Unfortunately, our month-long trial with Kyle’s “talker” is coming to a close. It has been amazing to watch him progress in learning how to use the device as his temporary voice. The good news is that Kyle will be able to get a device of his very own; the bad news is we will have to wait almost a month to get it. While we wait, Kyle will continue to go to speech therapy to practice using the speech generating device.
The company who will provide the device requested a narrative of Kyle’s skills with the talker. People seem to be fascinated with the ways this little screen can give so much language to a boy of few words. To illustrate, here are some of the ways Kyle has used the program in the past month.
Above is the page Kyle navigates to at breakfast time. He gets to the page all on his own: first by pressing I want, then to eat, and finally the food choice. As he builds his sentence, it appears in the sentence strip at the top of the page. After he chooses his food, I direct him to press the sentence and the device verbalizes it. So even though he already knew how to say “oatmeal,” and rather than showing him two choices and having him point to what he wants, the device teaches him how to use language to form a sentence.
Sometimes, especially in the beginning, he would navigate out and ask to pet his dog, Cookie. I would say something like, “Not right now, Cookie is sleeping.” or “No Kyle, it’s time for breakfast, not for petting Cookie.”
Or, he would navigate back out to the desserts and start asking for brownies or cake at breakfast. In the beginning I asked his speech therapist if we should only show choices that are available. I loved her answer. Just like with spoken language, children ask for things that they might not be able to have at the time. The device is intended to be as close to spoken language patterns as possible. So if Kyle asks for cake at breakfast, whether with the device or with his words, our answer is the same: “No cake for breakfast!” (Unless it’s Mother’s Day, and then by all means we are having cake.)
By the end of the trial, Kyle would ask for various desserts while I made his breakfast oatmeal, and I would hear him say, “noooo!” to himself after making the choice. It was impossible not to smile at his little head shaking back and forth. He really understands the concept!
Another way he used the device during meals was to request his ipad. Oftentimes Kyle seems to eat better when distracted by his ipad games. He was able to navigate through I want/to play/on the ipad all on his own. And of course then he was rewarded with his ipad.
Playtime has magical possibilities with the talker. Kyle’s SLP programmed in his most favorite activities. Each tab that has a little “play” button in the top right corner navigates to another page of descriptive words and phrases for that activity. So not only does he learn vocabulary to go with each activity, the device facilitates and structures his play (which is what I was supposed to be doing all along, but really don’t have the knack for).
Kyle did so many great things on his own with the bubbles page. He appropriately used my turn and your turn with me. He requested that I blow the bubbles up high. And he requested do it again. He also demonstrated these skills with his SLP in the office.
Kyle was very enthusiastic about using the reading vocabulary. He continually pressed I like that story while we read The Cat in the Hat, one of his favorites books. He also happened to choose that book using the device (the tab with Books has titles of his favorites).
One day my Mom worked with Kyle on playing farm as a structured activity. The next day, I realized there was a page for farm animal actions and practiced playing it with Kyle. The day after that, my mom played farm with Kyle again. She was incredulous at the difference in his play skills over two days. Instead of making all of the animals repeatedly slide out of the silo, he was feeding, watering, and putting them to sleep.
Throwing the animals was still part of his play habit though, so I tried adding a no throw button. I think it had the opposite effect: after I added the button he started throwing just so he could press no throw afterwards. Nothing gets past this child.
Last week the theme for show-and-tell at school was Mother’s Day (bring an item your mom likes). So I sent him with a wildflowers book. At school they all stand up and say three things about their show and tell item. For most of the school year, Kyle could only participate in the speaking portion if I would write the three things on a piece of paper. Even then, someone else would be his voice. Now his talker can be his voice. With each icon, I wrote a message for the device to speak. When he pressed each icon, he was finally able to participate in show-and-tell the same way as his peers.
We are so lucky that Kyle attends a school where not only are there other children with speech devices, but almost all use the same app and the teachers are familiar with it. Once I realized I could send the device to school, the teachers asked me if they could keep it for a night and program some school pages.
Once again, Kyle’s participation in school was able to align with his peers. His teachers programmed in the daily jobs, and Kyle’s was “vocabulary reader.” They added in the vocabulary words for Kyle, allowing him to be an active participant in his class.
The pages you see here are rather basic. As Kyle learns the program, we can add more words per page and structure the pages differently to mimic his natural speech patterns. The possibilities are endless.
When we get Kyle’s permanent device, he will continue with the pages that were programmed for him. At that point, I am sure one of the first things he will navigate to is his favorite button on the question page. He laughs every time he says it: “What’s up, dude?” We always knew he had a sense of humor. Now he can put it in his own words.
(Screenshots courtesy of Saltillo’s NOVAchat program)