Time for tea

One morning last week, we were in a rush. The alarm didn’t go off and we overslept. Like a drill sergeant, I barked “hurry, let’s go, now!”. Within fourteen minutes flat, Jess ate and got dressed with barely a minute to spare before her ride arrived. She didn’t have enough time to tell me what she wanted for breakfast and we didn’t talk about our plans for the rest of the day.  As I waved goodbye, I realized I was still wearing part of my jams.

Even though mornings like this rarely happen, it makes me feel bad. In my opinion, lack of time is the number one reason for communication breakdowns. We can spend hours modeling language but if they feel pressure due to lack of time, then don’t be surprised when not much is said.

Jess has learned to compensate by speaking in a holophrastic manner, using single words to express herself rather than a full phrase. Sometimes her opinion is stated in an emphatic “yes, yes, yes”, but mostly she interjects adjectives such as, “exceptional, ridiculous, rude”. This method is effective when she is with multiple people.

Jess has also learned that one word can be used as an icebreaker. For example, she tapped the word “conversation”, then looked at Dad. She decided it was time they should talk, and they did.  All it took was one word to get his attention and all it takes is one word to get her on a roll.

At home, we encourage Jess to expand her sentences. A single word is not enough, especially if she is requesting something. The rule is, if it’s not in a sentence and if she isn’t specific, then the answer is no. Sounds harsh, but the bar needed to be raised. After imposing our demands, Jess said, “attention you, cookie, more Graham crackers.”     

I love it when she uses words in a different way. Even though she lacks proper grammar in this example, she used “attention” in a way that she hadn’t before. Too often, people look too closely at what an AAC user says and forgets (or doesn’t appreciate the importance) that they need to practice playing with their voice. It doesn’t matter that she said this incorrectly because we have seen her self-correct over time.

We are at the stage where we need to revisit how to have a polite conversation. Typical talkers (those that don’t use an AAC device) learn to ask, “how are you?”, “I am fine, how are you?”. We have never taught Jess to use a script, however, I think she’s ready. I don’t expect her to carry a conversation (not now, not yet) but I do expect her to be part of one. 

Maybe it would be helpful to have an afternoon tea? Jess would enjoy having scones and biscuits with polite conversation. She can practice proper etiquette by not holding her pinky out.

Yes, this is what we will do. If this goes well, she may want to send invites?  Stay tuned.

AAC- Pay it Forward

Every month has a holiday associated with it.

New Year’s, we wipe the slate clean.

June is for brides, graduations and the start of summer.

Then there is October, which is AAC awareness month. Fooled ya. Betcha thought I was going to say Halloween! I’m not afraid of spooks but I am afraid that people don’t know what AAC is.

Over the course of Jessie’s day, she sees only one other person using an AAC device (we call it her Talker). Imagine going to the market, a party or to work and no one expressed themselves or talked the way you did? Jess isn’t speaking a foreign language but she might as well be when she talks through her AAC device. This is why awareness is so vital. Half our problem is that people don’t know what AAC is much less it’s many forms. The other half is the assumptions people make.

For example, yesterday Jess and I were at a planning committee meeting. She saw a plate of cookies and asked for some using her Talker. Fine. No problem. Then she smiled at the lady sitting next to her and did her version of shaking hands resulting in the “oh aren’t you special” treatment (I mean this as no disrespect because Jess does present herself this way. It’s her way of working a crowd).

As the meeting went on, I don’t recall if Jess was making a comment, or was exasperated by the first speaker monologing (there were five more departments sharing reports) when she tapped “ridiculous”. This caused three people in earshot to chuckle and they gave knowing glances. At that moment, the woman next to Jess did a double take, she was re-assessing Jess. I then asked Jess to put her Talker into whisper mode so she didn’t interrupt the meeting again. I’m pretty sure she was bored and wanted to change the subject. 

Whenever Jess goes anywhere, she wears her Talker. Every day she is exposing people to “her” voice. However, we need to do more.

For AAC awareness month, our wish is for every family that uses a device (or any of AAC’s many forms) to Pay it Forward. Tell three friends and ask them to tell three friends. Explain that when they share that they are making our world bigger. I want AAC to be as commonly known as a phone.

And if you are not an AAC family, I want you to pay it forward too. Here’s a sample script:

You: I just met a person that uses AAC

Them: What’s AAC?

You: It’s augmentative and alternative communication.

Them:  What does that mean?

You: Dude you are already using it… when you text on your phone, you are talking without speaking. Some people aren’t able to speak so they use a computer to talk for them. 

Even emoji’s are AAC.

Actually, this script wasn’t made up. A few years ago we were having breakfast at IHOP. I overheard our waiter tell a co-worker how Jess ordered using an iPad.   

Even though we educate people every chance we get, there is more emphasis during October. I’m hoping that when people Pay it Forward we feel a ripple effect because awareness has been shared. 

Remember, knowledge is good!

 

 

 

 

 

An AAC social experiment

I’m always game for a new challenge, especially if it will improve AAC skills. The conversations I have with Jess are good when we are on the move, however, our day to day life is rather mundane and predictable. The end result is we look at each other knowing what is to be said next. I’m not saying that we read each other’s minds but I find that I repeat myself:

  • Please wash your hands & then set the table.
  • Please put your things away.
  • Please get ready for bed and then we can watch some TV. 

Hmm, my examples sound so much more polite in print than when I say them.

To be honest, predictable language has more to do with the husband than it does Jessie. After nearly 28 years of marriage, we’ve fallen into the trap of knowing looks.  I hate to admit that as a family unit, we all suffer from “implied conversation”. I think we are in need of a reboot.

Speak for Yourself is doing a social experiment where we maintain a dedicated modeling schedule. We are to carve out 15 minutes a day, for two weeks where we model language on our AAC devices. For us, the best time for uninterrupted modeling is first thing in the morning, from breakfast till Jess’s ride arrives.  The next best time to catch conversation is before, during and after dinner when we are altogether.

What I’m going to share next really doesn’t have much to do with the “social experiment”, but rather an ah-ha moment. There’s a unique feature on the Speak for Yourself app called Hold that Thought. Its purpose is to save the phrase or sentence you were building so you can stop and answer a question. As we all know, conversations aren’t always linear, we all subject hop. Jess uses this feature more for monologuing than for the intended purpose. I, on the other hand, repeat myself every morning. These aren’t necessarily stock phrases that I want to add to the Talker but for the full effect, I want this spoken quickly, with authority.

On second thought, I could add phrases for the husband?

  • How was your day?
  • Anything new happen at work?
  • Honey, would you please pick up a bottle of wine?

Well, maybe the last one should be a preprogrammed phrase, but you get the idea.  There’s more than one way to use Hold that Thought. Actually, it was intended for this use, but I’m realizing it can be handy around the house.

This isn’t modeling language as the experiment intended, but the more I use SFY with Jess, the more she has to say. It’s a matter of finding the right icebreakers. 

We have some uninterrupted time right now. “All I have to do” is find something that is interesting to talk about it. Easier said than done. Jess doesn’t care much about my weeding, doing laundry or running errands, but I did take Roxy on a hike. I think I will show Jess the video of Roxy running as fast as she can to get this conversation started and we will just wing it from there.