If you have to go shopping.

Typically, we don’t run errands on the weekend. I hate crowds and traffic and especially hate standing in lines, however, yesterday we were out of cheese….  If you need cheese, you probably are going to want some crackers to go with it.  If you are an adult, you are bound to want some wine too.  Even though I began with a list, I kept thinking of other things we needed, like coffee, gas for the car and deer repellant.

This is not my photo, but if I had a dog bed outside…

Because the ground was snow covered, the deer started munching on the bushes by the front door.  We enjoy their visits, but they will eat all available vegetation down to a nub, a gardener’s nightmare!  Husband banged on the window to get them to move along, which they did, on to the bird feeder.  Fortunately, the birds didn’t leave much seed behind, so the deer kept moving.  They didn’t go far. 

The next morning there were snow tracks that led to the back of the house and there were six grassy spots for the two moms and their four kids of various ages. The warmth of their bodies melted the snow.  I was surprised how close they slept to the house. 

We do share our property with the deer and many other critters. I’m okay with them spending the night, but prefer not to feed them dinner, so it was imperative to add deer repellant to the shopping list.

the grassy spots are where the deer slept

Three pit stops later, we headed home, but then decided to stop at the local market for milk so I could make yogurt. Sometimes I suffer from that “just one more thing disease”.  While in line, the cashier asked Jessie what app did she have on her Talker?  Oh my goodness!  Someone actually recognized her AAC device! (why it’s Speak for Yourself of course!) This is a first for someone to know it wasn’t a game.  I kind of wished she asked Jessie “how are you?” instead, but it’s exciting to witness awareness when it blossoms.  Needless to say,  I was thrilled and Jess was proud.

If Jessie is not feeling pressured or rushed, she will answer questions on her Talker.  She’s doing her part about raising awareness, I hope everyone that is reading this is raising awareness too.  My motto, the more people that know that iPads are used for talking, the bigger our world gets!

P.S.-  The deer don’t like how the bushes smell and there was no wine with my cheese, but we did enjoy the crackers that went with it.

I wonder if one of these was the fawn that visited us one spring?

AAC… make it a party game

img_2708The last thing Jess wanted to do was endure yet another dinner party. She didn’t have to voice her displeasure, I could read her body language. As far as she is concerned, these events are all the same. Everyone talks, she listens and the topics don’t interest her.  However, this time, the tables were turned.

When each couple was given an AAC device, loaded with the app Speak for Yourself, her whole demeanor changed.  Jess went from slumping in her chair, to sitting bolt upright.  The playing field was now leveled and she was ready to get this party started.

Since October is AAC awareness month, my plan was to show our guests how Jess’s Talker worked. Besides understanding what it takes to use a device, my hope is that they share this experience with another person (if more, they get extra credit). Typically, when people see Jess with a computer, they assume it’s “just” a game and she is overindulged. I want to change this. I want people to realize that this is her voice.

After giving our guests a quick overview, I started with a simple question.

I started with Jess and asked, what did she want for dessert?

She replied, “ice cream” with “sprinkles”.

Ice cream has always been an ice breaker and this was no exception.

Everyone then asked where to find the words.

After having hands on experience with the AAC device, the group quickly realized, while this was easy to use, they had difficulty remembering word location. I assured them that this improves with practice. Just like they can access a keyboard, learning the motor planning for an AAC device is no different.

The question that got me thinking the most was, “I don’t need to use a device to speak to Jess, because I can talk to her”.  True, but people like to be spoken to in their own language and Jess is no exception.  Besides, this is one party game she liked!

ps- we could have started with Jess’s first word, exceptional, but I didn’t want to make this game too hard for our guests 🙂

 

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First date

Her story…

If we were going to get to the restaurant on time, she’d have to get dressed in a hurry.  What to wear?  She chose a dress, but it was too fancy. Jess settled on a pretty new top and her nicest jeans.  Before leaving the house, she put on her lip gloss, her favorite necklace and off she went.

His story…

He was nervous to meet her. When she walked in, he just stared and turned red. His expression said it all.

IMG_8051Her story…

I’m not sure if she was excited to meet another SFY user, or if it was because she was meeting a boy.  When he spoke, she gave him her full attention.

His story…

He talked to her using his AAC device and they giggled a lot. They found shared interests. He liked the fact she likes movies. He was a bit shy, but he smiled a lot. This evening was going good and he knew it.

