Sunday, February 23, 2014

AAC by 18 months

I have taken part in a lot of conversations about using AAC (in online forums, in real life, and via email) and one of the most popular reasons that I hear about waiting to try AAC with a child is age. Here are some samples:

"C is only 4, no one in the preschool knows anything about AAC so we're going to wait until she can be evaluated in kindergarten." 

"He just started kindergarten and the teachers are getting to know him. They plan to submit a request for an assistive tech eval at the end of the month." 

 "He's three and a half and I wonder if he might be able to use some AAC but the speech pathologist says that he's making steady progress so we should hold off until he's a little older." 

When people ask when we started using AAC with Maya, I'm as honest as I can be (because really, it's hard to remember). I know we were doing some picture card stuff (and signing) before we got an iPad. I know we got the iPad when she was 2.5 years old (only 5 or 6 months after its release, so we couldn't have moved much faster on that), and we started using a communication app immediately. Over the course of the following year (2.5-3.5 years old) we did a mish-mash of that app (which had turned out to be less than ideal), the Word Book, a trial of another device, and probably some things that I'm forgetting. Finally, at 3.5 years old, we found the Speak for Yourself app and ran (fast) with it. (This video shows our communication highlights from 2 yrs old to 5 years old. )

So, at 2.5 years old we were experimenting and practicing and encouraging and trying to figure out a system that could work . . . and at 3.5 years old we found the system that could work (and we literally couldn't have found it sooner---I think we downloaded the app only two weeks after it was put on the market). 

We should have started sooner.

I hate that we didn't start sooner. I'm not one to hold a grudge, but on this I do . . . one of Maya's therapists (we had a bunch of them) or doctors (boy, we had a bunch of them) should have told me, at her first birthday or shortly thereafter, when she clearly wasn't near ready to speak (no motor planning, minimal sounds, etc) "Hey there are some other ways of communication out there---some stuff with technology---and you might want to look into some of it. Or at least put it in the back of your mind."

Why didn't anyone tell us that we should have started so young? Well, for one, iPads didn't exist when Maya was 1, and maybe doctors weren't familiar with the stand-alone devices (many of which wouldn't have worked for a 1 year old anyway, with their non-toddler-friendly organization). The therapists should have known though---high tech or low tech or photo cards or something. Something.

Someone should have told us to start younger. Someone should have been aware of the communication options out there. Someone should have known that the research says to start young. Someone should have told us that there was a way that we could be providing our silent child with a voice, a way to tell us all of the things that she wanted to say.

And so here I am, years later. I am aware of the options out there, and I am aware of the research, and I am telling you to start young.

Start now. 

The title of the blog post came from the recommendation of a highly respected AAC expert, when she was asked about the appropriate age to introduce AAC to a young user. And that's not start around 18 months, that's you should really be on it by 18 months

Sound crazy? Think it's too young? Let me introduce you to Will.

Will is the (almost) 17 month old little brother of Maya (a 5 year old AAC user). He has been tangentially exposed to her talker since birth, although most of his hands-on interaction with it consists of "Hey! Will!! Do not take Maya's talker, it belongs to her!" and then I take it away, and then he cries. Yesterday morning, after several of these encounters in a row, I got our "play" iPad out and locked him into the communication app (using guided access). I configured the screen appropriately for a very young user, with mostly 1-hit core words (yes, no, mine, more, help, eat, drink, please) and one highly motivating category (family, which has pictures and names of many family members). After less than 3 minutes, he was using the app purposefully, and I grabbed my video camera and started recording.

(almost) 17 months old. (almost) 7 minutes. 

Is this typical? Who knows. (How could we define "typical" for an AAC user anyway, as that population is basically complex by definition). Will has the benefit of understanding (from birth) that this device is a voice, it's used to talk, etc, so we didn't have to help him connect those dots. Also, Maya's fine motor skills were no where near his at this age, so she would have been a much slower user . . . but how quickly would she have had the excitement of at least understanding the idea---that she can boss us around, say what she wants, ask for something that isn't close enough to point to? It's amazing!

In the next two videos, taken about 10 minutes after that first video, he is already moving past exploring the words and using a combination of AAC, word approximations, sounds, and gestures to tell me that he wants to call Grandma on the phone---something that he wouldn't have been able to communicate without AAC, as he doesn't have a vocal approximation for "Grandma" that I would understand. (He's starting to get it in the "part 2" video and really nails it in "part 3.")

He used the talker all day yesterday. When he woke up this morning, it was the first thing he was looking for---to tell us that he wanted to eat and then to have a drink, to ask again to call Grandma on the phone. He has a voice today that he didn't have yesterday, and he knows it. I think about the parents out there who have kids who are 3, 4, 5 years old . . . or 8, or 12, or 18. The parents who are waiting because they don't have anyone telling them to start young.

I'm telling you to start young.

This was my favorite video, which takes you through the complete learning of a new word. I hadn't used "drink" with him at all before the start of this video. We kept things light and fun and silly and boy, did he learn "drink" quickly :)  Enjoy the giggles.

If you are thinking "well, easy for you to say, he's a "typical" kid without delays" . . . well, you're right. But I was told that Maya's cognitive functioning was in the 0.4th percentile, and I believed that she could do it, too. You may have to model for a while before your child responds---but we speak to kids from the moment they are born and don't expect them to talk back for nearly a year. I modeled sign language to Maya for months before she signed back. This is even easier than that---you don't have to learn signs, you just tap a button now and again as you talk.

AAC by 18 months. If your child is older than 18 months, and you're wondering when to start, the answer is now. If your child is younger than 18 months, but old enough to know that you are dealing with a significant speech issue, and you're wondering when to start, the answer is now.

(And if now you're ready to start but don't know what to do next, check out this and also this.)

Monday, February 10, 2014

Communication Before Speech

Yesterday I wrote something new, an all-star compilation of my favorite thing to argue about promote discuss. I liked it so much that I made it a stand-alone page at the top of the blog . . . but that means that if you subscribe to me or read me through an aggregator, it probably didn't register that I had put up something new (since it wasn't a new "post").

So here's the hyperlink, check it out: