After flying in from ISAAC late last Thursday night I had two days to unpack, regroup, and repack before we headed out for a few days at the beach with my family. We all had a delightful time (although I sadly had to skip boogie boarding this year, for obvious reasons). Maya not only loved being with her extended family, but she loved the ocean and the beach (last year she liked the beach, but not so much the ocean). Great times were had by all.
But there was a little problem . . . one that other high-tech AAC users might anticipate, but many others might not see coming. If you've ever been to a beach, you know that sand has a way of getting into everything, and never leaving. Ever. Because of this, there was no way we were going to bring the talker to the beach, with or without its fancy case (to be clear, we took it to the hotel, but not out on the actual beach). And so I scrambled to come up with some sort of low-tech AAC system that would allow her to speak while playing in the sand and water.
What I came up with might not be perfect pedagogically speaking, but it was perfect for Maya. And as I learn more about how to ideally incorporate AAC into daily life, I'm also learning that "ideal" is a hard place to aim if you're kind of Type A (which I sometimes am) and that maybe the most important thing is just to try everyday, to be mindful, to model, and to keep at it.
Let me show you what I came up with, explain how I did it (it's easy, you can do it too) and then point out how it can be modified to be a bit more ideal.
To put it simply, I made 3 boards, connected with a binder ring. Here's Maya with the boards in action at the beach:
"I need more water in my bucket"
"I'm in a hole" (dug with love by her daddy)
The first board consisted mainly of core vocabulary (only the core words that I thought would be most essential while playing in the sand), laid out in roughly the same orientation that she's used to on the main page of her communication app. I also added in pictures for the family members who were on the trip with us.
The second page was really the one that she used the most. On this board I included fringe words that I thought she would need to talk at the beach. I intentionally included blank spots for words that I didn't anticipate needing, and brought a few permanent markers along with me so that I could add things in on-the-go. The words with the green backgrounds are verbs, which are colored according to the Fitzgerald key, if you're interested in that sort of thing (and they are literally colored, with a crayon, because I forgot to print them with green backgrounds and was too tired to do it again).
The organization of these words was done in a way that made sense to me---places went in a column down the left, the top row was beach-set-up stuff, verbs grouped together, etc. This is not according to any system, I just thought it seemed organized and semi-intuitive.
(The third board, unpictured, contained tiles for all of the colors and a handful of other adjectives: hot, cold, wet, dry, clean, dirty, etc.)
If you're into the DIY details: The picture tiles were created and printed through the Custom Boards app by Smarty Ears. The symbol language is Smarty Symbols, which is the icon language used by her communication app, Speak for Yourself (clearly, these are pretty basic boards and could be executed with any symbol language that you might be currently using). I cut the tiles out, organized them on blank sheets of computer paper, and taped them down with scotch tape. Then I broke out the trusty lamintor, laminated & hole-punched. (Seriously, everyone needs a laminator, especially if you're DIY-ing AAC stuff at home.) A tip: if you're going to get homemade boards wet, hole punch the sheets of paper, then laminate, then re-hole punch, then run through the laminator again to seal the edges that you just punched. I didn't think about this and we ended up with a little water leakage near the punch.
This system served us well, especially given the fact that we were on a 4-day vacation and I just wanted something simple that would give her words she needed without creating a system that was so complicated that she wouldn't want to engage with it on the beach (and we would all get frustrated). Truth be told, it would have been easy to not use the boards at all--to just guess what she wanted (which isn't that hard on the beach) . . . but we're trying to encourage the most fundamental truth of using AAC---something should be there to give Maya the ability to independently say what's on her mind, instead of us guessing while she either says yes or no.
A few other ideas: A twitter friend (and actual AAC expert) mentioned to me after returning home the possibility of laminating boards/cards/strips of words and attaching them to Styrofoam for accessibility in the water---how brilliant is that? Then I started to think about how you could attach words to tons of things----for example, the bucket could have words taped to the side with packing tape (bucket, full, empty, fill, dump, pour, sand, water, in, out). There are a lot of possibilities if you figure out a way to make word tiles and have clear packing tape and a laminator.
It seems to be a good idea to have some sort of low-tech back-up system in place, for beach trips or pool trips or for other messy things that aren't jumping to mind right now. If I wanted to improve this system of pages-on-a-binder-ring, and make it more advanced, it would likely involve printing some screen shots of the pages on her app for consistency's sake. There are some issues, though, with how much flipping it would take to build thoughts/phrases/sentences. I'm not really sure what the ideal solution would look like at this moment (and I say "at this moment" because a low-tech solution that would be ideal for 4 year old Maya would likely be different than what would become ideal for 5 year old Maya).
For now, this was good enough.
A few other beach pictures:
Boogie boarder in training
Maya & Dave
Feeding the seagulls
All 3.8 of us
Disclaimer: As always, I am not an SLP or an AAC specialist, I'm just the mom of an AAC user and I'm primarily figuring out and teaching her how to use her system on my own. I'm sharing what I've figured out in an effort to help the other parents who are driving their own AAC buses, but take what I do with a grain of salt----I try to use all of the best practices that I've learned/seen, but I'm probably making mistakes as I go. Also, I am not affiliated with (nor do I make any money from) the apps mentioned in this post.