At the time we arranged to meet for dinner, it never occurred to me that this would end up being a date.  We mom’s chaperoned and our matchmaking SLP was with us too. Typically, dinner lasts about an hour, but this went on for nearly two before calling it a night.

She has Angelman’s Syndrome, he is in the autistic spectrum. Where the world may see them as “different”, they saw each other as a person of interest and we  saw young adults who were enjoying a night out.

IMG_7979When the evening came to a close, we all knew that we’d be meeting again.

They were happy to have their picture taken. He put his arms around her and they both beamed.

Jess has his name programmed into her talker.  She’s already asked about him. And it begins…

 

Practice makes perfect

IMG_7937The following story is family lore.  After my Mom accepted my father’s proposal, he then asked her
“how many kids do you want?” Her reply, “six”. Dad then said, “I should have asked you that first”.

This is how I felt when I was told that the Learning to Speak AACtion plan was a 12-week program.  There was no doubt that I would participate, but it sounded overwhelming, I’m a horrible student and I have fears.

The first two weeks of the plan were easy, however, by the third week, I realized that I was only retaining words in my short-term memory.  There were a few words that I consistently missed and this rattled me. It was obvious I needed to do something different, or I wouldn’t keep up with the cumulative effect of the program. My fears were being realized.

Everything changed on the fourth week. I was playing with the words when something clicked.  I found it was more meaningful to remember if they were put in a longer sentence.  I don’t expect Jess to build these sentences, however, they will make it possible for me to model one word beyond what she is able to say.

Every morning I review the words from the previous weeks before practicing sentences. Like a pangram, I build the sentences using the words in each list.

These are what I’ve come up with for the 5th week:

  • I put on my socks and you take them off
  • I know you can take me to the top of the mountain
  • Sit down and close your eyes.
  • We will open our eyes together.
  • If I can do it my myself then you can do it yourself.
  • Please carry that here and put it next to that toy.
  • Did you know that I like to go outside

What makes this fun is that this system approach is actually working.  It’s probably stating the obvious, but It’s no fun when you suck.

Jess listens as I model and I am hearing her using the new words. (these are new words to me, she’s had them opened for quite some time, I just wasn’t modeling them).

I hope the adage is true, practice makes perfect.  I’m not so sure about ever being perfect, but we will be much improved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under pressure

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Roxy listens to everything Jess says!

Siri and I are not friends. She never listens to me.  If I don’t ask my question quickly, she presumes then provides an answer that isn’t even close to what I was looking for.  While I struggle to get her to respond correctly, the husband listens with amusement.  He has a good working relationship with Siri. He is more succinct. They get along well.

While working on the AACtion plan, I found it pretty straight forward. No problem remembering the words. Easy peasy to incorporate them with our vocabulary. However, this morning when it came time to test myself, my mind went blank, I froze and had to use the search button more than once (twice to be specific) for words that I had used only moments earlier.  It seems whenever I find myself under pressure, it’s hard to find my words. Doesn’t matter if I’m being verbal, or using Speak for Yourself. I’ve noticed this happening to Jess too.

Today I read a post that said we need to model/ prompt 20x an hour. We are woefully not even close to this amount (this is another goal to shoot for).  Focusing on modeling these last two weeks has doubled my speed and Jess has increased her usage. Just as important, Jess has raised her level of engagement.  I love seeing her go off into another room and search for words. She knows the only way to learn is by practicing. Learning language is never ending and this is a good thing!

Jess’s device is always in reach. The AACtion plan made us realize that we need to have our devices out more.  It’s really quite a sight at dinner time. Where most families need to put devices away, ours are all out on the table and we are talking!


 

Why Jess chose Speak for Yourself

 

 

Never underestimate the power of a list!

IMG_7455As I said, I don’t do resolutions, I make lists. I’ve found they are easier to manage and the success rate is higher.  The highest priority on my list this year was to increase my fluency with Jess’s AAC app Speak for Yourself. Yes, I use it every day, but because it isn’t my first language (like it is Jessie’s), she knows it better than I do.

The thing is, I’m lazy.  When I took piano lessons. I could play by ear and didn’t feel the need to practice, however, at one point, not having a foundation caught up to me and I never improved. Even though Jess has not plateaued with SFY,  I have.

