Saturday, April 18, 2015

AAC-using Popsicle Puppets

 Do you have a young AAC user in your life who loves characters? Then this (very simple) project is for you:

Hi friends!

Maya loves characters. Recently in therapy she made a few popsicle stick character puppets, and I thought about how easily they could be modified to use with AAC. They are highly motivating and can be used in a ton of different ways. Here are the instructions and some ideas for use:


Step 1: Print pictures of characters. Or trains. Or people from TV shows. Or trees. Basically anything. I printed mine on cardstock for a bit of extra durability.


Step 2: Use a hole puncher (or whatever) to make a finger sized hole in the picture.


Step 3: Glue on a popsicle stick. Don't leave too much sticking out at the bottom, as that could get tricky for modeling later. Just enough that you can grab it and make it walk/hop/jump/drive around during pretend play.



Step 4: After the glue dried, I covered mine in clear packaging tape. This is optional, but I think if you don't do it there's a good chance the finger hole will tear. As you can see, I didn't waste much time on this---just get it all taped up, it doesn't matter if the tape is hanging over the edges. You'll fix that in a minute.


Step 5: Cut off the extra tape from around the edges, and cut the tape out of the finger hole. (I used the hole puncher to punch a hole through it first, then cut.)


Step 6: Pat yourself on the back.

Maya helped me make these and was extremely excited. As soon as the first one was done she grabbed it up and went straight to Mini to show me that Mike Wazowski wanted a smoothie. Interestingly, she had a better idea for use than I did---I thought I would stick my finger through the back-----but she showed me that sticking your finger through the front lets you see the character and do the speaking/modeling at the same time. Super fun!



This is what it looks like when I model with the finger puppet. For kids who aren't highly motivated to attend to modeling, this is way more fun than just watching a finger.



Possibilities:

  • Use during pretend play to model what the finger puppets are saying/doing/thinking. Ex I love jumping on this table, I am hungry, I want to go in the bus
  • Use to practice interviewing/questioning. The puppet can ask the child questions (What is your favorite color) or the child can ask the puppet. 
  • Two puppets can talk to each other----one on the finger of the child, one on the finger of the communication partner.
  • The communication partner can play the role of the puppet, or can act as a narrator independent of the puppet (Like "I wonder what he's going to say next" or "Let's ask him what kind of ice cream he likes . . . Hmm, it looks like he's going into the dessert screen, I wonder which flavor he's going to pick!")
There are a ton of possibilities, I imagine---these are just a few that we played with today. Please feel free to chime in below and share ideas for how these might be used----or with ideas of other fun puppets to create!

(Also, I shared this previously on the blog's Facebook page, but this also works with actual puppets. We did this a little while ago and it was fun for a bit, but I have a feeling that the characters will have more staying power---my kids love characters.)



puppet with a finger hole cut out for modeling

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Communication Repair at 2: Speech, Gestures, and AAC

This is Will. Will is a "typically" developing 2.5 year old who has had access to his own AAC device since the age of 17 months. This happened partially because he really really wanted to get his sister's talker (she is an AAC user with complex communication needs), partially because I think that all toddlers could use the help of AAC sometimes, and  . . . partially because I had spent the previous 3 years shouting from the mountaintops that AAC will not impede the development of speech and now it was time for me to kind of put my money where my mouth was.

But I'll talk more about that another day.

Today I want to share this video of Will, taken yesterday morning right before we headed out to our playgroup. He was sitting in the stroller and making some sort of gesture, accompanied by word approximations that I couldn't quite understanding. Maybe something about a book? I assumed it was an item that he wanted to bring with him (he had just asked for the little Daniel Tiger popsicle stick puppets in his hand) but I couldn't guess what he was asking for.

I had just handed him the puppets, started singing a song about walking to playgroup, and moved toward the door to leave when he started gesturing and talking to me. We backed up a step and I grabbed my phone and started filming.

I don't want to spoil the ending by talking about what he was saying (we did, in fact, arrive at the answer in the end) so go ahead and watch this first----see if you can guess the answer before I did:



In hindsight, it seems so obvious. So obvious.

