Monday, December 28, 2015

A New Year's AAC Modeling Resolution (with printable and social networking)

Happy almost 2016!

With the new year often comes a renewed energy to tackle new projects, or to re-tackle old ones. And what better project to focus on than modeling for the AAC users in our lives? We all know that it's the most important thing that we can do to support people who are learning to use (or learning to master) AAC  (supported by both anecdotal evidence and by research) and yet sometimes it's hard to make it work. It takes time, it can feel awkward (if you're struggling to find words), and it can be overwhelming (what to model? how many words? how often? etc).

But you have to do it. You just have to.

So do I.

Over the summer I hosted a modeling challenge that was great---I learned  things, Maya gained a bunch of new words, my fluency increased dramatically, and I became so used to having a talker with me that it actually felt strange when I didn't have it nearby.

But I couldn't keep it going.

Like many other abandoned projects (or resolutions), a few off-kilter days turned into a few non-attempted days and then it just slipped away. The thing about a few bad days is that they make it hard to remember how good the good days were---how many days you had worked hard for, the effort that you put in.

You know what makes things easier to remember? Data. (Oh man, I love data.)

Resolutions (and other projects) are much more likely to stick if there is some sort of data being tracked. Some sort of check-in. Something that keeps you accountable, and also serves as a confirmation that you are working on something---you have goals. You are doing big things. You are awesome. The tricky thing about the data collection is that it needs to very carefully balance between being-meaningful-enough-to-really-collect-data and not-being-a-lot-of-work-because-really.

So here's my proposal: we (re)commit to modeling, and we collect data. We do it in a way that will yield real accountability (and information), yet also won't be that taxing. I've made some data forms (which you can download, at no charge).  Here we go:

The Tracker


  • Daily tracker grid
  • Week in Review summary chart
  • "New Stuff" comments box
  • Reflection comments box
  • Month in Review summary chart
  • Monthly reflection box
  • Monthly goals box
How to use: This is really simple, guys, but I'm going to go ahead and break it down, because why not.

Step 1: Fill in the month (blue box) and the week (purple box) and print the tracker. The document has 5 weekly trackers built in for each month (it's a 3 page document). 

Step 2: At the end of each day, select the appropriate face/rating to reflect your modeling that day (in the blue box).

Here's how to choose:
  • 0/Sad face = It just didn't happen. I didn't touch a talker today.
  • 1/Neutral face = I touched a talker, but not for long. Minimal modeling.
  • 2/Happy face = I did it! It was a good modeling day!
  • 3/Celebration face = I am a modeling superstar! 
Pick the face matches that matches your modeling that day (important: this is about your modeling, not about your child's interest or AAC use---just rate yourself) and circle it or shade it in. That's it! That's the only daily tracking commitment that you have--it takes about 4 seconds.

Step 2.5: Yeah, I said 2.5. The next step is to shade in the "Week in Review" chart(the purple box). It makes a little bar graph to summarize how many days you spent in each 0/1/2/3 rating zone. You can either do this on a daily basis or at the end of the week (which is why it's Step 2.5). 

Step 3: Use the notes boxes. The first box (blue) can be used to track words that you add, combinations or skills that you're targeting, etc. The second box (purple) is a great spot to keep track of victories or failures, make notes about your child's use, etc. You can write in these daily, or at the end of the week. If you need more space, use the back of the page (I recommend printing one-sided to allow for this). 

Here's an example of what a completed two weeks could look like: 
Step 4: At the end of the month, fill in the "Month in Review" chart. Then write a few reflections on the month, and set a few goals for the month ahead. Here's a sample of what that could look like:

Step 5: Check in on Facebook. There are a few ways to increase your odds of sticking with a resolution: data tracking is one way (check!) and involving friends/community is another. Let's build a community of AAC family members, friends, and professionals who are committed to daily modeling and data tracking. At a minimum, I will put up a weekly modeling check-in (every Friday morning) on our FB page (Uncommon Sense Blog), and you can share your successes, questions, struggles, and photos of that week's tracker :)

  • Hang this somewhere that you're going to be confronted with it. I'm taping mine to the cabinet where I keep our daily medicines---unavoidable. I may even tape a pen on a string next to it (kidding-not-kidding). 
  • For the first month, your only job is to write on this paper everyday. That's it. If you shade in the "0/Sad face" boxes every day for the first month, you are a success. You have followed through. You have tracked the worst month you will ever track, and you will move on from there. But write on the darn sheet, no matter what. The first month is, at a minimum, about getting AAC modeling on your mind on a  daily basis---even if the interaction is "Oh man, I really need to up my modeling game."
  • If you are a January resolution zealot, go with it. Take copious notes. Fill the back of the modeling sheet with details about each day. Staple extra pages to the packet. And know that if you run out of steam some day, and start simply circling that day's face, you are no less successful than you were when you were taking all-of-the-notes.
  • It's not accidental that this is collecting pretty minimal data. I wanted the effort to be low enough that any beginner-to-AAC, or any not-really-a-beginner-but-SO-busy-communication-partner, could get started without hesitation. I expect that some people will find this to be simplistic. I'm ready for that. Let's use this for a month or two, trade ideas about what's working and not working, and roll out another version in February/March if it feels necessary. Or, if you decide to make an alternate version, share it in one of our Friday posts. If this works for you, stick with it. Whatever works is awesome.

