Tag Archives: augmentative communication

When All the Hard Work Pays Off

Braxton surprised us all today.

Braxton Using 2 IpadsUsing his talker, he told us he wanted to play his ABC Game. We gave him his dedicated play iPad with the app and had his talker next to him. The game showed the letter B and the animated image that goes along with it. Suddenly, Braxton reaches over to his talker, opens up the alphabet page and finds the letter B. We all halfway thought it was an accident but reinforced it anyway “Yea that is a B, good job, Braxton!” Then, the C comes across the screen and again Braxton goes to his talker and finds the C. Then Braxton skips ahead a few letters but goes back to his talker when he recognized a letter. We screamed and cheered like our favorite team had just won the championship.

Braxton got through the alphabet and correctly identified about 8 letters completely on his own, completely unprompted, and quite intentionally. We had him go through the alphabet a second time and I caught some of it on video, again he identified several letters. That was not what we were working on in speech or the current activity, but a HUGE milestone that we would have never reached if he only had a limited program with a few words or phrases available to him.

 

This taught me a few things and also reinforced some of our current ideas about AAC.

  1. He is paying attention when we teach.  We have been working on using the iPad not just for requests, but to talk about what is going on around us and what we see. Often, when Braxton is playing with a toy or an app on the iPad, I use his iPad to show him the object is also on his talker and he can tell me things about it, or just identify it. I just want him to know that he has that word to express. I show him the word, I guide his hand so that he has to push the button to speak the word. Sometimes he is interested and sometimes he looks the other direction with a big grin purposely defying mom or his speech therapist. But, today, he did exactly what we have showed him, but completely on his own. That’s Braxton for you, he will do things when he is good and ready to do them and not a second earlier.
  2. We need two iPads. I have seen a few recommendations to support the idea that beginning AAC users should have two devices. One should be solely dedicated to communication, so that the user understands that this is a communication tool and not just another game or object for entertainment. The other can be used for learning apps and games. We have a school provided iPad and one that was given to us through DARS. Braxton has his communication app on both iPads, but uses the school one primarily for communication. We use the 2nd iPad to model and have back-and-forth discussions with Braxton using his app. We also allow free-play and exploration with the play  iPad and Braxton will often exit out of his game to open his speech app to say something and then go back to his game. Having two iPads available at all times eliminates the need to exit the app to discuss it or to discuss an unrelated topic while still enjoying a game or movie.
  3. Early AAC Users NEED a Robust Communication System.  After today, I think back to the early programs we used and even the first school recommendation and I realize that Braxton would not have been able to do what he did today with any other communication system we have used. Even Speak for Yourself required some programming, BUT the key is that I had ABILITY to do this. Some people choose to use the internal iPad keyboard to learn letters and for a while, I did consider doing this. However, with Braxton’s limited fine motor skills, he kept opening the keyboard when he was trying to access a word, so I disabled the keyboard. I know that pre-literacy skills are important and that his class focused on a “letter of the week,” so I decided to create a page on the device specifically for the alphabet letters. Boy, am I glad I did! We wouldn’t have known otherwise that Braxton knew and recognized his letters! Thanks to the “Babble” feature in Speak for Yourself, Braxton has access to ALL of the words on his system and not just the few words we have open. In Babble, I have learned that Braxton knows more than we thought, as he finds new words and often uses them correctly. Again, not something that was possible using more limited communication apps. Having access to a robust vocabulary means that Braxton is able to show us what he knows.
  4. Let the AAC User lead. When I am working with Braxton alone or even in Speech therapy, we often get caught up in trying to MAKE Braxton pay attention to us and follow our lead, that we forget that allowing the student to direct the lesson can also be extremely beneficial. If Braxton were a speaking child, many of our lessons would cater to the things he likes and motivate him. i.e., kids that love ‘Thomas the Train’ often have lessons or activities about trains to motivate their speech and help them reach their goals. Sometimes we fail to remember that children who cannot speak also have likes and topics that motivate them. We had every intention of working on identifying Body Parts today and Braxton was having none of it. When he reluctantly cooperated, we rewarded him by letting him choose an activity. He chose the ABC game and consequently showed us that he recognizes letters and understands how to use his device properly. Had we made him stick to identifying body parts today, we wouldn’t have reached this milestone. It’s okay to sometimes let go of the plan and see where the user takes you; they just might surprise you!
  5. Re-inforce Communication as if it is Intentional, ALWAYS. I read something a while back that stuck with me. I follow so many blogs and pages about AAC that I am forgetting exactly where I saw this, but I’m pretty sure it was on Dana Neider’s Uncommon Sense Blog Page.  Someone had asked a question along the lines of  “How will my child know this app is their voice?” and Dana bluntly responded, “When you start treating it like one.” She wasn’t being rude or anything (at least that’s not how I took it), but at that moment I thought, “She’s absolutely right.” How else is a child supposed to learn that this is a tool to help them communicate? If we constantly say “Oh, that’s not what you meant” and direct the user to ‘say’ something else, or worse, if we ignore the user altogether. When a child is learning to speak and they babble “ma ma” or “da da,” what do we do? We immediately respond, “That’s right I AM momma” or “Are you looking for Daddy?” The child then learns that “ma ma” or “da da” will get your attention and that’s how they learn ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy.’ When an AAC user hits a button, we assign meaning and help them learn when we respond appropriately. Braxton ‘accidentally’ found hugs on his talker, and when I responded by saying “Oh, you want a hug” and gave him a big bear squeeze, he quickly learned what that button meant and that he liked it, so it’s now his favorite request. Even when Braxton is playing or accidentally opens Babble, I will talk to him about any word that he opens and his face lights up as he realizes I am listening and will either find the word again or say something else, like ask for a hug, once he has my attention. Avoid thinking your child is ‘accidentally’ saying something and always treat it as though he purposefully saying something so that you can help to assign meaning. THAT is how he learns it is his voice.