So, a few take-aways:

1. This is pretty great stuff. I'm so happy that he has another tool in his communication toolbox that can help him get his point across. He knew to ask for the talker when he realized that we weren't going to get there with just speech and gestures. He is a speaking child, but AAC does many things for him (again, that will be a big post), including providing a means to repair communication breakdowns. (For more on communication breakdowns and AAC, see here.)

2. I'm going to pat myself on the back for my wait time in this video. When he starts poking around, looking for some word to provide me with a clue, it was hard not to jump in. When he was on the character page, I resisted the temptation to name characters whose names have similar sounds to "doe wahn." When he was on the academic page, it was hard not to point to the tile for "book" since I thought that might be his target. But I'm glad I kept my mouth shut (and my fingers still).

3. I thought field trip was an error.  I'm glad that I wasn't dismissive or negative about that selection---I could have said "No, not field trip" and reached across and deleted it. That probably sounds awful, but I've seen it happen time and again in videos---the communication partner is sure that they know what the child is trying to say, and they keep redirecting and redirecting until they get that answer. (For more on we-can't-read-their-minds, please see: I Am Not A Mindreader (And Neither Are You).)  Instead, I asked "field trip?" and when he said "No" I repeated "No" to confirm what he was saying (my tone was a little dismissive---I wish I had asked "No?" instead).

4. This whole exchange brought me right back to two years ago, when Maya was (persistently, amazingly) trying to tell me to add a word to her talker, and I was (desperately) unable to understand what word was missing. Similarly, there was a happy ending, but boy---the emotional rollercoaster leading up to it was a bit gutting. You can see that here (and the creator of the TV show being discussed actually swung by to comment, which was pretty neat): I Need A New Word

And finally, here is a picture of Will holding a stop sign. Without a picture, this post isn't pinnable and is more difficult to share, and I like this one. I'm including two different symbolic interpretations below the picture. I prefer the first one, but if I'm being honest with myself the second is equally (if not more) accurate.

Stop! Wait! Give me time to use my device without interrupting!
Stop singing that atrocious made up song about going to playgroup! It's Wheels on the Bus or nothing at all!



Sunday, April 12, 2015

Cartoon Character Guess Who (with download)

Nearly a year ago, I wrote about Maya's great love of characters. At the time she was fairly determined to learn the name of every cartoon character under the sun, and to have them all added to Mini (her talker). (You can see that post here.)

Soon after that blog post, I found the old game Guess Who at a thrift store and grabbed it. I didn't totally remember how the game worked, but I know that it's a favorite among SLPs and teachers because it can be used to practice labeling with adjectives, discussing characteristics, and asking questions. I knew that Guess Who would be most compelling for Maya if the human faces were replaced with some of her beloved characters  . . . and so that's what we did.

It took a little fiddling to get the dimensions right, but eventually they were perfect. 

The document containing all of the characters above can be downloaded here . . . and if you don't like those characters, feel free to use the grid and just add pictures for your preferred people! Hint: Print this on cardstock so that you can easily slide the characters in and out.

Oddly, it's taken a year to post this---I have no idea why I didn't put it up when it was first created (I think that maybe I shared it on my Facebook page and forgot to write something here?). I only noticed today because I scrolled back through my blog to find the printable sheet (we needed some replacement tiles) and realized that somehow I never put it up. In case you're curious, this is what Maya's character page looks like today:



And we've got a new one growing, too:


(we also have Disney princesses, but they started out on a separate page)


For what it's worth, we still walk the line of figuring out when to add every-single-new-character she encounters, and when to wait a bit. But these pages sure are invaluable when she wants to chat with new kids in a waiting room or other similar situations. I imagine she uses it with her friends at school, too. Kids need the vocabulary of other kids, even when that vocabulary includes hoards of cartoon characters :) 




Friday, April 10, 2015

A typical conversation, using AAC and speech

This is a video of nothing particularly interesting.