Let's do this.

First, download the tracking document here (by the way, the preview on Google docs looks sloppy, but the formatting corrects itself when you download the document).  (Edited to add: Mac users, the formatting won't work for you. Download the Mac friendly version here---you'll have to write in "week one" etc in the margin, I couldn't get vertical boxes to work!)Also, if you want to download the directions/rubric/samples included in this post, I've made a downloaded document that you can get here. 

Next, come on over to the Facebook page on Friday (Jan 1) and say hello to your fellow resolutioners. (You can also come by now and say hello on the getting-started thread---but I'll make sure to have a let's-go-do-this post on Friday morning.)

Last, embrace your awesomeness.

Modeling posts to get you started:


Friday, October 30, 2015

AAC Family Friday!

 Here it is, the final installment of AAC Family pictures, in honor of AAC Awareness Month!

Lily Grace, age 6, has been using a paper-based PODD book for some time. This weekend, she went on her first outing with her talker (iPad mini with the Compass w/ PODD app)!  (cont. below)

She had a lot to say during our trip, including letting us know when she wanted to nosh and when she was ready to head home!

 We were out for dinner and Cady's dad was attempting to do some modelling. Apparently he was taking too long, as she pulled the talker closer to her and turned it away from him. You can see she's still holding on to it to make sure he doesn't take it back. :) It's great to see her taking ownership of her voice! 

 Isaac (age 5) enjoying a friend's birthday party at Pump It Up (indoor bouncy house).  Bouncing with the talker wasn't really an option, but once we sat down for cupcakes Isaac couldn't stop saying how "good" everything was ("good cake"  "good birthday candles"), which is high praise (and great progress for him) since he doesn't comment unprompted very often.  He also used the talker to request a drink and select which color of balloon he wanted (in addition to some babbling). 

Charlie, PODD user extraordinaire from Nottingham UK, commenting on YouTube on not one, but two talkers!

 Here are Reuben and Louisa chilling on the couch with Reuben's talker (an iPad mini with Speak for Yourself) and his medal from kiddie bike race over the weekend. Louisa's outfit is due to "mismatch day" at her daycare.

Anna, from the Netherlands, using PODD. Anna's mom has this to share: 
Because I'm trying to promote AAC in The Netherlands I have made a movie with my daughter using PODD. Just want to tell people that you can use AAC everywhere. We need to carry the AAC everywhere with us. We had days that Anna will not say a thing when we were out but we also have days when she is just reaching at it to just make a short comment. 

Because I'm Romanian I have made also an English version of the movie. see link below

Roo the butterfly babbling on Speak for Yourself while eating pizza!

Meeting celebrities: Felix has graduated from AAC because Speak For Yourself helped him find his voice. Thank you Heidi and Renee. 

 Aidan and his Dad make a great team on game night. (cont. below)

 This was the perfect no expectations moment for modeling as Aidan was really excited to roll the dice! See more of Aidan's story over at his mom's blog:

 Lemmy using Speak for Yourself on an iPad, being held by a modular hose stand.

Lemmy shopping in target with speak for yourself on the iPad. He was tired of shopping.

Dinner time conversation with papa. I feel so lucky to look across the dinner table at these two!

 How's this for a casual conversation starter? C has really been enjoying her 'social' pages lately. And apparently still has a bit of learning to do about the fine points of small talk.

 We took a train ride over the weekend. We had to stop at one point to let some more passengers on and she told us TRAIN RIDE STOP and followed it up with boisterously yelling, "[s]top, top, top!" . (cont. below)

Later her sisters modeled BUMPY. This time she just took it in, but we know (especially with her sisters modeling) that the new vocabulary will be used soon!

 Here is pirate Finn using his talker (with TouchChat) to say "Argh matey!" (cont. below)

And here he is looking very pleased with his success!

 Parker is using Speak For Yourself on an iPad mini during a therapy session with an awesome grad student! (cont. below)

Parker practicing using SFY to say "Trick or Treat". This will be the first year he will be able to say it. 

 Ashlyn using AAC to talk/delay bedtime.

Ashlyn with her device for a trip to the grocery store.

James (5 years old) using a Tobii I-12 on our recent trip to Seattle, WA. He got to visit Pike's Market  . . . (cont. below)

and talk about the 'flying fish' and ride on a ferry boat, to which he said LIKE LIKE LIKE.

This is Gav using his talker as he enjoys his two favourite pastimes - eating and playing with his iPad!

And here's our contribution this week! We went out to my parents' house for pumpkin carving. I don't remember what I'm modeling here, but it must have been interesting for Maya to be attending so closely! (cont. below)

And here she is telling my dad that they need to get a bucket for the pumpkin guts :)

Thank you so much to everyone who contributed pictures this month! It's been truly delightful to see so many AAC users from around the world. At this point in our AAC journey I'm so used to seeing talkers (in our home and filling my Facebook feed) that part of me forgets that they aren't the norm, but there is still a deep part of me that responds when I see pictures of other families using AAC in their homes and communities. Happy AAC Awareness Month!

