A new way we are encouraging Ruby’s communication development is through a communication device (AAC). Before I knew much about it, I had thought that oh Ruby has words she doesn’t need that device, or I would rather have her develop her verbal communication than use a device to say her words. I had a lot of preconceived notions about what it meant to have a device and how it would affect her development. And to my surprise, I was wrong.
Working with an amazing speech therapist, I began to understand what the communication devices were really all about. Even though Ruby had some words, they were limited. Even though we were already using a lot of pictures for her to communicate, these pictures were limited because I had to have the exact picture on hand, which even if I did they frequently got lost around the house, or chewed one, or left somewhere else. With a communication device all of her pictures were in one place and they didn’t get lost!
Better Communication Options
With her communication device, I had lots of options for more words and they wouldn’t get lost around the house or left somewhere. I can also have a lot more word options for her. It is unrealistic to have hundreds of pictures around, let alone have them organized in a way that it will be easy for her to find what she is looking for. If you think about it, a 4 year-old has a hundreds of words in their vocabulary, shouldn’t Ruby have the same access? So this has helped her to have access to more words.
A verbal Model
One of the concerns I had was that she would use her device to say words for her instead of trying to use verbal communication herself. The opposite has happened! One of the great things about this is that it says the word when she clicks on it, giving her another verbal model. This is important for Ruby because for a lot of her life her joint attention was pretty low, so even though her hearing was okay she was still missing a lot of the language around her because she was blocking it out and focusing on something else. Without really hearing language consistently she was not getting that verbal model. As she has gotten older her and we have worked on her joint attention she is hearing more of the language around her and with the device which she always attends to she is hearing a lot of verbal models!
We have seen her say the words when she pushes them, learn new words, and be able to communicate more complex ideas than she could on her own.
Communication Motivation and Development
With her being exposed to new words and being able to see words put together both visually and verbally she has been able to understand and communicate more complex things. For example, on her device she would hit “my favorite” and she even went up to her preschool teacher and pushed and said “my favorite you”. I had no idea if she liked school or tolerated it, but I think she likes it! She now will say my favorite xyz even without her communication device. She is saying a lot more words since she has had the communication device and she is really getting the concepts behind them!
Navigating the Device
The program she has is called touch chat. There are many options for how many buttons you can have, the types of things you can add, and the voice that says the words. Ruby has a child’s voice on hers, which sounds closer to how people really talk compared to some other options. With lots of options there comes a learning curve of how to navigate the device.
It can be overwhelming at first with how many pages there are and how to get to them using the device. Right now she has some of the buttons hidden to lessen the options and help her to see the ones she needs right now. As she gets more intentional we will add the rest of the buttons. I can even lock the page and focus on just one set of words if I am doing a communication device session with her.
When she first got it there was a lot of exploring on it. She would just click random buttons and see what happened, sometimes over and over again. Although it could be a tad annoying to hear the same word over and over again, she was learning her device and how to navigate the pages.
Here is the page that comes up when she hits the play button. It gives her lots of options to what she wants to play and to communicate this. There are buttons like your turn, what kinds of things she wants to play, even a yes button. Saying the words yes and no to questions has always been hard for her, but having a button she can push to say it has helped, and I have even seen an increase in her using yes and no in regular conversation.
All of the options give her ideas of what she can request opening up her world a little bit. She doesn’t get a stuck in doing the same thing because that’s all she knows how to request. It has given her more power and control in her own world and helped her confidence in communicating to others.
Now I am a believer in the communication device! I have seen the difference it has made in Ruby’s life and ours and I understand now that anything that can help with Ruby’s ability to communicate what she is thinking it always worth it.
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