Now I bet that you're dying to watch it, right?

I realized yesterday that it's been a while since I got video of Maya and I chatting, or using AAC, or really anything. This is due to the fact that she generally strongly protests to sitting and being video'd, I generally honor her request not to be recorded (because, you know, right to privacy). I set up the tripod yesterday while Will was napping and eventually persuaded her to hang out and chat and let me record a little. 

Here's a brief summary of the recording (spoiler alert): we chatted about things to do during the last few days left of our break, and then Will wakes up and we look at him on the video monitor.

It's not really noteworthy, but also it's a good representation of what our home communication looks like. Maya is an AAC user, but she's also a speaker, a gesturer, a user of facial expressions and some intonation. In choosing to honor total communication, we mostly let her choose the method she wants (typically, a combination of methods) to get her point across (the mostly is because she sometimes needs prompting or questioning to know that her message wasn't clearly received, and she needs to use a different method to help clarify). 

You might notice that I'm not doing a lot of modeling. If you're an AAC professional (or experienced AAC family) then you know that modeling language is basically the most important thing that any communication partner can do for an AAC user . . . and you might be wondering why I'm not modeling more. The answer is kind of two-part, but it really boils down to knowing my kid: First, I don't always model everything when I talk to Maya. She knows where a lot of vocabulary is, and if she's very interested in a conversation and I start to over-model, she gets fidgety and bored and wanders off. Second, the video camera + over-modeling combination feels kind of like a contrived activity, rather than what a spontaneously multi-modal conversation really feels like. You'll see that at the end when I'm trying to prompt for synonyms she gets tired, physically starts to move away, and keeps saying "no"----we would have hit that exhaustion/rejection sooner if I was trying to make it more "teachable" and less "conversational".

Some things worth noting:
  • Her speech is pretty great, right? She's got some clear, well produced words (Daddy, Mommy, happy) and some others that are clear to us (Will, wake up!). What you can't see here is how limited her clear words are. One of the interesting things about her speech is that she doesn't attempt words that won't be understood (so you don't hear her saying any unintelligible things here).
  • She will choose to speak something that is clear but might not be an exact fit for the situation, rather than trying to generate a novel word/sentence that she doesn't have the motor plan down for. For example, she wants to shout that Will "woke up!" or "is awake!" but she's never said either of those utterances, and it would take a lot of motor planning to form those words and put them together----so instead she shouts "Wake up!" which is something that we ofter say while playing (one person pretends to fall asleep and the other yells "wake up!") so it's easy for her to produce.
  • I think it's funny when uninformed critics have said that AAC users may become overly robotic because they "just stare at computer screens and type things" (I've heard this a lot from people saying nonspeakers should focus on learning sign language because it's "more expressive"). I think it's pretty clear from her expressions, clapping, etc, that using AAC isn't disconnective. 
  • I love at 3:21 when she runs her finger along the line of choices and selects the past tense verb "woke" very deliberately. (The picture below shows that row and the choices that she rejected, including "awake".) She wanted to say (appropriately) that he woke up. I helped finish the thought by modeling the addition of "up" and then said the whole thing together.
she chose "woke" on the far right

Here's the video:










Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The (Briefly) Open Window

Yesterday Maya and I were in the car, driving from school to therapy. Maya was doing a variety of things: looking out the window, answering questions about her day, and occasionally typing or saying something with Mini. She was very jazzed about a class trip happening the following day  (today) and she was saying “Legoland tomorrow!”  There was a period of frenzied typing, wherein she opens the keyboard in her app and hits a bajillion letters with both hands. It’s annoying (each letter shouts individually as she types: A! K! L! LDKDJJEVMVKEKSMAM!!!”) and it’s a favorite activity of hers. I try to allow the typing within reason (no typing at meals or when someone is trying to talk to her) as I’m sure the letter play is helpful, and so is exploring the keyboard, etc. I hummed along with the radio. I didn’t notice when she stopped typing. But I noticed when, after a pause, she started again:

L-E-G-O

Wait. What?

