Sunday, November 27, 2011

Using the communication book to, you know, communicate

Thanksgiving break brought opportunities to see lots of people--my former (Dave's current) co-workers, my family, Dave's family, neighbors.  Each visit was different, but contained one similar exchange:  people are intrigued by Maya's Word Book.  They want to check it out.  Other kids love to pull the words and hear the velcro crinkle and crackle.  Adults want to know who made it, how we use it, what Maya does with it.  It's certainly a conversation piece.

However, seeing as many of these lovely people also read this blog (thanks, guys!) it also made me realize that I haven't really gotten around to explaining how Maya is currently using the Word Book.  This is probably because using the Woed Book, much like using any communication system, is a work in progress. It evolves, slowly but concretely, when I add new words or change the format.  But let me show-and-tell you what we've got going on right now.

In the beginning:  If you're new around here and thinking "Word Book? What's a Word Book?" go check this out: Introducing the Word Book.

Where we are now:
1.  Maya loves the book.  LOVES.  She wants it with her the moment she wakes up.  She won't go to sleep if it's not in the crib with her.  She holds it in the car, on the bus, etc.  (This means that the only way I can replace/add words is to steal it after she's fallen asleep and then replace it before I go to bed.  Kind of silly, but adorable.)

2.  She will tap out "I want"-"item"-"please" sentences.  (Although recently she's been getting confused and just tapping "I want"-"please" and then I have to say "You want what, Maya?" and she'll tap "alligator" or whatever and smile at me.  It's like her hands want to get through the sentence ASAP, and she's skipping the most important part.  We're working on it.)

This video shows a tired Maya, just home from school.  I know that she wants milk, but I'm trying to wait her out and make her ask for it . . . and then she does.  You can see how she "asks for" the book and then uses it to make a full sentence request.

3.  When we're going somewhere or doing an activity, I try to pull the words that we'll need and put them on the front of the binder.  (Ex--if we're going to play with play-doh I would put the colors on the front of the book)  By now, Maya knows where most of the words are in her book, and I can ask her to find them and put them on the cover herself.

This video shows her flip through the book to find "alligator", her favorite animal.  She then points to some animals to answer my questions.  Stay tuned to the end, when you see the type of ridiculous mistake that I make when I work on the book too late at night.

You might have also noticed that she put the leopard back in the appropriate spot---she's remembering more and more where the tiles are supposed to go.  This reinforces why it's beneficial to try to keep words in the same format (like a Prentke Romich device does, for example)---I'm not able to do that with the word book.  When we take words out, they just go anywhere on the cover (aside from the tiles along the side and the bottom that are stationary).

Regarding PECS
I sometimes call this a PECs book, because when I say "Word Book" no one knows what I mean, but if I say PECs book people can visualize what I'm talking about.  PECS stands for "Picture Exchange Communication System" and is a whole system (with 6 phases) of communication.  We started trying PECS with Maya about a year ago, and saw that it wasn't really a fit for us. For those familiar with PECS & curious why I'm not working the system, here's why:
  • PECS fundamental idea is teaching kids to pick up a PEC (one of the picture tiles) and hand it over to a waiting person.  It's meant to teach kids to initiate communication.  Maya is constantly trying to initiate communication (she has high communicative intent), so I wasn't concerned about motivating her to want to engage with us.
  • Having her pick up the PECs a year ago was a bad idea---once she had one in her hand, she was distracted by it and would play with it like a toy.  She also lacked the hand strength to easily pull them off the velcro strips.
  • We're moving towards a touch screen.  This is a big one for me.  In this digital age of iPad screens and touch-screen communication devices, I want her to learn that she taps the tile, she gets auditory feedback (I say the word she taps) and that's that.  She's been exposed to this on the iPad already, and clearly understands the idea (as you saw in the first video).  I don't want to teach her to start giving me word tiles when she's already learned to tap out thoughts.
So that's that.  I'm not saying that PECS is a bad system, I just can't see a reason why I should try to use it.  It doesn't make good sense to me in our situation.  If you're interested in learning more about PECS and its phases, check out this link.

Where we're going:

I have no idea.

Just kidding.  Kind of.

Well, she's got the I want-item-please thing down. She answers questions.  I need more verbs, and other sentence builders.  You might be able to help me, actually!  If you are a speech person, or have an older child who uses a communication device, I've got some questions:

-What comes next?  What's the clear next step after "I want" sentences?
-What are the most powerful sight words (2-3) that I could add to the book to facilitate longer sentences?  (And? To? Something else?)

As always, I'll take any advice you've got (and I'll share the good stuff, too)


Nancy Cavillones said...

Pretty awesome. It's amazing how much energy you have! Right now, with Alice, I work on verbalizing feelings so maybe the next step could be "I feel..."?

Anonymous said...

I've used PECS and other picture communication systems with children on my caseload. I often worked on other sentence starters, such as "I see" "I touch/feel" "I hear" to work on more communicative functions other than requesting. I usually waited until the child got the manding down.

In terms of adding verbs, we did a lot of cooking activities and worked on actions like pour, scoop, stir, cut, spread. They started using these words in lands, such as "I want spread butter". Also found it easy to work on play action words like throw, climb, run, dance, color , etc. Since she loves her dog so much, you might be able to use him in therapy. For example, have Maya tell you "I want brush/feed dog" or "mom scratch dog"

For really functional words, I would work on core vocabulary, like on/off. Once she understands these words, Maya will be able to use them in so many different contexts.

Melanie Broxterman said...

Great explanation! As a special ed teacher, I love that you have taken the time to articulate your daughter's language development and what works for your family. From your description, your daughter seems to understand intent and has a grasp of vocabulary as well. My suggestion (with the disclaimer that I am not a SLP) is researching and introduction the core language vocabulary. This can be done low tech (paper form) or high tech (various communication/touch devices). Here are a few resources that may help in your research:
* stages of language development by PRC:
* core vocabulary info by PRC:
* core vocabulary:
* core vocabulary and communication:

Chicory Blue said...

This is a combo if traditional pecss and child developemtn:
I hear
I see
I feel (sad, happy, sick,-and even soft, hard)
I hurt (arm)
Mommy ___ (as in Mommy ('s) shoes)
Daddy ___
I go
add verbs,

That should keep you busy for a few weeks :)

julia n said...

This is awesome!! Awesome! Awesome! Go Maya. I have to say I am a bit jealous of both of you... You are so aspirational

Sarah said...

AS an early intervention teacher, few things make me happier than to see a kid who "GETS" PECS. I've made the notebook and gone to trainings. I know how hard it is to build the foundation but it is so awesome when it works. It's a great way to set up a kid to take on the world of words. Maya is so very clever! Like several others have mentioned, her next steps are commenting phrases. I think she'd also have fun with "I like," "That's silly!" and "uh oh!" If you're really brave, you could throw a "No thank you" in there.

Run Amy Run said...

No advice (though I do have some thoughts about doing some joint storybook reading that I'll share another time - based on work we do here), but I just loved it when you asked Maya if she was ready to show how the word book works and she sat up straight, folded her hands in front of her and was poised to listen.

SpeechieLO said...

In terms of learning to recognise sight words, something like
may be helpful!

Anonymous said...

I am currently studying Cert IV in disability and your site was an amazing aid for me to understand the real and personal side of a communication book.
Your openness will make a positive difference to many people who can benefit from you, sharing your families journey. So thank you!

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