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Some Big "Little" Exciting News - Speak for Yourself on iPhone

Some Big "Little" Exciting News - Speak for Yourself on iPhone

Photo by Josiah Rankin

Photo by Josiah Rankin

In the middle of setting up our camping trip on Saturday, I received an email that rocked our world - Nathaniel's communication app was released for iPhone and we were invited to be beta testers.

In the time it takes to brown hamburger and open cans of beans to make chili, the app downloaded and I synced Nathaniel's vocabulary from a recent Dropbox backup. Next time I carried things outside, I sat down next to Nathaniel on the retaining wall from where he was watching his brothers cut wood. I handed him my phone with Speak for Yourself open. Inquisitively, he grabbed it, stared at the home screen for a minute, and then said "CHAINSAW."

I wanted to yell, "LOOK AT WHAT JUST HAPPENED, WORLD!" I wanted to post the news to Hold My Words and share it with the online AAC community. Why? Because in many ways that moment was as exciting as the first time Nathaniel used a device. He had words, where moments before he did not have a voice.

Authentic AAC alert: I am about to be very honest and vulnerable here. Sometimes my nonverbal child has no voice because we fail as a family to keep his words available. On Saturday, everyone was busy setting up camp and preparing for our adventure. I was inside making food or running in and out carrying supplies. Nathaniel's safety around the chainsaws and fire was the highest priority. Knowing where the airway bag was for an airway emergency was also a priority. When I went out to show him the app on my phone, Nathaniel's iPad was on the back porch where it had been used last. The iPad mini, the one we try to always carry as parents for modeling purposes, had been set down when Rich needed to get the tent from the garage. In the excitement of teaching Nathaniel to use a hammer to drive tent stakes, Rich hadn't picked it back up or reminded Nathaniel to get his own device. Saturday was not our finest #AACfamily moment. But it was real life. And specifically because of real life, the release of Speak for Yourself (SFY) for the iPhone is ground breaking news.

Since SFY had not released this news themselves, I postponed sharing it broadly. Using the app on iPhone for the last couple days has allowed me to form some initial thoughts on how it will enhance our family's use of AAC and perhaps Nathaniel's ability to speak.

SFY on iPhone Increases Accessibility and Portability
Despite Nathaniel's words not being close on Saturday, every family member had an iPhone close.  For better or worse, our phones are usually with us at all times. The availability of Nathaniel's communication app on devices we are already conditioned to carry is huge. The portability of an iPhone or iPod Touch for Nathaniel personally might increase his ownership of a device.

SFY on iPhone Increases Communication Partners and Modeling
Nathaniel has an iPad dedicated to SFY. We are fortunate to have a communication partner device, an iPad mini, that one person can use for modeling. If every person in our home who has an iPhone (two parents and three siblings) has access to SFY on their phone, Nathaniel's communication partners increase by 400%. Four hundred percent greater opportunity for family members to explore the app and learn the motor plan for words. Four hundred percent greater opportunity for modeling. Four hundred percent greater opportunity for Nathaniel to hear his spoken language.

This element, an increase in communication partners and modeling, should find AAC professionals paying close attention to how SFY is striving to help families find success.  In their AAC Modeling Intervention Research Review, Sennott, Light, McNaughton recently stated, "For the purposes of this review, AAC modeling-based interventions all contain two key features, including communication partners (a) modeling aided AAC as they speak and (b) engaging in the context of a naturalistic communication interaction... The goal is that the adult "models" the expressive use of the child's AAC system. With AAC modeling, the teacher uses the AAC system in the context of a naturalistic communication interaction. A naturalistic communication interaction is defined as a 'dynamic process between at least two people which is highly interactive, bi-directional, multi-model and occurs naturally in the context of the learner's day...' In the future, with the advent of near ubiquitous new mobile technologies such as the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad serving as AAC systems, it is practically more feasible that communication partners could be able to provide a greater degree of AAC modeling throughout the day."

At the family level this means LOOK OUT older brothers - I envision our weekly family dinners soon becoming "Device Only Dinners" where every word spoken at the table must be from a device. Start learning those motor plans!

SFY on iPhone Increases Availability of Words to Nathaniel
Nathaniel claiming ownership of his device is a goal. We see improvement. But he is a busy and fast paced three-year-old who often gets caught up in the moment of life and leaves his words behind. With SFY on multiple family members' iPhones, his words will be more available to him. Like at 6:45 in the morning when he sneaks into his big brothers' bedroom to wake them up. The new format will also increase the availability of expressive language to Nathaniel during medical emergencies and outings. Those times when it is most likely that we forget to grab his dedicated device.

Photo by Josiah Rankin

Photo by Josiah Rankin

Photo by Josiah Rankin

Photo by Josiah Rankin

In anticipation of the many questions that will come regarding the smaller format, I want to address two that our family has already asked and made observations.

Are The Icons Too Small?
We are only a couple days into having the app available on iPhone, but Nathaniel is surprisingly accurate even with the smaller icons. Nathaniel has a fantastic isolated finger touch, in part I think because we offered him an iPad with SFY at a very young age. There was a high motivation to perfect his isolated finger touch and learn how to use a touch screen; it got him what he wanted. The difficulty he experiences with the iPad and the iPad Mini, a tendency to rest his other fingers on the screen, seems to be a non-issue when he uses the the app on the iPhone. The reduced screen size seems to eliminate the problem. Nathaniel easily finds his favorite apps on my phone. The SFY buttons on the iPhone are relatively the same size.

Can You See The Pictures?
The pictures are very small on the iPhone format. But SFY is built on users learning a motor plan to find words, not the pictures. It is telling that within a minute of being given the smaller device after watching his brothers cut wood with a chainsaw that Nathaniel said, "CHAINSAW." He didn't need to see the picture to speak. The word was exactly were he expected to find it.

Are two days long enough to fully understand how SFY on iPhone will impact Nathaniel's expressive communication? No. Long enough to fully understand the difficulties that might come with the format? No. Will we immediately abandoned his dedicated full size iPad and key guard? No. Beta testing is exactly what it is - testing. But so far this test has shown amazing promise. Rock Nathaniel's WORDS sort of amazing promise. Our family is over the moon excited about how we already see it will enhance Nathaniel's language growth and expressive language opportunities. Well done, Heidi and the rest of the Speak for Yourself team. Thank you.

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