Maya has spelled her name for a long time, and she will spell Will’s name as well. But prior to yesterday I had never seen her spontaneously type another word. Ever. I have made gentle requests (including bribes) to see if she had spelling abilities (Hey Maya, can you tell me how you could write the word ‘cat’?) but was always shut down, directly (No) or indirectly (generally the dramatic typing of massive strings of letters or wandering away from Mini).  But now . . . lego.

Before I got too excited I asked her to hand me Mini, so that I could check and see that she didn’t have a screen open where she could see the word “lego.” For some time she’s been a fan of entering a button and then copying the spelling (Mommy. M-o-m-m-y.) but nothing was there. It was real.

I handed it back. I smiled a little, but I didn’t make a big deal of it.

A window had opened, slightly. Enough to let some light in and illuminate some of the dark areas of Maya’s knowledge. I spend a lot of time thinking about what she thinks, what she knows, what she understands, what she can do . . . and now, somehow, I was getting a glimpse.


I thought quickly and carefully. She was tapping out long strings of gibberish letters.

“Could you clear that out?”

She eyed me in the rear view mirror, cautiously, but I saw her hands tap around the screen silently and thought she must have done it.

“I’m going to ask you about a word and I would like to hear how you want to spell it.”

No response. I tried not to let any hint of I-really-care-about-your-answer come into my voice.

“Cat.” I said, clearly but nonchalantly.

C-A-T

“Hey-good spelling.” I smiled, but played it cool.

“What about ‘dog’?”

D-O-G

She started listing classmates then, moving around the app, talking about different things. I waited, then asked her to clear it again and offered the word “run”.

R-A-N

I kind of liked that spelling error, because it gave me the idea that she might really be thinking about how the words sound, rather than just reporting sight words.

Good job! Run actually has a u in the middle, but you typed ran—that’s so smart. What about ‘mop’?”

A pause.

M-O-P  

That’s definitely not a sight word, that’s phonics. That’s fantastic. She has some writing abilities now, for real. Things are happening! This is amazing!

She’s not interested in playing my game anymore and wants to listen to the radio, she recognizes a song from the school bus. She looks at the snow and the river, and I try one more, asking her to spell “like.”

L-A-K-E

A valiant try, and she included the silent e! Amazing!

We got to the office, did homework, and she had a great session. I kept thinking about the open window, the opportunity that I had been surprised with  to see a new ability. I had no idea she could generate text. She has literally done nothing like that before. As we walked back to the car an hour later, I was anxious to ask her a few new words that I had thought of, hoping to feel out the edges of her phonics awareness. I waited a few minutes, while she drank a chocolate milk box and we talked about going home to see Daddy and Will. Then I asked, casually,

“Hey Maya, do you think you could tell me how to spell ‘food’?”

She typed F- and then looked at me, deliberately in the rear view mirror as she continued –JKKLLKJLKLKNKMKJKJKJKJN

And the window shut.

I can't wait to see the new things waiting the next time it opens up. It's always there, you know, this knowledge and thinking and processing and analyzing, but it takes a stars-aligning type of situation to get to see it all (sensory stuff, cooperation stuff, motivational stuff, attention stuff, muscle/motoric stuff). Just another story to file in my "this-is-why-we-all-need-to-always-presume-competence" folder.




If you're interested in reading more about the "sudden" emergence of skills or ability, this post is great: Night-blooming Flowers: Sudden skill acquisition and extreme context-dependence



Monday, February 23, 2015

Ponderings on Icons, Text, and AAC, via a mini experiment

Like many children with global challenges, Maya has always been a child with a large number of goals. I realized early on that, as a human with limited energy and resources, it wouldn't be possible for me to approach all areas of development with universal enthusiasm and passion, and I decided to focus on communication and literacy. These seemed, to me, to be the cornerstones of everything else---communication is a right, and I was pretty determined to help her find a system that would serve her well. Literacy opens the doors to basically all learning (Want to learn about nature? Let's read a book about it. You like geography? We can find a book on that.). In the world of children with complex communication needs, literacy and AAC are two fields that, when displayed in a Venn diagram type of way, have a solid overlap. To someone with decent (but not deep) knowledge about the two, they seem to mostly compliment each other, except for a few fuzzy points.

