Last week I visited Maya's school twice. Both times, I was focused on communication (and I also got to spy on a PT session, which was fun). On Wednesday, I visited her teacher and speech therapist, taking photos of the communication boards that they have been using with her at school. Here's a picture of a board that she uses while playing with dolls at school:
Pretty basic. She points to things, the teacher will say them and encourage her to make the starting sounds of the words.
The problem that I had been having at home with the boards is that it's really hard to get the right words on the board. The pressure of selecting the words was enough to make me come undone. I mean, when I make a board I'm literally chosing every single thing that she can say. Imagine if you sat down to play a game and were only allowed to use 20 words, which had all been predetermined by someone else. I hated that my word choices would limit her. But that changed on Thursday.
Thursday I returned to the school to attend a workshop on increasing communication at home. The workshop was mostly useless, except for 1 key point. Velcro. At one point the presenter held up a little communication board that had velcro squares on it---and I had a memory flashback to seeing a communication book lined with velcro months ago, so that the board itself is dynamic. This was what I needed---a board that could easily shift and move, with many words at her fingertips. So I got to work.
Note: I'm not inventing the idea of velcro and communication books---many commercial ones exist. But you can make this at home, and it will be cheap and easy. When I googled how to make your own communication book I found nothing useful. So this is what I did:
Step 1: Start with the basics. I made my picture cards in BoardMaker (which makes life easier---but you don't need it. You can do this with photographs or clipart, too) and put velcro on the back of the squares. For the book, I'm using a 1" binder with velcro strips. I figured that there are certain basic words that she would almost always need, so those remain on the cover of the binder:
Step 2: Make the word tiles and put them in the binder. I'm not going to lie, making the tiles is a bit labor intensive, but it's the type of mindless work you can do while you watch TV. The tiles are stored inside the binder on old pages from a photo album (they are more sturdy than sheets of paper). They have velcro running across the page, like the cover.
We went to a hay ride/pumpkin patch on Sunday, which explains why we're talking about skeletons.
Step 3: Organize. Clearly, the words above aren't organized. I'm working on that now (or will be working on it after I finish this blog post). I'm going to make pages for "art", "people", "food & drinks", etc.
I've also learned (in the past 3 days) that these littles tiles will get lost--everywhere. Initially this wasn't a problem, but as the number of tiles increases I won't be able to figure out what words she's lost. And losing a tile renders her incapable of saying that word. So it's a big deal.
To that end, I'm going to use a permanent marker to label the place under the tile, so that when the book comes home from school all jumbled up I can reorganize and see if any words need to be reprinted.
The space under the "Maya" tile is labeled.
Step 4: Using it. Maya caught on right away, and seemed to grasp the magnitude of the system---I have words! She had a massive breakdown when I had to take the binder to buckle her into the stroller, and loves to pick up the words and show them to me. She quickly started pointing to 2-tile "sentences", which was great to see.
-Maya learns the cartoon pictures pretty easily. If your child is a more concrete thinker, photo tiles might be better.
-I like this because she has all of the words! She flipped through the pages today several times, to remind me that she went on a "pony ride" and tell me "Grandpa". I don't know why she was thinking about Grandpa, but if she only had a "playground" board in front of her at that moment, she wouldn't have been able to share that thought with me at all.
-We're working towards the higher tech versions of this---the iPad and AAC devices. But this is a solid start, for now.
Enough of my talking . . . let Maya show you how it's been working for us:
*I would greatly appreciate any and all tips, tricks, feedback, etc. If you have ideas on how to use/improve the Word Book, please share them!