At that was it, until last week.
Last week Maya's app (Speak for Yourself) sent out an update that allows the user to email from within the app. (This is awesome. Also, there are a few other apps that have similar functionality---so if you have a child/client using something different, check whether you have this option.) Now Maya can compose an email the same way she uses her app to speak, just by building sentences into the sentence bar, and then she can click to send them. It's been a game-changer.
Before I talk about how we're using email, here are a few logistics: 1. I deleted my email account and contacts from the iPad and then added Maya's email account and contacts, so that she only has access to a small number of family/friends to email. 2. We do email on a separate talker, not on Mini (this might change, but not right now). 3. I only turn on the email function for designated email times.
So, here's what email is doing for us---and what it's not.
- It's letting us work on narrative building. Conveying information has important parts, and if you leave information out the message gets muddy. It is strange to just say "Hi Grandma" and send that as an email. If you're writing to someone it should have a few sentences. If you say a few things about yourself, it's nice to ask a question so that your friend has something to respond to.
- It's letting us work on punctuation (and eventually grammar) in ways that feel more natural than speech. Consider "be for Halloween" (something Maya actually wrote in an email yesterday): is it a statement (before Halloween let's do xyz, or I'm going to be something for Halloween) or is it a question (what are you going to be for Halloween?). For Maya, it turned out to be a question (I know because I asked her) so I showed her how to add a question mark. Using punctuation is a skill of composing stories that I don't really target when she uses AAC to communicate, because it feels strange to add punctuation to speech . . . but it feels natural when you're composing an email.
- Eventually, I will model some recasts of her grammatically incorrect sentences, but I am not doing that right now. I want writing email (or stories, or anything) to be fun---not to feel like work. I want her to feel successful and motivated. I may insert myself to add a punctuation mark (because that doesn't feel obtrusive) but I'm mostly sitting back (and just encouraging her to expand).
- Emailing from within the app is not taking the place of other typing. It's fantastic that this gives her a way to work on writing skills (composing sentences and questions, telling stories, etc) but it doesn't take the place of using letters to spell phonetically. That phonetic spelling is what will lay the foundation for true literacy, and it needs to be included in her days (right now this is generally done at school---I'm not doing formal spelling work at home. Not due to lack of interest, but lack of time). You'll see in the video that she does sometimes incorporate spelling into her emails, which I am encouraging but not requiring or prompting.
I thought it might be helpful to share a video of what it looks like when we sit to write an email. I was trying something new here, asking Maya to "tell 2 things and ask 1 question" in order to thwart her natural tendency to write a word or two and then send immediately. I'm intentionally not modeling any possible sentences because I want her to really generate the ideas on her own, not to copy something that I say.
If you have ideas or feedback, I'd love to hear it :)