This is where I note that the bulk of my reading and learning is about AAC, and I'm not a literacy expert.

Here's one area of conflict: With regards to literacy, there is research that indicates that the pairing of words with icons (like in early reader books where there is a little picture of Dora directly above the word "Dora" in the sentence) is not beneficial, and may be (or is? I don't remember) actually detrimental. This makes sense, as icons would distract the reader from the words being read, and also kind of pull their eyes out of the left-to-right flow of the sentence. 

The goal of AAC, though, is not to teach reading but rather to facilitate communication (although immersion in text-via-AAC seemed to accelerate Maya's reading ability). I imagine that there are apps/systems that only display text in their sentence strip, and there are others that display one or more icons along with their words. I imagine that "should the icons be displayed with the text in AAC" has been a question discussed and debated, particularly among those who develop these systems.

From what I've seen of AAC using/learning, it seems to me that having the icons displayed in the sentence strip along with the words being spoken makes AAC learning/using easier----particularly for young AAC users or for AAC users who are learning their system. (Side note: I, as a part-time user, am perpetually learning the system. I can't imagine when it will be effortless for me to use it, even with the automatic motor planning element. Even as I become more fluent with frequently-used words, we are constantly adding new words to the vocabulary.) While I certainly can't make any grand claims on behalf of all AAC users, I want to share what I've seen with my kids, who present as an interesting case study.

Background: In Speak for Yourself, a word can take one or two taps to say (no word takes more than two taps). When a word is selected it is spoken aloud and move to the sentence strip at the top of the screen. The two icons that were tapped to select the word are displayed under the word, as shown below.
"I" is a 1-hit word, and has 1 icon displayed. "corn" is a 2-hit word and has 2 icons displayed. First the user selects the initial icon, and that takes them to a secondary screen where they can find the second icon.


Will (2.5 years) and Maya (6.75 years): Maya has been using SFY for the past 3 years, Will has been using it for a little over a year. Both were obviously pre-literate at the time they started using the app. It's difficult for me to remember much of Maya's early AAC use (because I'm old, my memory is spotty, and I was just so excited that it was working that I wasn't scrutinizing much)---but now I am watching Will become an elective AAC user through an increasingly academic eye. So here are my take-aways, with a few minutes of video of a small experiment (taken yesterday).

First, a video of Will. For this experiment I selected two words that I knew he had never seen in SFY. I selected one (while the screen was out of his view) and then placed the talker in front of him to see if he was able to properly follow the icon path to select the word without help. 



The big take-aways: Will understands left-to-right flow of (icon) language and is able to follow it independently. Also, having the icons displayed in the sentence strip allows him to practice and copy words that he would otherwise be unable to find.

Broken down:
1. For Will, use of the app has solidified the concept that text (or icons) read from left-to-right. I don't know whether he initially learned this concept from reading stories at home or from studying the order of the icons in the app, but he gets it. He doesn't hesitate when he sees the 2-button-path to Tyrannosaurus Rex, he knows immediately that the button on the left is pressed first, followed by the one on the right.

2. Will is now, I suspect, fully able to "read" Speak for Yourself. The best idea of a "Oh yeah? Prove it!" experiment that I can come up with would be to print off a sentence of icons without including the text, and see if he can recreate the sentence. My suspicion is that this would be easy for him.

Next, a video (in two clips) of Maya. First, to include her, I asked about Tyrannosaurus Rex and escalator, but she already knew where they were (her vocabulary knowledge of SFY outpaces mine). After that I picked a word that I was 100% certain she had never seen---"Trackball" (I don't know what a Trackball is, it's a pre-programmed word in the app). Then something interesting happened: after she viewed the word, I accidentally erased it, so she no longer had the icon path on screen to follow. This leaves two possibilities for how she found the word: a) she memorized both icons in the sequence, b) she memorized the first icon and scanned the page for a word that had the text features of "trackball." I think she did the latter, since she would easily recognize "ball" and also she has long mastered starting sounds.


