When Kyle was a baby, I took him to a disability fair at our library. The communication aids clinic brought various devices to demonstrate assistive communication. I remember being fascinated, but in my typical fashion, I figured we would never need something like that for Kyle because surely he would be able to talk at a young age. However, it was comforting to know such devices existed.
When he lagged further and further behind his peers in speech, I finally got my act together and got him on the waiting list for the communication aids clinic. We waited for the call for over two years.
In the meantime, we went to speech therapy for a year learning to use the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). I went as far as to buy this neat little binder with a set of a million pictures.
His speech language pathologist (SLP) was pleased with his progress. The methods involved having Kyle hand the therapist a picture of what he wanted repeatedly. For an hour. We started right after I had Mr. S (baby #4) so I was usually in danger of nodding off during each appointment in the tiny, overly warm office. Sometimes my attempt to stay awake was literally painful.
The method started with using only one picture, then a choice of two. So if we were doing a puzzle, Kyle would have to hand his SLP the picture of a puzzle for each puzzle piece. He caught on quickly in the office, but the skills never transferred to home. Mainly, all the little pictures were perfect tossing objects for my sensory boy who loves to throw. So instead of handing me the picture each time he wanted a goldfish cracker, he’d throw the picture on the floor.
Needless to say, I wasn’t very motivated to get the binder out at home. The eventual goal was for him to make a sentence on the velcro strip at the bottom. However, we ran out of speech benefits for the year at the same time that Kyle’s baby brother got to the age where I couldn’t occupy him in the tiny speech office during appointments.
Right after our speech benefits ran out, I got the call that Kyle’s name finally came to the top of the communication aids clinic’s waiting list. The purpose of the clinic is to evaluate for the appropriateness of an Augmentative and Alternative Communication device (basically a tablet in a durable case with a speaker loaded with one powerful “talking” app). If they determined he was eligible, then he would be signed up for at least 6 months of therapy to choose and learn to use the device.
The evaluation appointment was very positive and exciting. Kyle knows his way around an ipad, so he got right to work navigating through the options. The thing that was most encouraging to me was how Kyle not only pressed the words, but tried to say them. I walked out of that appointment on cloud nine thinking of the possibilities of the device.
We have been going to therapy for a couple of months now, and last week the long-awaited trial device arrived at our house. Here is a short video of Kyle using it to request an activity.
The other morning at breakfast, I navigated it to the breakfast choices for Kyle. When I handed him the device, he navigated back out to “desserts” and requested a brownie. He likes using it to ask to pet his dog Cookie. And this morning he asked to blow bubbles. The activity itself has a page where he can say words about it, and he consistently chose “your turn” and looked at me expectantly.
Not only does the device give him a voice, it allows him the vocabulary to interact with people around him in socially appropriate ways. He won’t have to carry it around for the rest of his life, but as he adds to his spoken vocabulary, the device will allow him to find his voice and integrate with people in his community more effectively.
Want to read more about AAC? Visit the Uncommon Sense blog for neat and interesting ways to get the most out of assistive communication technology.