Last night, SFY posted an AACaction plan. Every week, a list of words will be announced to learn (and a lesson plan will be provided).  Even though this first list was easy for me, I’m ashamed to admit that there were a couple of words that I don’t model often and had to search for them.

Repetition is what ingrains motor planning. When motor planning is humming along, you don’t have to think where the words are, your fingers know. Jess can use SFY upside down and sideways. She’s not just learned the motor plan one way, she’s learned them four!  If I broaden my abilities, I know she will too.   It’s shameful that I can’t keep up with her.

I’m not sure if Jess’s style of talking is because she was an older user (21) when she started with SFY,  if she finds succinct phrases more efficient, of it it’s because I have dropped the ball.  What I do know is that I need this boot camp to kick me in the butt. My goal is to improve my own skills so I can encourage her to broaden her sentences.  Even though I know what she is saying, people that don’t know her need more information.

Whether you are just starting out with SFY (or any AAC system for that matter), or if you have been using an AAC device for a few years, this action plan will improve your skills. The key to being a successful AAC teacher is to model, model, model, however, you first must be able to speak the language.

* While I am doing this AAC action plan, I will be opting out of the drawing for the $400 Amazon gift card.  Yes, there is a drawing and a prize for those that play along.

*I’ve used the word “shameful” several times.  Shaming should not always have a bad connotation. It is purposeful to admit your shortcomings so you can work on them.

He does exist!

IMG_6638Apparently, you are never too old to sit with Santa!

Jessie has always liked Santa from afar, but never wanted to be up close and personal. I was kind of shocked when this photo was texted to me. This is a first!

Jess reads people well and can tell a faker a mile away. I’m convinced that this is the real Santa. There’s no other explanation 🙂

Jess is able to find her words even when the screen is upside down.

Jess is able to find her words even when the screen is upside down.

Santa speaks every known language and it looks like he knows about AAC devices. This is just too cool! Come to think of it, maybe Jess is sitting with him because she can finally tell him what she wants?  Tomorrow I will look in the history feature in Speak for Yourself and see what she asked for…

PS- apparently, all she asked Santa for was a hug.

Grateful

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This is our 6:30am look

This morning, after using her talker to tell me what she wanted for breakfast, Jess gave me a unexpected body hug. I think she was buttering me up because she then asked for hot chocolate. Being that it was dark, cold and rainy at the time, the request for a hot beverage reminded me of The Big Bang Theory, so I complied. Continue reading

Evenings in contrast

Over Friday morning breakfast, Jess asked to have pizza for dinner. Sure. No problem. Then she said she wanted to go out. Typically, we order in. I’m not a fan of crowded, noisy pizzerias, nor their atmosphere, so opted for Plan B, to phone a friend.

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This was two different conversations. The second one is when she is responding to me when I repeated the question

Due to schedules, we ended up at Heaven’s* house. Thank goodness this is a good friend because I didn’t feel awkward for pretty much inviting ourselves. They even had wine!

IMG_6396We’ve shared many meals with Heaven. I love going to their home because Jess doesn’t hesitate to use her talker. Of course, Jess doesn’t hold back when it comes to dessert… and don’t forget the extra whipped cream she says. Heaven then showed Jess that their dog Reese does shots! Jess immediately said “read, had, whipped cream”. His name wasn’t programmed into her talker, so she made an approximation.

It’s so fascinating to witness language morphing. It’s amazing what you hear when you listen.  She is even mastering the superlative!

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After our meal, we women left the table to watch a movie while the men talked.  As the evening came to a close, we made our way home, all feeling rather content.


The following evening we had company. Let’s just say, things didn’t go as smoothly. An authoritative tone was used and the wheels came off. By the time we sat for dinner, Jess was not able to contain herself and showed her displeasure with our guest. Regardless of how she felt, she was in the wrong and had to retire to her bedroom for the rest of the evening. I don’t think she minded.

There is such a contrast in the two evenings. Each family has different styles which resulted in completely different results. The thing is, we all have people and events that put us on edge. I don’t expect Jess to get treated special, but I do expect others to respect her for her differences and treat her like the adult she is. If I had to take my pick, I’d much prefer a slice of heaven.

*names has been changed so no one gets any bright ideas as to our best kept secret.