The big take-away: Maya uses the icon path to help her navigate towards the target word, then either uses an icon OR reading text to locate the target. (I guess I could see if the latter was correct by showing her a novel target with only the first icon and not the final target icon, and see if she was able to use decoding to find the word.)

Maya is an early reader, and her reading has been loosely assessed as at-or-above grade level. I assume that she also read the icons of SFY and that following the icons made it easier for her to practice words in the app or to copy words modeled by other people (Will is currently doing both of those things). However, learning from the icons appears to not have negatively impacted her ability to attend to text.  From what I have seen, she studies the icons in order to locate words, but she also notes the text. For commonly used words she doesn't seem to notice the icons in the sentence strip at all, but if she's in a therapy session where new words are being modeled she will lean over to closely examine the screen of the therapist's iPad, and then she will select the same icons to produce the word on Mini.

Conclusion:  Ha! There's certainly nothing to be "concluded" here, from two specific kids with one specific app in one specific home. But I found it interesting to see Will already following the icon language, and to see that Maya still uses it now for new or less frequently used words. Also, when I use a novel word I find myself staring at the icons in the sentence strip, trying to memorize the path to that word. It seems valuable to have icons displayed to facilitate and solidify AAC use/learning.  

 

Disclaimer: As always, I'm not a professional (nor do I play one on the internet). Comments, critiques, links to research, and other thoughts are welcome below or on our FB page!



Thursday, February 19, 2015

AAC Sibling + Fantastic Search Feature = (Really Cute) Success!

Last week I wrote a post that highlighted the interesting (and kind of amazing) development of AAC siblings: both in terms of their inter-sibling spoken language and their inter-sibling AAC use. That post included a video in which Maya was delightedly using the search feature in her app (Speak for Yourself) to walk her way towards words. These were words that she already knew the location of, but it was more fun to practice spelling and navigating than it simply would be to select the words. (More on how the search feature works in a minute.)

Yesterday, in a development that shouldn't have been surprising (but still kind of was), I found Will sitting in his crib after nap time using the search feature in his talker. He was opening the search feature, entering "m", selecting m&ms, and then following the path to the button for m&ms. And he was very smiley and proud of himself for figuring it out.

The concept of "search feature" might be abstract for the non-AAC-users out there, so let me break it down. Speak for Yourself has what is arguably the best search feature in the world of AAC (certainly the best one that I've seen). A user taps the magnifying glass in the upper left corner, then begins to spell the word that they're searching for.

search feature open with "m" entered

Upon entry of the first letter a scrollable list drops down, and the user can scroll through and select their target word. Two things about this list are unique (and awesome): First, you don't have to spell the whole word correctly. Maya has been able to discern the starting sound of a word for quite some time, at this feature became useful for her as soon as she could type in that initial sound. Second, the icons appear right next to the word---so a child who knows starting sounds but is pre-literate can find their target by recognizing the icon next to the word.

When the word is selected a flashing purple square outlines the path to the word. First, it flashes around the button on the main screen . . .

main screen with the word WITH highlighted-the target word (m&m) is found under that screen

then it flashes around the target word on the secondary screen.

m&m highlighted on the secondary screen

The search feature makes it easy for Maya's teachers and therapists to quickly find words that they want to model. Maya enjoys experimenting with it, but I've also seen her attempt to use it purposefully---when I say "where's 'spectacular' " and she furrows her brow, pauses, and then opens up the search and types in "s." And now Will is in on the game.

Here he is (that's a chocolate ice cream mustache), searching:




AAC siblings are a special kind of awesome. And also, apparently the search feature in SFY is so easy to use that a two year old can use it.


