Augmented Communication Part 6 - More and More and More Words and a New Talker
Last week, my father asked me how I know when Nathaniel wants to add a new word to his talker. Isn't that just like a grandparent - challenging the middle generation on behalf of the younger - I love it!
Thankfully, I had a recent example to share with him. Nathaniel became infatuated with the movie Frozen this month. Despite our encouragement that he let it go, he hasn't. His usual show requests are Curious George, Daniel Tiger, or Cars Movie - all titles he has on his talker. Rather than using his talker to request his normal shows, he repeatedly brought me the DVD case for Frozen.
"Do you want the word Frozen on your talker?" I finally asked one day. He nodded his head yes. Since adding the word to his talker, he has never once brought me the case. He asks for it by name using his talker. At almost three, he is actively participating in decisions about which words he wants to have available on his device.
Today, I have a second story for Grandpa.
Nathaniel and I were on a walk when he reached his hand over the side of the stroller and signed WANT. I looked back to see if he had dropped something, saw nothing, and started to walk again. He kicked his foot (to get my attention) and signed WANT again with his hand still over the edge of the stroller. I said, "I don't know what you want, Nathaniel," as I heard acorns crush under my next steps. ACORNS! He wanted acorns! On two outings earlier this week, I had paused at this place in our walk, collected five acorns from the ground, and counted them out into his eager hands. He spent the remaining distance of those walks transferring the acorns from cup holder to cup holder on his stroller tray.
I squatted down near him, asked permission to use his talker, and opened the word ACORN. "You want acorns, don't you?" I said, as I modeled where to find this newest word. I have come to recognize Nathaniel's unique smile that signals satisfaction at being heard and understood. He offered one at this point. "Should we leave the word acorn open on your talker?" He smiled again, nodded yes, and immediately found the word on his own.
Acorn is the 304th word we have opened on the talker. 304 words! At the end of July, we had about 200 words opened. We are averaging one new word each day for twelve weeks. Gulp.
The pace that we have moved to three hundred words has caused me some alarm. What if he forgets where to find the words he previously knew? What if he becomes overwhelmed at how fast screens seem to change? What if he quits using the device? Our speech therapist reminds me often to let it go. (Last one. Sorry. Those songs just stick.)
"Model, model, model," she advises, "Don't worry about outcomes now. Keep using the talker."
There is so much information on the web about modeling, or aided language input as the AAC folks call it, that I am not going to rewrite a blog post that has already been written advocating for the practice. I will add my two cents that modeling works. When we use the talker; Nathaniel wants to use the talker.
I am currently trying to have at least one hour a day that I do not speak to Nathaniel verbally, but only with the talker. It gets his attention when I close my mouth and talk the way he has to talk. It improves my memory of where words are stored. It also improves my strategic competence - the ability to use the available words to say what I want to say. I hope to increase the length of time daily that I use only the talker to communicate with Nathaniel. That goal is a bit easier now, because we have two devices.
Nathaniel's talker for over a year has been the iPad Mini that his siblings purchased for him as an adoption gift equipped with an augmented communication app. It is in a red Gripcase, and the device you have probably grown accustom to seeing in our photos. It has worked well, but not perfectly. Nathaniel needs a key guard to help him keep his other fingers elevated from the screen. No one makes a functional key guard for the app we use when run on an iPad Mini; the holes are too small. We created our own, but it hasn't been the complete answer. I have been praying for a larger iPad, a case with built in speakers, and a key guard since the first of the year.
I was contacted last month by one of the agencies we work with and learned that Nathaniel was approved for a dedicated speech generating device. The coordinator shared that Nathaniel has cognitively proven he can utilize and needs a robust language system. I was given some choices in the new device and selected a full size iPad Air, the iAdaptor case, and the same Speak For Yourself app that we have been using. I am still a bit surprised that God answered my prayer in this way. I did not make the request of the agency. After multiple meetings with the coordinator and her witnessing Nathaniel use his device, sometimes inappropriately - he told her to leave once, she advocated on his behalf, made all the arrangements, and then contacted me to finalize the selections. God continues to work in amazing ways for this little guy.
Having a larger device with a plastic elevated key guard will be a huge bonus for Nathaniel. Each individual icon is slightly larger than on an iPad Mini, making the screens easier to navigate. I am excited for him start using it. And to see him carry it! The new device is much heavier than our Little Red Mini! But he is bigger and stronger now. He has come so far. I remember well my frustration when told by a speech therapist that until Nathaniel could accurately use two buttons, he could not be given more. I knew that her thinking was wrong. He wasn't using her archaic two large button device because he was bored. God has guided this journey. He provided better evaluations. He provided more experienced therapists who at a foundational level believe in Nathaniel and recognize his potential.
I want to end this post with a word of encouragement to other parents just starting out with augmented communication for their child. Presume competence. Advocate. Plan for tomorrow, not just your child's ability today. Believe God's promise - that He has big prosperous plans for your child's future and their ability to speak for themselves.
Communication app: Speak for Yourself
Cases: iAdaptor and Grip Case
External bluetooth speaker to go with Gripcase: Ion Clipster
Key Guard: Lasered Pics Assistive Technologies
Helpful AAC blog written from a mother's perspective: Uncommon Sense