Wednesday, May 7, 2014

She wants to name names

This isn't actually a blog post (she said at the start of what is clearly, literally, a blog post) it's a request for help. SLPs/AAC people/AAC parents/Special ed folks/Smart creative people, I need input.

Maya has become very fixated on characters. Any characters. All characters. Any cartoon character that she sees, she immediately asks what it's name is, and demands that we add a button to mini (the talker) with that character's image and name. This is tricky, for a few reasons. On one hand, if she wants a button that says "Mario" (from Super Mario Brothers, which she saw in a birthday party catalog),  then she should get one and be able to say it. (This is the generally right answer, and what I feel like is correct when I think about AAC use and AAC users---if they're asking for a way to say something, they should get it.) On the flip side, what we are seeing (after weeks of this behavior, and the addition of many, many cartoon characters) is that she's kind of a name hoarder. She is combing through books and catalogs searching for minor characters in shows that she doesn't watch (eg: someone named Isa from Dora?), getting a new button for that character, and then never using it again. Like, ever. She seems to just be collecting the names.

This is a screenshot of one of the pages in her talker that contains characters.

There are a few issues here.

First, the reason that this is becoming so frustrating to me is because more than 50% of Maya's conversations at home now involve her calling our attention to a catalog or book, asking "who's that/what's that?" and then excitedly saying "Mini please!!!" (translation: make a new button for this right now!). If we make the button, she is extremely excited for about 7 seconds, then moves on to find a new character. It's exhausting. It's frustrating. I want to talk about other things. I don't even mind talking about the characters all day, honestly, if we did more than just name them. Which leads me to  . . .

Second, I have tried to think creatively, to redirect, to extend, to use these characters (which are obviously a huge motivator for her) as a jumping off point for other dialogue (spoken and via AAC) and she's not biting. I've tried saying "I don't know his name (because really, sometimes I don't) but let's talk about him! We could say that he is red, that he has a purple hat, that he looks like he feels happy, etc etc" and she just either pushes for a name (directing me to look it up online) or moves onto to someone else, in the hopes that I'll know the next character's name.

Third, and this is of substantially less importance to me, but I'll put it out there anyway as I think that it's a common concern for AAC parents: for an AAC user, vocabulary takes up physical real estate. I would rather not fill so much of her talker with minor movie and tv characters that we will likely never encounter again . . . but that's not really my choice, as I see it. Luckily, the app that we use (Speak for Yourself) has a lot of fillable space, and I imagine that if that space was ever filling it would be past the years of wanting all of Dora's friends to have buttons. I will admit to redirecting her when she's going page-by-page through a toy catalog and asking for each character, line by line, but if it comes up more than once it's hard for me to say no. (And I did attend a training once where participants were encouraged to help AAC users to think creatively to build words rather than adding large numbers of specific buttons, like "mad-gas-car" for Madagascar, but I think that's kind of disrespectful and would be really angry if, as a user, that's what I was expected to do. I won't do that to her.) I could make a low tech character board (a laminated sheet of paper---or multiple sheets) with tons of character pictures and names, but I'm fairly certain that she will just bring me the low tech board and the talker and direct me to add all of the names in, which puts me kind of back in the same spot.

So here are the two core questions:

1. How can I redirect her from spending so much time asking me to add character names? The best I can figure is to limit her access to magazines (like a certain amount of time per day) or limit her characters-per-day (like, we can add three new people tonight, but that's all).

2. How can I use this character love to drive vocabulary building? She still primarily uses her talker for communication via single words and some phrases, and I would love to use these characters to come up with some fun activities that will really get us using more core words, more verbs, more adjectives, more everything. The problem is that I'm lacking the specifics---which verbs/adjectives/question words would be best to target, how could I set up a few games or activities to target this? It's easy enough for me to make some laminated characters (printed, cut out, laminated) or character bingo sheets or  . . . anything.

I've got half-thought-out ideas for games where she has a character line-up and I model things like "She is wearing a dress. She is tall. She has green eyes." and then Maya picks the character----but then I wonder if that's too many different verb forms and whether there's something more simple and repetitive to start with, but I can't come up with it. Then I think about hiding characters around the apartment and modeling "Where is Mario? He is in the kitchen.  He is in a cabinet. Open the door!" etc and have the same questions about vocabulary

I'll make anything. But I'm overwhelmed at where to start, and rather than spend a few hours trying to sort this out on my own, I'm asking for ideas first. This is why one takes the time to build a network of amazing people, right?

