Sunday, December 20, 2015

Wearing Your Words

Jabber Jas Harness

Custom ChatBag
Wearing your words is essential when you are an ambulatory AAC user.  You need to be able to access your AAC at all times and you can't do that if gets left in another room or is in your backpack.  AAC users who also use wheelchairs or strollers face different issues in terms of mounting their AAC systems but sometimes it is even more of a challenge if the user is running around and active.

Parents or schools should implement a means to carry/wear AAC systems at the same moment they acquire the "talker" itself.  However, it is never too late if you are already using a mobile talker.  Some children do just fine with a shoulder style carry bag that is open to the screen and allows the talker to be flipped up and used without removing.  Others will try to remove or throw such a system and need a harness style carrying system that is more tamper proof.  The goal is to find the least invasive system that allows full access without risk of losing or throwing the talker.  Custom designs can increase appeal and "buy in" where as off-the-shelf, commercial solutions may look more "typical" and be less expensive.  The draw back to commercial solutions is that they may not be fitted for children or teens and may not be as durable.  It might be important for certain features to be available for example the ability to attach a bluetooth speaker, to block access to various ports or to charge without removing the carrying case.  Another consideration is any orthopedic issues or potential for future orthopedic issues from carrying 1-2 pounds over the shoulder or in a harness. If this is a possible issue consult your OT or PT. A waist belt with flip up attachments can be created in a DIY manner if over the shoulder(s) is not a good solution.
Please see this list to assist with feature matching.
Jabber Jas

If you are starting off you child in wearing his or her words and you need to help them understand how important it is some ideas include: you wearing his or her words as well, social stories about wearing your talker and using pictures of other children wearing their words such as in this Pictello book in PDF form (or get through sharing server with this  code which is good for 100 days 9658-4211).  You can also check the #seemeseemyaac find photos. 

Custom Made

Shoulder Strap Style

Harness Style
Commercially Made

Shoulder Strap Style
Harness Style
 *has one handed use option

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Real Cost of Premium AAC Apps

This blog post from October 2014 has been updated.

Some prices have changed, some apps added and some removed.  The premise of this post is that in making all things equal in terms of assuming customers need a robust vocabulary, a premium TTS voice and a means to back up and share files we can compare the real cost of premium AAC apps over time. 

The most expensive app both for one and five years remains TouchChat/TouchChat HD.  Some app companies have realized that schools and health insurance reimbursement requires apps without add-on purchases and have started offering all inclusive versions of their apps.  Perhaps the most interesting development in the field is some apps offering premium TTS voices included in the cost of the app (Proloquo2Go and Clicker Communicate, for example) or for a minimal price and others have higher price points for the same voice (TouchChat and Go Talk Now offer a premium voice for $11.99, while Speak for Yourself offers the exact same premium voice for $24.99).

Of course price point isn't the only  reason to choose an app, which is why this chart seeks only to compare oranges to oranges price-wise and not to examine any of the other reasons why you would choose one app over another for your student, client or child.
Direct Link
PDF Version 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Zingo! Core Word Race

Today I was defeated 3 to 0 playing Core Word Race. To play each player must have a robust AAC system. It is ok if different children have different systems, as long as they have a robust system.  To play use the Zingo Sight Word card dispenser and dispense a word card, this happens to be a good time for some incidental literacy teaching!  Next, say "on your mark, get set, go!" (You can record this on a sequential message switch if you want!) And race to fine the word on your talkers. First one to say it with their talker wins!  Variations include having peers in inclusion find the word in a dictionary, a speed version where each player takes a turn while the others watch and the object of the game is to find as many words as you can in three minutes and playing with the Zingo! Think Fun version (or anyone that dispenses letters) to race to find a word, any word or a word in a particular category, that starts with the dispensed letter.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

