Augmentative and Alternative Communication

dbearI still don’t know the direction this blog thing is going….my last post was about laundry soap.  This one is quite different.  Although, I’m a little random and ever-changing in real life, so maybe I’m just keeping it real.  ;)

My oldest daughter is 9 years old and is not verbal due to severe apraxia of speech.  She can understand speech very well and uses sign language and gestures and very creative ways to communicate.  She also learned quickly that Daddy was less likely to ever tell her “no,” so he’s her go-to person when she wants something.  However, with as creative she is, she has been very limited in communication for her entire life.  Several years ago, we were provided with a a high-tech alternative communication speech generating device.  We had off and on success with it.  She learned to navigate it incredibly well and it was a great tool for us to realize just how much she could understand,  but had difficulty using it for functional communication.  So, we backed off of the high-tech device and went back to using pictures to communicate.  We wanted to firmly establish the template for communication.  Having a huge vocabulary, but not using it functionally does not serve her very well.  So, Darah had laminated picture cards in a binder that she could build sentences with and hand to her communication partner.  I won’t get into the reasons low-tech has been better for her to establish those basic conversation skills in this post, but there are many reasons for this. 

Technology has exponentially evolved since we purchased her prior device and there have been more user-friendly, lighter-weight devices on the market.  There have also been communication apps that can be used on traditional tablets.

The problems we were having with her other device include:

  • The weight of it…my daughter has juvenile arthritis in addition to her other medical conditions and the 6+ pounds made it difficult for her to carry.
  • She just wasn’t using it. Although, this doesn’t mean she’d use another high-tech device.  However, we think the other reasons in this list contributed to her not using it.
  • Programming was very difficult.  To make AAC successful, it is important to program meaningful words as they come up.  This was incredibly difficult on her other device.
  • It sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t and didn’t hold a charge for very long.

So, we began exploring other options. As we began exploring these other options, her old device broke.  Shortly after it broke, we had a very frustrating communication breakdown.  Darah typically is ridiculously content despite her difficulty to communicate, so it was heartbreaking to see her so upset that we didn’t understand her.  This communication breakdown and broken talk box pushed my husband and I into making a quick decision on her new device.   Within about 24 hours, we had her new device ready to go for her.

We decided to try an ipad communication app.  An ipad solved the size, weight, and programming problems we had with our other device.  Our society is not intimidated by apple products and we hoped that the familiarity of the device would help her teachers and PARENTS implement her new communication in lots of ways.  We chose an app made by the makers of her old device that had a lot of vocabulary available to her.  We want our daughter to have the words available to her when she wants to use them.   This app has over 3,000 words available to her and is programmable for us to add more.  We decided to try the ipad mini because the weight and size would be smaller for her to carry and cheaper to replace if it breaks.  The icons are slightly smaller, but she isn’t having any difficulty pushing the correct buttons.  We purchased a Griffin Survivor case.  Although, I am on the lookout for a super duper case like this Griffin with a plastic screen cover that ALSO has a shoulder strap.  I would like for her to be able to carry it like a purse when she’s on the go.

The app we are using is Lamp Words for Life.  She has only had it for a short time, but is learning to navigate it with ease.   Her experience with her other device has helped this a lot.  We are working on teaching her how to locate her vocabulary as it comes up.  Her ipad goes everywhere with her.  She used it to order her food and drink at a restaurant.  She took it to Sunday School with her.  We are trying to teach her that her world is easier with her talkbox close by.  We used the ipad setting of guided access to “lock” her into this app.  In other words, this ipad is ONLY her communication device.  She can’t leave this app to surf the internet without the passcode.  We have another tablet in the house if she wants to do ipad-type activities.  I want to chronicle our adventure with alternative communication.  I want to share our success to support and encourage other parents who may be on a similar journey.  I also want to connect with other parents or Speech Pathologists who may have tips and tricks they can share with me.  In the near future, I hope to do a vlog demonstrating how her talkbox (as we call it) works.  

For now, here’s a short video clip of our daughter using it to make her first and second requests on it:


1. “I watch VeggieTales.”

2. “Kiss me.”

3. And here’s some video of me teaching her how to find vocabulary on her new device.  This is one of our five minute sit-downs to practice.  Our teaching times are kept short, fun, and SUCCESSFUL.  I am not pushing her with her talkbox.  We want her complete buy in right now and that means, she gets to use it on her terms in her own way.  This is why I am helping her so much in this video.  It takes Darah about 3 times to learn where a new icon is.  It takes mama about 10 times.  ;) She learns these words QUICKLY!!  I told her she could watch a movie afterward, which is why the abrubt ending.  When Darah’s done with something, she’s done. She did remember to take her talk box with her, though.  ;)

One thought on “Augmentative and Alternative Communication

  1. Pingback: Five Minutes of Speech Therapy | McKenna Who?

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