Recently I was asked why we chose Speak for Yourself over other AAC programs. It’s pretty simple, SFY did everything that the other programs could not. If you have read any of our story, you may find this repetitive, so just skim till you get to the middle.
Jess had another AAC device for ten+ years. Over time, she wanted to use this less and less. Part of this was due to the fact that we did not know what words to program in for her. We could not guess the words that she wanted to say. Even though it had the capability to hold the language, it wasn’t user friendly for someone that was as significantly motor-planning-challenged as Jess was. She realized it was faster to get her needs met non-verbally than it was to navigate through layers of pages than it was to find her words on the Dynavox.
When we had another AAC evaluation done, it had not hit me yet how serious Jess’s communication needs were. We were fat, dumb, and happy because Jess could communicate with us non-verbally. For some reason, this seemed “good enough”. Jess seemed happy, but we were clueless about how small and isolated her world was. We did not know what we did not know. The only reason the eval was done was that we were considering another day program for Jess. It didn’t help that we had been in an exclusive special needs setting. Looking back, I feel we had lost our point of reference.
The eval advised against anything that used an iPad, specifically, Proloquo2go. It was decided that this was not appropriate because Jess’s fine motor skills (the ability to isolate a finger) and distractibility were too significant. What had been suggested didn’t give Jess enough language and obviously the Dynavox was not a good fit for her. It wasn’t until a year later that we did a 180. We pulled Jess out of traditional school and put her in an occupational training center. Jess’s world completely changed. Her non-verbal communication did not serve her well and school (who was still overseeing her program) wanted to go “back to basics”. They shoved Pecs down my throat because Jess developed behaviors due to frustration as demands were being placed on her. We needed an AAC system fast. I didn’t exactly know what I was looking for, however, the process reminded me of when I was dating, I would know “the one” when I saw it.
It was a catch-22 to find something easy to navigate and be able to provide sophisticated language at the same time. The eval hadn’t come up with a solution, so I was on my own at this point. When I heard about Speak for Yourself, the fact that the creators were well versed in all available AAC programs because they were the people you met for an evaluation intrigued me. Because we had been advised that Jess didn’t have the ability to use an iPad and because our last experience with AAC was not successful, I had no reason to believe that Speak for Yourself would work either. Besides, Jess was 21 and who learns language at this age? By this point, everyone just accepts you don’t talk. So as for this appointment, I was not very enthusiastic to preview SFY. I nearly canceled, but I didn’t know enough about the program to categorically dismiss it.
When Heidi came to demo SFY, she bounded through the door with an armful of iPads. We didn’t realize this at the time, but she was a superhero disguised as an SLP! Because Jess’s social skills were less than stellar, Jess immediately grabbed a full-sized iPad and started exploring. As Heidi and I talked, Jess was pushing every button and checking out every feature. Within half an hour, Jess touched the word “exceptional”. At that moment I turned to her and said: “yes, you are exceptional”. This was not a random event. When the babble feature is open, there are nearly 5,000 words and has a capacity of 14,000 words all of which can be accessed in two taps. Jess found “exceptional” a few times during the session. It was obvious that this was not like any AAC I’d seen before and that they had built a better mousetrap.
Jess now had renewed interest in trying to communicate. The words she wanted to say are literally at her fingertips. Within a week, she was able to assemble a phrase. In three weeks, she said, “Mom, I love you”. This was not a pre-programmed phrase. In fact, the only phrase that she has is “I use an app called Speak for Yourself to help me talk”.*
The reason Speak for Yourself works for Jess is because she is able to choose her own words and is not limited to a page of words that have been predetermined. The Babble feature is pure genius and Jess relies on this heavily. The ability to search for words quickly and being able to document usage through the History feature are just a couple of the features that make SFY a powerful AAC app. Last but not least, there is an SFY user group on FB that a parent can join for support. This group is comprised of new and seasoned SFY users, SLP’s and is open to those that use other AAC systems. This group is fairly renowned!
Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, we were at a restaurant. Jess ordered ice cream and told the waitress what she wanted on it. She initiated her conversations and I don’t recall Jess having any miss hits* when she was choosing her words. One of the patrons started a conversation with us and he kept on chatting. At one point, Jess leaned in and said on SFY “persistent”. It is very important for her to find specific words. Words that no one would have thought to program. When the Babble feature is left open (and I believe it should be), it may seem like the kids are just randomly pushing buttons, but what is really happening is they are learning where the words are. Because the words stay in one place, it aides with motor planning. This is how Jess recalled “persistent” so quickly. I find her choice of words interesting. My guess is she wants others to take her seriously, so she chooses words to show off her vocabulary. It took me a week to get past the fear factor of making a mistake, It took me a while to learn how to model language. I am by no means a pro at this, however, SFY is easy for a parent to navigate. I found that this was a very fluid language system to learn. She has her moments, but overall Jess is no longer the impulsive child. She does not grab things or pull me around because she now can say what is on her mind.
I’ve just spent the better half of the afternoon trying to write this post. Dinner was late. As I was scrambling to put something together, Jess set the table, sat down, and then said “patient”. Yes, she has been very patient with me today. Unfortunately, I wasn’t getting dinner out fast enough, she smacked her hand on the table which reminds me of the following commercial. When Jess feels she isn’t being understood, she gets frustrated. Apparently, she felt the need to pound on the table for added emphasis. Though this was nothing to laugh about, it’s important to find humor where you can. The following commercial reminds me of Jess’s story. She had been suspended from school many times because she could not express herself.
What I didn’t realize at the time, even when she didn’t get the word she wanted the first time and would miss-hit another word, she was still learning. Like playing the game concentration, eventually, you learn where the words are because they always stay in the same place.
- We have since added some phrases for expedience sake which is helpful when she is out in the community.