Friday, October 23, 2015

AAC Family Friday!

Next week is the final AAC family week----let's make it a giant one :) You can start sending in your pictures now (and it's fall festival/Halloween time---at least in the US---lots of costume potential!) to:

 We are trying to keep Becca's word book nearby at all times while at home.  That means letting it get dirty during meals.  In this picture, she is using it to request graham crackers during lunch.

 Spot the talker! (C was 'making cookies')

Doing a little talking on our dolphin watching cruise!

 Jess and her dad, chatting at home! Jess's mom blogs at:

 We carved pumpkins over the weekend. The talker got a little messy, but it was so much fun! 

My daughter's language has exploded. We started with Speak for Yourself ten months ago with two words open- eat and drink. Soon we added in more and the words kept on coming. We add in anything she shows interest in, anything we're talking about, and we just model, model, model. She's now 2.5. Last month, she passed the milestone of 700 words in the talker. Roughly 500 of those get modeled or used each week. The progress was very slow at first and I wasn't sure I'd made the right decision but it is, without question, worth it. 

 "Pool, orca, pool, orca, swim, jump" . . . what better place to add and model new words (Orca) than Sea World!  (Roo, 5 years old, from Houston using Speak for Yourself

 "New baby coming soon!"

Isaac, age 5, at a local farm stand interacting ("hi goat") and feeding their animals.  Isaac uses Speak for Yourself and has the Trident Kraken case.

 Here's a photo that represents what AAC means to us. Here is Mateo using using his Dynavox Maestro with Picture Wordpower 100 to talk with, love, admire and antagonize his big sister Madeline all at the same time. We love spending time together as a family -- sometimes in crowded restaurants. When his voice can't be heard over the noise, Mateo simply shows us his screen. He is a passionate independent communicator. He loves his high school where he participates in the drama program and runs on the cross country team. He sings the National Anthem at his high school's basketball and soccer games.

 Mateo with his friend Sara taken at Camp ALEC during a literacy session. 

Mateo's mom is an SLP who works in a hospital and in private practice---and she is also the co-director of Campt ALEC, a literacy camp for children and young adults who use AAC. She blogs at:

Camp ALEC will return to Indian Trails Camp in Grand Rapids, MI, August 14-20, 2016, and more information can be found here:

Lemmy using his talker before bed, with little brother Linus watching and using his own iPad. Both are using Speak for Yourself.

This is Cady standing in her FunPod in the kitchen and chatting with me while we make supper!

Our contribution this week: This is Mini, heavily coated with flour (as was the table, floor, and chairs) after a play dough making speech session that went a little awry. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

AAC Family Friday!

Happy AAC Family Friday! Thank you to all who have sent in pictures---I seriously love putting this together each week :) (The italicized text is quotes pulled from emails, the plain font stuff is my own commentary). 

Here's Finn at the park, using his talker to chat about trucks we see on the bridge in the distance!

 Chatting with daddy with PODD, using the Compass app.

 Lemmy, 4 years old, using his iPad with speak for yourself while we shop. He loves to chat when we're shopping.

 C waiting patiently to see the ENT and commenting on a girl's sweatshirt - 'sparkles'. (It was pretty flashy) 

 Aidan with his talker at his brother’s cross country meet. His brother shattered the school record . . .

 . . . because Aidan was able to give him very clear instructions: LIAM RUN FASTER

Check out more of Aidan's adventures and his mom's reflections here:

 Hosea (age 5) chats during a break from his soccer game.

Avelina (age 3) enjoying the pumpkin patch.

 Hosea labels the animals in the petting zoo for his little sister.

Avelina uses her talker at mealtime.

Hosea and Avelina (of the four fantastic pictures above) both use Speak for Yourself on a ProSlate 8 (iPad mini). They also both have a rare genetic disorder called GAND (GATAD2B-Associated Neurodevelopmental Disorder).  You can read more about GAND at or follow the Facebook page

This comes from the other side of our AAC family---the professionals! Taken at the "Closing the Gap" conference, this is Renee Collender (co-creator of Speak for Yourself), David Niemeijer (AssistiveWare CEO and founder), and Heidi LoStracco (co-creator of Speak for Yourself).

Max is FaceTime'ing with Grandma - a very motivating activity!   With the talker right next to the iPad, Grandma can hear. Max is learning to ask questions and comment. It's been awesome!
(And since Grandma is not in the home, it fits the theme!)

Alix communicating whilst canoeing.

(Canoeing, people!!!)

Tia (from Slovenia) in a vineyard, using communication binder (made with Boardmaker), discussing fall and fruits.

 (totally speaks for itself)

Aidan and I talking about what we are excited to see on the dolphin cruise we were on!

Jay (almost five) enjoying "local summer" in Long Branch, NJ on Columbus Day!

 Daddy helps find a word at the zoo!

After spotting a pinwheel in the garage before a walk, she was adamant we take it with us. I took a photo and added the word to her talker. It was a favorite word on the walk and in the weeks following!

Maya and her talker, laughing it up with the Count and his talker at Sesame Place!