection, it’s only natural that we gravitate towards and rely on word of mouth. After all, SLPs look at apps with an SLP eye. But when it comes to using those recommended finds in therapy, a stranger on social media can’t tell you the best app to use with a specific client. That’s where featuring matching (among other professional practices) comes into play.

What is feature matching?

I remember learning about featuring matching back in graduate school in my Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) course. It’s a concept that I have lovingly taken with me through my fifteen years of clinical practice. As clinicians and educators, it is likely that we utilize feature matching without even recognizing it.

According to Gosnell, Costello, and Shane (2011), feature matching involves “a systematic process by which a person’s strengths, abilities, and needs (current and future) are matched to available tools and strategies” (p. 88; Shane & Costello, 1994). Whether you are selecting an AAC app, a speech app, or an app featuring specific words and concepts, featuring matching should always be a clinical consideration.

Feature matching is a lot like buying a car. While your dream car might be the one you want, it’s not always the one you need.

Take for example a family of five. When shopping for a vehicle, the current and changing needs of the family will need to be considered.

Take a Mini Cooper. They are fun cars to drive. They seat five, are idea for driving and parking in the city, and have a slew of safety features. All of the features listed below would benefit a family of five. But what about space? While a Mini Cooper might seat five, it doesn’t leave a lot of room - a priority for a family of five. That means the kids sitting in the back seat will be in each other’s space and there's not a lot of room to pack for a long road trip. The Mini Cooper is probably better suited for a one or two-person family to zip across town or take a trip out of town with the dog in tow.

In contrast, consider the Honda Minivan. Not only does it have a variety of safety features, but it has space. That means there’s room to pack for a long road trip, cart Girl Scout cookies across town, or drive half the soccer team to the game. While most people probably like clean cars, parents with young children would find the convenience of a built-in vacuum cleaner an added bonus!

When it comes to apps and featuring matching, think about what features are the most advantageous for specific students and situations.

You might start by asking yourself some of the following questions:

- What is the purpose of using this app? For example, is it for student use

or a resource for parents, caregivers, educators, and/or professionals?

- Does the app provide appropriate speech and language models?

- Is there plenty of time for students to make selections or answer questions?

- Does the app elicit passive or active student participation?

- Can the student use the app independently or do they need assistance?

- Is the app distracting or does it provide rich opportunities for student

interaction and learning?

- Is the app available to the student and his/her family?

- Does the app provide stimuli appropriate to the student’s therapy goals?

- Does the app allow users to reduce background noise and distractions?

- Does the app allow uses to pause or repeat items?

- Can the app be modified to meet the student’s needs?

- Does the app have features that help with generalization?

If you want to know more about apps and feature matching,

then check out the following resources:

Jessica Gosnell’s (2011) feature matching rubric for communication apps

Kathy Schrock's website has easy to use evaluation forms to help you evaluate app content and the helpfulness of an app in creating media.


Gosnell, J., Costello, J., & Shane, H. (2011). There isn't always an app for that! SIG 12 Perspectives on Augmentative & Alternative Communication, 20(1), 87-96. doi:10.1044/aac20.1.7

Shane, H., & Costello, J. (1994, November). Augmentative communication assessment and the feature matching process. Mini-seminar presented at the Annual Convention of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, New Orleans, LA.

#apps #educators #slps #parents #digitalmedia #technology

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