I appreciate any and all input on this. Thanks from Maya, Belle, Lightning McQueen, Mike Wazowski, Dora, Spiderman, Abby Cadabby, Curious George, Maisy, Batman . . . and friends.

16 comments:

Laura Taylor said...

I wonder if she would be satisfied to have you just spell them for her. You know, find out the name and walk her through going to an alphabet page and spelling it out? You could talk about what the name is and what it looks like when it's written (on the mini) and maybe keep a paper list of the names? Just thinking out loud...

liz said...

I like to play clips of the characters from YouTube videos so we can practice talking about what is happening in the different scenes. We are able to practice labeling and using their core vocabulary. It is super motivating and helps me gauge if they are generalizing skills.

Anonymous said...

My son just started AAC with SFY last week, so I'm interested in the advice you get too. But I just wanted to throw out there that there is a game called Hedbanz and there is a version with characters from Disney movies. My son is 3, and the game says 7 years+. We use it as a matching game (match Sully and Mike Wasowski and we cheer loudly and move on to the next movie). Technically the game is you wear Mickey Mouse ears and you put a card in your ears (we just wear the ears for fun during the game) and the other person is supposed to tell you things about your character or you ask things about your character in order to guess who you are wearing in your Mickey ears. You could just limit the cards to characters she knows/in her talker, and get the descriptions flowing about what the character wears or does in the movie. Love your blog! Can't wait to hear what everyone else's suggestions and sorry I don't know what to do about the character hoarding. But it is totatlly cute. -Sarah Oliver

Laura said...

I would maybe see if she would let you help her make a scrapbook of characters, and not put them in the device. She can cut them out, get a screencap of the character in the show, direct you to write down on that page the character's basic info. This gives you an opportunity to discuss how fun it is to collect things like names, and how fun the characters are, and how collecting info about characters (especially minor characters) is different from adding those characters to "mini," which is for things that she plans to talk lots about. It also makes for activities where she needs to use vocabulary to tell you what she wants to include (pictures, text, etc.).

It might not also be a bad idea to include a limit on the number of characters per day. Something I've recommended in the past is having a parent wear scrunchies around their arm, and the number of scrunchies is the number of times that a particular question can be asked or reward gotten, or characters collected. So if you start out with three scrunchies, that's three characters for the day, and after you address a character, you take a scrunchy off. And then when she asks to add a character but there are no more scrunchies, you say she'll have a chance to ask again tomorrow when the scrunchies are back.

Anonymous said...

Along the same lines of the 'hedbandz' game, there is one called "Guess Who". You could print pics of Maya's characters and place them over/ onto the game characters and play the guessing game that way ---does he have glasses? Does she have brown hair?
Etc.

Mommy said...

Since you are wanting to encourage dialogue what if you told her that in order for a new character to be added she had to tell you "x" number of things about it; like the red shirt, or purple hat, etc. That way she is talking more and then getting the reward she wants of having the character added. I can see implementing a limit on the total number allowed per day but if you are getting her to name/discuss the 3 or 4 things about it first then maybe you don't have a limit.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what this 'stage' is exactly, but sounds like she's right on target with obsession with characters in her social/emotional development. I have a neurotypical 4yo. If we could stop talking about spider man, the green lantern, storm troopers, etc for at least 5min a day I would be very happy.

Kerith Stull said...

My non-verbal (now 18yo) was focused on nouns/names for a long time. I think they are easier to wrap your brain around. When we started focusing on noun-verb combinations and even talking about what those combinations would look like (especially silly ones), it helped break that focus. Just my two cents...

Fay said...

How about printing out pictures of the extra characters and putting them in a book (that you can make out by folding some papers in half and stapling them)- you can call call the book "my characters" or "my characters do lots of things" maybe have a picture of each character doing a different action and write= "isa likes to read, minny cooks etc."- one or two on each page?
This way the talker is reserved for communication, but Maya can read the book about her new interests. - Just some stream of consciousness ideas from a speech therapist who works with preschoolers!

akkogera said...