5 Reasons to use the high-quality vocabulary already included in your AAC system:

The post below applies only to high quality augmentative and alternative (AAC) systems with robust vocabularies and a well researched effort behind how the system works. For example (but not limited to): Proloquo2Go 3 or even better 4 with Crescendo Vocabularies using at least 15 buttons per page, TouchChat with Word Power 42+ or Pixons, Compass with Word Power, Gateway or PODD, Avaz, LAMP Words for Life and other Unity based lanugage systems, and PODD books created and used according to PODD training. In general, a robust vocabulary means at least 100 words organized in an understandable, predictable manner (categorically, pragmtically, or semantically) using a consistent and meaningful symbol system. If you are wondering if your system qualifies as a well researched AAC System with a robust vocabulary please check out Jane Farrell's AAC app evaluations (3 stars or bust!) or the Does Your AAC App Measure Up handout and YouTube Video. If you aren't using a robust lanugge system with your students you should be!

Proloquo2Go 4 Core Words

1) The work is done for you!
Teaching a child to communicate via augmentative and alternative communication (or to repair unintelligible speech with AAC) is a labor intensive task. Designing and programming a robust and well-researched vocabulary system is also a labor intensive task, but, with the right system, it is a task that has been done for you! Hurray!  You will likely need to do some basic customizing like adding the users personal information and user specific frequently used words and phrases. However, the rest of the work has been done for you!  Now you can focus on sharpening your language teaching skills, modeling, developing descriptive classroom labels, making low tech versions of high tech displays, training peers, parents and teachers and so much more. You have enough to do without recreating the wheel.

2) It isn't too much!
I know looking at any robust system is overwhelming at first.  So many words, so many colors.  Maybe it isn't like the other systems you have taught. You are overwhelmed and you fear your staff, the parents and the child will be overwhelmed. You can't wrap your brain around this new system. You try to make a sentence and can't find the words you want. It's frustrating. So you think, maybe I will make something myself. Wait. All new languages are overwhelming at first. You have just landed in the airport in a country where you don't speak the language. The answer isn't to get back on the plane and leave and it isn't to hide in your hotel watching Netflix in your native language while just gesturing and pointing to clarify your wants and needs to the hospitality staff. The answer is to learn the language. Get in there! Make mistakes. Practice. Learn. Language is messy! 

Use just the basic single words at first. Build up to two word combinations and longer phrases and sentences. Then keep doing it. Soon it won't be too much - not for you and not for your user.  Someday you will find yourself saying, "I never thought we would be worrying about word order!"

3) Choice Boards aren't communication!

Choice boards have their place. They belong alongside robust communication systems for quick, in the moment, decision making. They cannot replace communication robust systems. And if you make your own vocabulary on a speech system there is a decent chance you will, probably, create choice boards. Remind yourself that AAC is for ALL the functions of communication. Not just wants and needs. Not just choices. If you feel like your student isn't ready for "the big time" of using a robust application thing about this: when a child needs to learn to ride a bicycle we don't send them back to practice on a Big Wheels. We put them on a bike! We add supports like training wheels that we quickly fade. We stand beside them and help them learn, running, out of breath, to keep up. We realize they need to be on a bike to learn to ride a bike. And we realize they need to have a robust communication system to learn to use a robust communication system!

4) Evidence Based Practice/Research Based are the words of the decade!
Robust AAC systems have research behind them. Well done, core language based systems, have been researched to show the most frequently words used regardless of the grid size chosen. They attempt to keep symbol placement consistent across pages. Color Coding is deliberate and usually matches either the Fitzgerald Key or Goosens, Elder and Crain color coding.  The high quality AAC systems - be they paper based, on a dedicated device or an app - have SLPs and others whose specific job it is to move research into practice. They agonize over whether to allow activity pages (which are not research supported for teaching long term language skills) or how to arrange less frequently used verbs or adjectives. They spend their days and nights deciding on features and grammar access and so much more so that you don't have to and their systems align with best practice/research. In some ways the SLPs and their teams at the companies that make high quality, robust systems are the unsung heroes of the AAC world. They keep current on the research, keep in touch with parents, teachers, therapists and users and somehow put all of that into their language systems.  Using their work is working smarter, not harder and guarantees you can defend the vocabulary should the need to do that ever occur. 