Note #1: If you've got an eye for detail, you may notice that the coloring of the screen in the still pictures differs from the color-coding of the screen in the video. The still shots were provided by another user of SFY and reflect her color-coding. (I wrote this at my college library and didn't have a talker on hand to get still shots!) Different users and families choose to color code the buttons in different ways. 

Note #2: I am not an employee of Speak for Yourself.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Remarkableness of AAC Siblings (part 1 of 7,682)

I don't have 7,682 posts lined up--but as I watch Maya and Will interact with their talkers, I stop to note how remarkable it is, in the truest sense of that word. Several people have asked me about their interaction, both in general (curious about what sibling play and interaction looks like, when language is so limited) and related to the talkers (curious about whether they sit and communicate through the talkers).

In general, they play and bicker and tease and celebrate, just like any siblings. Will's verbal language is just now at the tipping point that I've anticipated . . . the point where he begins to surpass her with speech. They both are mimicking a startling amount, but his imitation of my words and phrases are more clearly articulated than hers (although hers are hugely noteworthy, since prior to now she wouldn't really try much in the way of spontaneous imitation). Sometimes they play quietly, sometimes they boss each other around ("Right here, Will!" "No, Mema!"), and sometimes they argue loudly. The arguing is a combination of "No!" and yelling strings of nonsense at each other (which is somewhat hilarious). They have at least one word that is meaningful only to them ("dah-tah") and despite multiple attempts at asking each of them what it means, I'm left clueless. Maya always shakes her finger at him when she says it, and they both use it when someone is getting in trouble, or when one person is aggravated and the other is teasing, or when there is amused fighting. They also understand each other kind of effortlessly, and when I can't figure out what someone is saying, and the speaker can't translate him/herself with a talker, I ask the sibling "Do you know what s/he is saying?"



Their talker-related interaction has just started to evolve recently. Up until this point they would each use a talker independently, and if one of them was using a talker the other would certainly take note and become an active listener, but that was about it. So, if Maya had Mini at the table and started to say something, Will would try to lean over or pull Mini sideways so that he could watch what she was saying. Sometimes the listened would then try to take a turn on the talker (Will reaching over to say something with Mini after Maya was done) but this was often met with resistance from the speaker ("No!" and pulling the talker back). This type of exchange went both ways.

Recently, there's been a shift. It started one night when I set them both up next to each other at dinner, with talkers on the table. Maya said something . . . and Will quickly copied it. This happened a few times, then they switched---Will said something and Maya copied it. This game continued for the duration of dinner. Hours later, when the kids were playing in the living room, I heard Will say some of the words that Maya had showed him at dinner. He's an impressively fast AAC learner.

This video was taken last night. The kids are eating (and Will is protesting the appearance of the camera). Maya has decided to experiment with/practice using the search feature, and while I'm not sure if her first search was deliberate, there is no doubt that the following one was. (She types in a letter and it pulls up a list of words, which she scrolls through to find her target.) Will and Maya take turns prompting each other, when they appear unsure that the sibling can find what they're looking for, or maybe when they think the other is taking too long?





It feels noteworthy, this type of exchange. Their joint attention is pretty cool, as is their patience and prompting and turn-taking in this little game. They've moved from experimenting next to each other with talkers to experimenting together, certainly. I imagine the last step will be actually talking to/with each other through the devices, using them conversationally. I'm kind of on the edge of my seat to see that unfold.


 


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Maya reads a book

Nonverbal children struggle to learn phonics, they said.

Children with apraxia and other speech sound disorders are at high risk of literacy-related difficulties, they said.

With regard to cognitive functioning, Maya is in the 0.4th percentile when compared to same-age peers, they said.


They didn't know.


We didn't know either . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . but we presumed competence.


Maya, this afternoon, reading:




Notes: The words in parentheses are the words that appear in the text that she omitted when she read aloud. Also, this is a long clip. There's a chunk in the middle that's not very interesting. But I don't like watching videos that are all chopped up, because I wonder what may have been edited out, so I left it long.


