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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!

Let the Communication Begin!

  • Posted on January 12, 2015 at 10:14 AM

Alex has his (trial) communication device!

It’s been a long road to get to this point and we’re still not all the way through this journey. Now that he has the trial device, we all have to learn how to use it effectively, including programming it and maintaining it. That’s step one.

Step two is learning how to record the data required to prove that this device is effective for Alex, thereby securing the funding for the permanent device. This begins on Wednesday.

Step three is actually gathering the data we need within the timeframe of the trial. I don’t think proving that this device works for Alex will be a problem in and of itself. He’s already successfully communicated several things using the device, both with assistance and independently. He’s communicated “go to grandma’s house,” first with assistance and then independently. He’s requested mac n’ cheese, quite adamantly. He’s also typed in a story for the device to tell him; rehashing an old Veggie Tales story. He also tried to get the device to sing the Veggie Tales theme song, but the device couldn’t properly interpret the “Veggie Taaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaales” at the end. When I saw him do that, I couldn’t help but laugh and warn him, “That’s not going to work,” but he tried anyway and the device did try, but it did not succeed.

The tablet itself is Samsung technology, bound by a bright blue bumper. It’s got a strap attached, as well as a handle, though so far Alex doesn’t like the strap. The program within the tablet is called NovaChat 10. So far, the company has been very email-on, customer service oriented. Luckily, the speech therapist has been very good at responding to these e-mails, because I haven’t been.

We still have several months of weekly trips up to Madison ahead of us as we learn to use this device and as we secure the procurement of a permanent device. Wish us luck!