 

Moments like today show me that what we are doing is working and it was the right path for us. It is easy to get caught up in the work and feel like you are not making progress, but when the day comes that everything falls together just right, there is no greater reward.  I am so proud and so amazed at the progress Braxton is making with his Communication App, Speak for Yourself. I will openly admit that some days we are not the best at using the app, modeling, and following through, but no matter how often we use it, it’s available and Braxton now understands it’s purpose. I love seeing him figure things out and using the skills we have worked so hard to achieve.

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Filed under AAC, Special Needs Child

When Being His Voice Hurts

There was a lot of hand-over-hand help, but Braxton enjoyed coloring his project.

There was a lot of hand-over-hand help, but Braxton enjoyed coloring his project.

Braxton came home with an assignment this week- to fill out an “All About Me” Poster. I looked at it and thought how fun it would be to work with Braxton helping him color it in and gluing pictures to show his classmates. All the standard questions were there, My name is ___, I am __ years old, I live in ___, and then there is a space for Braxton’s picture, and finally I get to “I want to be a ___ when I grow up.” I mentally filled in the blanks for all of the other questions as I looked it over, but when I got to that last one I paused.

I don’t know what he wants to be when he grows up.

 

Questions like that make me sad for a number of reasons.

For one, I don’t even know what I would “make-up” as a realistic answer because I don’t know what he will be capable of in the future. Sure, parents tell their kids that they can be anything that want to be and we don’t ever want to crush their dreams, but as a parent of a child with special needs I feel a greater responsibility to make sure those dreams are realistic. I want to always set my son up for success and one of the ways I can do that is by giving him attainable goals. Even if they are out-of-reach they should still be attainable, meaning that if he really worked hard and everything fell in to place, it could be possible. Picking something out of the sky hardly seems fair.

Secondly, I think what hurts most is  when I realize that he lacks the ability to answer for himself when it comes to likes/dislikes, preferences, goals, dreams, etc. Even if what he wanted to be when he grows up is unattainable, he can’t even tell me what that dream might be. I don’t know if he wants to be fireman, a teacher, a doctor, the president of the United States, or any other profession. And I feel completely guilty when I have to pretend that I know what he would say.

There is a big difference in speaking up for him and speaking for him. I will always speak up for Braxton because I am his parent and advocate. I will be his voice to make sure his needs are met and to be certain that he is treated with kindness and equality. Speaking for Braxton diminishes him as an individual and inhibits his ability to think for himself. Just because he cannot tell me what he wants to be does not mean that he does not have a dream for his future. Speaking for him could eventually send him the message that what he has to say is unimportant and not only will he stop thinking for himself, but he will then lack all motivation to speak for himself. I don’t ever want Braxton to feel that way, which is why speaking for him, even in what seems like meaningless situations (like a class assignment), brings on so many mixed emotions.

Braxton has made incredible progress with his Augmentative Communication Device, but he is still not able to fully express himself like I would like to see. I know that he will get there eventually and I’m so glad that we have given him the tools he needs to be independent in his thoughts and expressions. But, until he gets there I struggle with how to handle speaking for him when it is called for and how it may or may not impede his ability to speak to us later on.

So, how did I end up answering the question?

While I have no clue what Braxton would like to be when he grows up, I think we can all agree that whatever it is he decides to be, he will be totally and completely AWESOME!

When I grow up

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