What We’ve Got Here is a Failure to Communicate

The little man had his first meeting about the possibility of an assisted speech device last week. This is very exciting as using one of these would dramatically increase his vocabulary and allow him to express some of those more complicated thoughts he has. The little man is extremely sociable and will just babble your head off; I’m excited to see what he is able to say once he learns to work with a device.

And now for the time where I say what a lot of special needs parents think, but keep to themselves – It is also sad. Because another device feels a bit like another defeat. In a world where you fight every day for your kid to live as normally as possible, adding another device to his medical entourage is frustrating. A part of me fears that he will move backwards with this device and lose some speech he already has. Like when he completely stopped eating anything by mouth after he got his button.

I’m a rational person though. I know that the truth of the matter is closer to that first paragraph than the second. And – most importantly – I trust his therapists to guide us in the right direction. They are lovely and want the little man to succeed as much as we do.

Okay, now back to the meeting.

The little man already uses an ipad in his classroom, but, because of his inability to isolate exactly where he wants his finger to go, it works best when you display only a couple of choices. This makes it a great learning device – he can identify colors, letters, etc. – but not a communication device in any way.

Even though everyone assumed he would respond best to a direct touch device (the kind where he would touch a picture on a screen to make it say a certain word), we tried a couple of other options. Just because, why not? First up was a device with great big switches/buttons.

This option clearly wasn’t for the little man. All he wanted to do was reach for/touch the screen; screw those buttons. I could tell that he was just humoring the company rep and his therapists with this one. There is definitely an option of using the large buttons to help the little man play with some of his toys as he grows, but his communication level and movement ability allows him to do more for an everyday device.

Next up was a device that followed your eye movement. Everybody knew this wasn’t going to work for him, but we gave it a go anyway since it was there. Personally, I was fascinated. This device followed your eyes allowing you to concentrate on an image to make it speak. Absolutely amazing. Again, this wasn’t for the little man – he is a very mobile little guy and could never sit still enough to get this machine calibrated. I wanted to play with it though. . .

The end result of the meeting is that we intend to go with a direct touch device, but we don’t yet have enough information to make a final decision. The best way to describe the device is as an extra-thick tablet with plastic guard over the top to guide his fingers into the right holes. Here is the kind of thing I’m talking about:

Image from AAC Resources Network (http://aacresourcesnetwork.com/)
Image from AAC Resources Network (http://aacresourcesnetwork.com/)

Unfortunately, the little man wasn’t having much success with the largest key guard the rep had. The reasons were twofold: 1) the tone in his arm made it difficult for him to narrow down the area he needed to put his finger and 2) the device was set-up to be focusing on the word “go.” As in, “let’s make that toy go.” Well, the little man can say go. So he was haphazardly banging on the device when they told him to push go and just saying the word. I think he probably would have been rolling his eyes if he had that ability. We’ll be able to tell more about how he relates to the device when it is a little more individualized.

On top of that he was just overwhelmingly distracted by the people, the toys, the office, the window, showing off, etc. I look forward to seeing how he responds when we get to try a larger key guard and he is able to work one-on-one with his speech therapist during their regular session. You know, at a time when he is used to putting in the work and doing what she says.

So overall, it was a great first meeting, but we have more to think about and discuss. He should have a whole new world of speech in his little hands soon though.

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