Posts Tagged ‘Augmented Communication’

Lu’s AC Breakthrough

Ever since reading the fantastic book “Brains, Trains and Video Games” by Alicia Hart in 2011, which told the story of her son Ewan who has both Autism and EE like Lu, I have wanted to find a way that an Agumented Communication Device could help Lu to communicate with us. I talked to her SLP (Speech Language Pathologist) and she brought us a Dynavox talk box which at that time was a large and heavy box with lots of icons on it that speak words when pressed. Lu was totally unimpressed. By that time she was already a wiz on her iPad and could get it to do far more than I knew how to do on it. She loved watching vintage Barbie commercials in German on YouTube and even figured out exactly what to do to download new apps. The talk box was big and clunky and looked totally outdated next to her shiny new slick touch screen ipad. I downloaded a couple of really expensive communication apps like One Voice, Proloquo2go, and My Talk, but none of them really interested her and she was so quick on the draw that she could click the home button and get out of those programs before we were able to show her much of what the programs could do. As with most things for Lu it was a matter of motivation and attention and after a few months of fruitless effort which included us taking actual photos of a lot of real things that Lu is interested in in real life, but couldn’t care less about on her iPad, I gave it a rest.

At the end of Lu’s preschool year, before she moved on to Kindergarden we had an IEP at which the school’s SLP mentioned that we could request an AC evaluation. I jumped at the chance. An opportunity to get more information about what might possibly help Lu along is always gladly accepted by me. The team who evaluated her recommended a Spring Board device with the same kind of super basic icons as the old one, but on a smaller and lighter device. Worth a try I thought, so we borrowed one from the NAU Assistive Technology Department for a few months, but it was met with the same distain from Lu as before.

This year a LAMP app was finally released for iPad. This time I was excited. Lu loves her iPad. Maybe on the iPad this program would seem more exciting. We again borrowed an iPad from the NAU AT department that was set up to only have the LAMP program on it and nothing else so she would not be tempted to navigate away from the program to find other more interesting things to look at. We even programmed in an icon for her to request her other fun ipad. It worked slightly better, but just about the only thing she ever requested with it was her ipad, which she could request verbally if she wanted to. So after awhile of us trying and the SLP trying, we eventually abandonded it again.

And then came the ipad mini. I don’t know exactly what it is about the mini, but Lu absolutely loves it. Once again we put nothing but the LAMP program on the mini so the only thing she can do with it is use it as a communication device, and finally for some reason, this time it clicked. Maybe she likes the size and the shape. Maybe it’s the way the icons look smaller on the screen. Whatever it is she started exploring it. First she learned where the animals are on it, the pets, the farm animals, the zoo animals, and then she started checking out the toys and the food. She asked for hot chocolate. Not chocolate milk which she has asked for before, but hot chocolate which she had only had a few times. We discovered that she loves hot chocolate but didn’t really know how to ask for it. Then she asked for grapes. She has never asked for grapes before. I thought maybe she was just poking buttons to see what they would do, but she really seemed to want grapes. She also asked for tacos and hotdogs which she had never eaten before and seemed disappointed in once she got the real thing, but at least she was trying and asking for new novel things. And then the most amazing break through of all. Stew came in from work one day, kind of dirty and a couple of days unshaven. Lu was doing her feed on the sofa and he knelt down to say hello and he asked her for a kiss. Lu’s version of a kiss is to either put out the back of her hand for us to kiss or to lean her head forward to allow us to kiss her on the forehead. She let Stew kiss her hand this time and then looked down at her ipad mini where she found the body parts section, and then pressed on ‘beard’ then she went back to the home button and found ‘no’. She made the box say ‘Beard no’ and then repeated it while putting her hand on Stew’s face. She didn’t like his stubly beard. This was something that she has never had any way to express. How long has she not liked it when he tried to kiss her with an unshaven face? Possibly always, but she could never tell us before. Stew and I looked at each other amazed, then he ran to the bathroom and had a quick shave. When he came back smooth-faced with a few cuts here and there he knelt down again to show Lu. She put her hand on his face and smiled. He said ‘no beard’. She said ‘no beard’. And I think I was pretty close to bawling my eyes out. Since then she has been saying all kinds of things to us with the ipad. Some of it makes sense, some of it doesn’t. She is still exploring and playing with a lot of it. But another great moment was once when she touched the icons for lion, then tiger, then bear. She hit the talk button to make it say ‘lion tiger bear’ and then looked right at me and followed it up with ‘Oh My!’. I knew exactly what she wanted then. She wanted to watch The Wizard of Oz.

That one little experience of Lu figuring out how to ask me to watch The Wizard of Oz made me marvel and the thought and effort she has to put into something that is so thoughtless and automatic for most of us. And I think that it really goes to show that a lack of speech is never indicative of a lack of thought. Lu has to put so much thought into how to help us understand what it is she is trying to tell us.