5) Stuff Happens
Let's face it stuff happens. That kid you spent months creating a vocabulary for might move. And the new district may or may not keep using your work. Or they may go to adult services where all your carefully programmed academic and/or choice making vocabulary is rendered useless. Or the device may crash and you might not have backed it up. Or your hard drive with all the back up crashes at the same time! Or maybe since you are programming so much the next teacher or SLP will as well creating a perfect storm of "too many cooks in the kitchen". (I have had to restart AAC teachingSO MANY times because of "too many cooks in the kitchen").  Stuff happens. Using a robust, high quality AAC system "out of the box" with only changes for personalization increases the chances that your user won't have to learn a brand new system some day. Learning a system with standardized symbols, color coding and organization now will make it easier if he or she DOES need to learn a new system someday.  Using the high quality, robust vocabulary that comes with the system supports the user in the future as well as the user you have now. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Descriptive Teaching Model (DTM)

"You are working too hard!" I frequently tell teachers and SLPs when I am called in as a consultant to support them and their AAC users.  So many professionals think they need to program every word that the AAC user will need for an academic lesson, field trip or other occasion.

As most of us know core words are the words that make up 80% or more of our speaking and writing.  Words like put, go, help, like, it, that, why, then.  With core words we can communicate, without them, not so much.  And fringe words give us context.  They are the reasons why we communicate.  We need fringe words to talk about things like soccer, Disney World, our new bicycle.  Important fringe words that are used frequently in the lives of our students belong on their devices for example pudding, blanket, My Little Pony, awesome, seizure, WWE or sensory table. Deciding the fringe words to program involves interacting with the child, understanding his or her interests and the interests of peers and siblings and figuring out what fringe words are salient and necessary to the child.  

Rarely are science vocabulary words like magma or magnetic pole going to be salient and necessary. Or what I like to call "recyclable", they will be used just once and never again. Other non-recyclables are Battle of Little Big Horn, peninsula or the names of all of the characters in the months shared reading.  How then do we teach, talk about and assess? (Which is only 20% of what we do - right? We teach and talk and THEN assess!)

Well we need to create a paradigm switch in our own heads and that of other professionals and paraprofessionals.  We need to start asking questions that allow our students to answer using the words they already have on their device.  This serves multiple purpose (beyond saving us the hours and hours of programming), the most important purpose is our AAC users learn how to be creative and use the words they have to say what they need to say.  AAC is usually a life time learning process for our students and being able to communicate about topics when they don't have the specific words they need is an essential life skill.

For example, I was chatting with my friend Owen at Camp Communicate in Maine.  He was trying to
tell me his idea.  After a few miscommunications and much frustrations he was able to say "tiny plays" and he had previously given me the hint that the word started with 'S'.  Skits!  Owen was able to use his communication repair skills and practice with using descriptive language to help me understand.

Gail VanTatenhove invented the Descriptive Teaching Model to address this issue.  She explains that teachers typically us a referential style of teaching, "What land form is surrounded by water on three sides?" and the students answer in a single word with a very specific fringe word, "peninsula".   This doesn't work well for our AAC users.  So instead we can ask questions they can answer using the words that they have, "Tell me about the water around this peninsula?" and the student can answer something like "not all around" or "almost all around" or "around most of it".  Does the child know what a peninsula is?  Clearly he does.  You could ask some more, follow up descriptive teaching method questions if you needed to be more sure he understood.  Similarly if you are teaching about the British Army during the revolutionary war you could just say, "Tell me something you know about the British Army."  All sorts of answers would be appropriate, "they wear red", "they are mean", "they fight", "they have horses", "they hurry" and so on and so on.

Here are some resources to help you learn about and begin to use the DTM. 

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