There are a few interesting things here. First, a skeptic could wonder whether she's really saying the correct words (since her speech sounds are so limited/garbled)---this is why I picked a random word (ride) and had her clarify with her device. I've done other activities in which I asked her to read sentences solely with her talker, and she did so correctly. So, if you don't believe that she's reading accurately . . . well, then, that's totally your right---but I hope you (and your skepticism) are employed far away from the classroom/therapy/special needs sector.

Second, she seems to really understand the text. When I asked her about the reindeer's name, she looked back and found it. When Anna fell off the horse and it was cold, she said "Oh no!"

Third, her word omissions are interesting. She will often drop words that don't change the meaning of the text (the, a, an, etc). She also omits those words in speech and when using Mini, and I wonder if generating them (via speech or AAC) just seems not worth the effort? And, if so, is she reading them and choosing not to generate them, or is she not seeing them there at all? I wonder if there is research about similar omissions among children with speech difficulties or AAC users. She also skips reading "Anna" on most pages---maybe that word keeps throwing her off, or maybe she doesn't have an easy way to say it? I'm not sure.

And the most interesting thing, of course, is that she blows me away. She reads over my shoulder now. She can pick out words in my intentionally-sloppy handwriting.

She is, undeniably, a reader.

If you're a literacy or special ed person with thoughts (even if they are that I'm doing something wrong, or should be doing something differently) I would love to hear from you (here, on FB, or at uncommonfeedback@gmail.com).






Monday, January 19, 2015

If You Give An AAC User A Large Vocabulary . . .

A few weeks ago, Maya accurately (and surprisingly) used the word "cubicle" during speech therapy. There was a character hiding in a poster, and the expectation was that she would say "behind the desk" . . . but instead she said (via Mini, her talker) "behind cubicle." It seemed too specific to be accidental (she has several thousand words in her device, and she picked cubicle) . . . but no one could remember even teaching her the word cubicle. Some probing the next day revealed that, oh yes, it was a deliberate selection (that story is here).

When a 6 year old who can't speak correctly uses the word cubicle, adults pay attention. When an AAC user uses sophisticated, appropriate vocabulary, it is a strong reminder that not being able to speak isn't indicative of decreased cognitive functioning. Sometimes, the best way that we can help the AAC users in our lives (whether they are your family members or children on your caseload) advocate for themselves is to make sure that they have a robust, colorful, extensive vocabulary. And there are at least three important reasons for this, as far as I can tell:

1. It's more motivating to use exciting words. Maya wasn't motivated to talk about which items were big and which were small when presented with a field of items . . . but she was interested in jumping in when we added giant, huge, enormous, tiny, and some others.

2.  A large vocabulary provides the user with a better likelihood of being able to say exactly what they want to say. A young AAC user could see a school bus drive by and think "That bus shines like the golden sun, roars like a lion, and speeds by like a racecar" . . . but without a large vocabulary, he may only be able to say "Bus yellow loud fast." (And honestly, I'm not sure I would even try to share my complicated thoughts if I could only produce "bus yellow loud fast.")

3. As mentioned above, communication partners are influenced by what they hear. If an AAC user is relegated to only using simple words, then their thoughts sound simple, no matter how amazing they might actually be. If teachers, therapists, and family are only hearing simple words, there is a subconscious lowering of the bar. A child who can say gigantic instead of big sounds like someone who needs more words, more opportunities, more conversation.

It's a cycle, right?

If an AAC user is given a lot of words, they can use a lot of words, which causes others to raise their expectations and presume competence . . . and then those communication partners will program more words.

The more I thought about this cycle, the more it felt exactly like one of those "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie" children's books . . . so I made an AAC themed book that follows that pattern. 

If you're interested in printing and sharing, it can be downloaded here.

(click to enlarge pictures)


















For another great story about presuming competence and programming exciting words, check this out.

If you're interested in thesaurus style printable books to teach some interesting synonyms, this blogger has created some (one is free, the rest are for sale). If you have time to create some of your own, all you need is some time with thesaurus.com and some clipart. (And if you do that, please email them to me! Not kidding.)