For Autism Awareness, Speak for Yourself is half price today (April 2, 2015). Maybe you’ve had this app for a little while, or maybe you waited for today to pull the trigger, regardless, be prepared for your world to change, in a good way.
First, if you child can access the iPad, then they can do this.
Second, you can do this too.
So now what? If you are new to SFY, it may seem overwhelming. Take a breath. It’s okay. When we started, I had never used an iPad and didn’t even know what an app was. By the end of the first week, I was programming SFY while sitting at a traffic light.
The first lesson I learned was about the importance of guided access which is an Apple feature. Within the first 10 minutes of Jess using SFY, she deleted the app. I’d left her alone while I let the dog out. When I returned, it was gone. Easy fix. Reinstalled via the cloud and lesson learned.
Jess took to the iPad pretty quickly, but it took awhile before she developed accuracy. We started out with about a dozen words. Once she understood how to navigate the app and realized how powerful it was to say what she wanted to say, we were then able to build language. We opened words slowly at first. It takes time to learn the location and from an adult’s perspective, I didn’t want to overwhelm her. Looking back, I realized that I was probably not giving her as much language as she wanted, but it was hard to tell because she had a lot of miss hits.
The unintentional tap of a word is interesting. No, they might not have tapped a word that makes sense to those that are listening, but this is one way that they learn the location of words. To the untrained ear, the words that they are tapping may sound like they are fooling around, but what really is going on is that they are playing with their “voice” just like a child that is learning to talk, the AAC user is learning where the words are. Learning word location is similar to playing the game concentration. Eventually, your motor planning remembers where to find the word.
Jess may have tapped 10 words where she only meant to tap three. Look for the theme of what they are trying to say. Also, when Jess finally got the word she was seeking, she would stop and look at me as if to say “yes, that is what I meant”.
There are two things that are important to focus on; modeling the words on the device and being a good communication partner. These skills that come with practice.
A child that is verbal, we model through the spoken word. A child that is non-verbal, their spoken word is the AAC device and of course, you can use your voice too.
Being a good communication partner is something that blossoms with time. Ask questions and then give them time to answer. This doesn’t mean ask “show me blue, show me red”, but rather ask them what they want to do, or what would they like to tell you. Remember, they have to think about what you said and then take time to motor plan to find the words. If they initiate, then continue the conversation like you would with anyone else. It is a lot easier to share your thoughts when you know someone is listening to you.
There will be times when they won’t feel like talking. This is okay. I think everyone has times they would rather not talk. During Jess’s quiet moments, sometimes I start modeling on her device and that captures her interest.
Everyone has topics that motivate them. When I’m desperate, I’ve been known to say “ice cream” on SFY. Jess will come running because as much as I think she is ignoring me, she is listening to everything I say. Then I ask her what flavor, what toppings and this becomes our ice breaker. Often times, all it takes is finding a way to get her to engage which encourages her to use her AAC.
The best way to help your child learn SFY (or whatever AAC system you are using) is for you to learn it too. Immersion is a proven way to learn language. Over the years, I chose to go voiceless for a week and communicated solely through SFY. Actually, you can learn just about every thing you need to know in an hour. You learn how difficult it is at first to remember where the words are. You see that people interrupt to get to the point quicker and complete the sentence they think you are going to say. By experiencing this, hopefully, you will learn what not to do with your child.
Finally, you need to educate those that are not familiar with an AAC device. Most likely, you may be the first person that they have ever seen using one. I have yet to have a negative experience because I’ve found that people are genuinely interested. The more people that support your child using their AAC device, the more comfortable your child will be when they use it.