COMMUNICATION: How my little man communicates

The Macaw macaw augmentative communication device

Is an augmentative communication device that like the Alphatalker responds verbally when you click on a pictured symbol. The Macaw is smaller than the Alphatalker so the images are also smaller, although there is the same amount of symbol positions available. Programming the device is quite simple and the basic functions of the unit are also easy to manipulate with a little practice. Although I am fond of the Alphatalker, the Macaw is quite a bit more compact than the Alphatalker and substancially lighter. The one thing the Alphatalker has as an advantage over the Macaw is that there are no potentially sharp or dangerous parts to contend with as the Alphatalker is smooth and although heavier I believe possibly safer. To put my views into perspective although the Macaw is lighter if I had to choose between the Macaw and Alphatalker falling on my foot, I'd definately choose the Alphatalker. On the up side the battery life in the Macaw is far superior to the Alphatalker. It can be weeks before recharging is necessary.

I've produced a flash presentation to show you how Jarod uses this device and what symbols and verbal terms we use. To view the presentation click here.

The Alphatalker alphatalker

Is a communications device that allows you to press a picture and it responds by telling you what it represents. I.e. pressing a picture of a cat might say will produce the word sound "cat" or you might program it to say "meow". This will depend on what you are using it for and how you have programmed it. For everyday communications you might program in "hello" "my name is........" or "I need to go to the toilet."

In order to teach someone to use it you might program in a song so they can press along with the words of the song or something similar. The alphatalker is programmed by a person using their recorded voice to becomes reproduced each time that picture is pressed. It can take a little while to get used to hearing your own voice when it is your child doing the talking through it though.

Behavior

I love the augmentative communication devices. I have noticed the tantrums decrease just a little since their inception. I have also noticed that the tantrums he now has are more intense as he becomes increasingly aware of how much his body isn't letting him do. He can say mum and dad for the first time. He doesn't have to struggle to say his sisters name, he just pushes on the picture and wammo he says it. I have even thrown in a couple of pictures in order for him to tell us to "leave him alone". He can say "yes" and "no". "I like it" and "I don't like it". It has opened up a brand new world for him and us combined.

Sound as opposed to PEC's

With augmentative communication I don't even have to be in the room to hear what he wants. The sound can be turned up. Unlike pictures or the PECs system which is only good if someone is there to see the child pointing to it or if the child has the mobility to bring the picture to you. As my sons mobility is a little strained it has always been a sticking point when trying to teach the PEC's system to him. To be honest I don't know how he feels about the alphatalker, but I love it. The main hurdle is getting his teachers, SSO's and other carers to implement the system when we are not around. Usually this problem desists once the worker sees it in action and realises what a wonderful tool it is.

PEC's

Picture exchange is a way of communicating which involves the child giving you a picture of what he/she wants. With my son he found it hard to pick them up. He also had problems using an accurate point. He would miss and try again, but it would become frustrating for both him and us. The augmentative communication devices have cages around each picture that stops his finger from slipping of one picture and hitting another.

More recently the speech team have had a great deal of success using the PEC's system in conjunction with the Alphatalker, this has been great in expand his vocabulary.

Signing

Signing was working for a while. He seemed to get the gist of a couple of words but then lost interest. He finds making the signs extremely difficult and as you get the general idea of what he wanted anyway from his body language he has stopped trying to learn anymore and has retained only a couple. He just used it to say how "good" he is (with a thumbs up), usually followed by an applause directed at himself for a job well done. I still use the signs myself though, I find it handy to get his attention. The verbal requests don't always get the attention they deserve. I recently did a course learning 150 of the 300 key word signing actions, but I know from experience I will probably only remember about 100 of them. My daughter gets a kick out of signing too.

Verbal

He started out with at least 6 words by about 8 months. He has since lost all but "more" and the occasional "duck". He will say "who's that" or "what's that" but that isn't always clear or meaningful. Hopefully by being exposed to the sound of words through the alphatalker it may also encourage him to try some more vocalizing. We do sometimes here him mimic things he hears which will off course be encouraged.

Speech Therapist

We are very lucky to have speech therapy services. The speech therapist will visit with Jarod in his own environment I.e. the kindy and day-care when younger and now at school or at home if preferred. This way we ensure everyone is getting the best out of the equipment supplied (augmentative communication device) and it doesn't sit on the fridge for the whole session. Many find technology frightening and complicated. By showing them how simple and effective it actually is they are more inclined to use it to its best advantage. Speech therapy has also been instrumental in the instigation of the use of PEC's and signing in the past.

go talk communication deviceGo Talk

He started of with a augmentative communication device called a go talk much like the alphatalker. You program in your voice to correspond to the pictures but it is far less complicated then the Macaw and Alphatalker with only 9 pictures available with a combination of 4 backing sheets making a total of 36 pictures in all. This one is lighter and a good starting point for beginners.

The future

We are looking into having the technical team of Novita (formally Crippled Children's Association) assess and decide what sort of device will be suitable to take him into the future. The Alphatalker and Macaw have been great, but as he continues to learn we expect we'll run out of space and he'll need something more intricate. Because he does have mobility we have another dilemma how do we store and transport this device. He may need a wheelchair but as he crawls so well we will want to encourage movement as much as possible so attaching it to a wheelchair may not be possible. Who knows what the future will bring, either way I shall endeavor to keep you all posted.