This post made me think so much about "Pokémon". No wonder that Nintendo game is so popular with kids ... it really taps into everybody's primal behavior of wanting to collect cool things. Pocket Monsters, pretty rocks, strings, baseball cards, you name it. Perhaps that's where the twist in perspective lies and the golden opportunity to give Maya's name-collecting some educational value while still maintaining her motivation. Play games like, "let's sort out all the red ones" or "let's pick out all the female characters" or "let's pick out the ones with horns". You could do role play, battle them out, see what kind of powers these characters have. Basically, bring them to life and let Maya's imagination take over. I think that's far more constructive than limiting her access or discouraging her to make more buttons for saving space. Also, it might be a good idea (despite how time consuming it is) to create button alternatives in other physical form. The best, albeit most expensive solution, would be to have another device just for collecting, but how about making trading cards for some of the names? Then your argument could be that you have a trading card for so and so name, so there's no need for a button; let's save some space on the talker for more important words. I think that would motivate Maya to think about what important words could potentially be on the talker, without losing her tenacity over name-collecting (which I see as a very healthy sign of development for a child her age). Good luck, let us know what you decide to do!

Anonymous said...

I really like the idea of trying to introduce spelling it...Not only will this help her with her reading and spelling with learning to sound it out and teach her to do it on her own but also in the end you will not have to make a button not to be used again. Make a game out of it and maybe explain to her that if you keep adding names that aren't going to be used that you are going to run out of space and not be able to add important useful words that will be used more often...She seems to understand more than most people think and so maybe she will understand this and will take to the spelling game...

Anonymous said...

I had a similar thought than a couple of the above commenters... Perhaps make a physical scrap-book or playing cards with the characters pictures and names, which in itself would be a good practice using scissors/glue and then she could spell out their names on the mini when she wants to talk about them. If you find she is using the mini to say their names or is spelling them out repeatedly in an effort to talk about them, then add/keep their names in the mini.

Antti said...

I grew up with the Moomin books (not the plastic TV animation). If she likes those, you have at least a mother and a father for the Moomintroll, a family. Also, the snorks change color according to their moods.
How well does she play? Playing with the figures might be easier, if you use wooden blocks, the picture of the figure on each side, a sort of 3D PCS. The pictures can for example be printed in groups of 6 on a sticker sheet. ( But it has not worked with our son so far!)

Bob Whitney said...

Wonderful ideas. Maybe some form of add and remove would work along with a character limit. If she wants to add a new character, then one of the existing ones must go- put in a folder or printed out as others have suggested. Your space remains the same, and at the same time, some decision making skills along with discussion should go into her making her choices.

Anonymous said...

Great suggestions already! My first reaction was to remember my cousin's dear (at the time) 2 yo son walking through my grandma's house asking 'what's that?' about *everything*. He just wanted the name, then he'd move on. Some of this is a need for interaction, much like another friend's son's obsession with asking 'why?' all the time. In other words, this sounds like a normal developmental stage.

Now, as an AAC SLP, I understand your concerns about real estate. I like the suggestions about scrapbooks (you could even print out the name so she has something to copy using text if she really wanted to talk about that character). I was also thinking that you could create a digital scrapbook of sorts, either just in the camera roll on the iPad or using a particular app. There are several that would allow you to also record the name, like a talking photo album. Of course, when she's in this app, she's NOT in SFY, so she can't really engage in dialog about the character. But maybe she doesn't really want to, at least right now.

Is she using attributes in other conversations or interactions? Your desire to describe or use other words to 'get around' the name is exactly on point, BUT she might not be there yet in terms of language development, hence the rejection of those ideas. Again, that's why I like the scrapbook idea. She has the pictures and the names, and when she's ready she can talk about them (you, of course, as the excellent mom, will be modeling the talk about all along). You could show her how to construct a message like "look at my scrapbook" so she can initiate the opportunity to just look through all the characters. She is clearly hungry for more vocabulary!

As with all things AAC (and life), patience and following her lead with some nudging are the best strategies.

Kimberly Hurley, MA, CCC-SLP

Anonymous said...

Another idea would be to initiate some storytelling with the characters. Are you familiar with Vivian Paley's work? She's an early childhood educator who has pioneered a process of story dictation and drama for young children that is fabulous. Great tool for encouraging vocabulary building, narrative development and (in groups of children) social connection. I bet Maya would love it!