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Talker and Talking

  • Posted on January 21, 2015 at 10:00 AM

Alex gets it! He finally gets communication!

For years, Alex didn’t really understand how communication worked. Any communication that occurred was accidental. He would do or say something we could understand and interpret, and then he’d be rewarded with what he wanted or needed. But he had no apparent control over these bursts of communication.

After years of speech therapy, special education services, and intensive in-home behavioral therapy, Alex started to get the idea behind communication. Using pictures and PECS, voice output devices, hand over hand, and the occasional gesture, Alex started to communicate in a very basic fashion. Over time, he learned to show more specific wants and needs, like pulling out a food or drink he couldn’t open and setting it in front of someone who could open it. He would spell out key words using blocks or tiles with letters on them. He would even type in a few key words on a computer.

During these many years of slow progress, actual spoken words were rare. They occurred in those serendipitous moments when his frustration exceeded his tolerance without overwhelming his sensory processing abilities. During these rare moments, a word or a phrase would pop out of his mouth and we would understand. These brief successes were always a surprise—a blessing, but still not a product of controlled communication.

Now, finally, after years of trying, I have succeeded in providing Alex with a communication device. From my own perspective, this is “assisted communication,” in that Alex requires technology to access his ability to communicate. However, this is not “assisted communication” in the sense that we’re putting words in Alex’s mouth.

In an effort to teach Alex to use the device more thoroughly, we will find the words (and show him where they are) in order to say what we think he might want. Then, if it is indeed what Alex wants, he will tap the sentence and the device will say it. If it is not what Alex wants, he’ll erase it and enter in what he does want.

Alex is communicating! He communicates familiar expressions independently with his device. He communicates less familiar expressions with some adult assistance and support. He communicates and the device speaks for him!

But the wonder doesn’t stop there. Hearing the device speak what he wants or needs has helped Alex get communication so much more thoroughly than he has ever understood communication before. Not only is he using his device as a talker, he’s talking! He’ll listen to what the device says, and then he’ll say the keywords, too! He’s said more words in the last week that he’s said in the previous year!

With all the success Alex has been having with this device, we’re ready to proceed to the next step. We’re in the process of gathering as much data as possible, which the speech therapist at the clinic will use to begin the application process for a permanent device. She also said that it’s likely, since Alex is doing so well, that we will be able to borrow a device from the clinic, so that Alex can continue to access communication should the trial run out before the permanent device arrives.

Finally, finally, finally, Alex gets it!!! And we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure he can keep it!