Saturday, April 18, 2015

AAC-using Popsicle Puppets

 Do you have a young AAC user in your life who loves characters? Then this (very simple) project is for you:

Hi friends!

Maya loves characters. Recently in therapy she made a few popsicle stick character puppets, and I thought about how easily they could be modified to use with AAC. They are highly motivating and can be used in a ton of different ways. Here are the instructions and some ideas for use:

Step 1: Print pictures of characters. Or trains. Or people from TV shows. Or trees. Basically anything. I printed mine on cardstock for a bit of extra durability.

Step 2: Use a hole puncher (or whatever) to make a finger sized hole in the picture.

Step 3: Glue on a popsicle stick. Don't leave too much sticking out at the bottom, as that could get tricky for modeling later. Just enough that you can grab it and make it walk/hop/jump/drive around during pretend play.

Step 4: After the glue dried, I covered mine in clear packaging tape. This is optional, but I think if you don't do it there's a good chance the finger hole will tear. As you can see, I didn't waste much time on this---just get it all taped up, it doesn't matter if the tape is hanging over the edges. You'll fix that in a minute.

Step 5: Cut off the extra tape from around the edges, and cut the tape out of the finger hole. (I used the hole puncher to punch a hole through it first, then cut.)

Step 6: Pat yourself on the back.

Maya helped me make these and was extremely excited. As soon as the first one was done she grabbed it up and went straight to Mini to show me that Mike Wazowski wanted a smoothie. Interestingly, she had a better idea for use than I did---I thought I would stick my finger through the back-----but she showed me that sticking your finger through the front lets you see the character and do the speaking/modeling at the same time. Super fun!

This is what it looks like when I model with the finger puppet. For kids who aren't highly motivated to attend to modeling, this is way more fun than just watching a finger.


  • Use during pretend play to model what the finger puppets are saying/doing/thinking. Ex I love jumping on this table, I am hungry, I want to go in the bus
  • Use to practice interviewing/questioning. The puppet can ask the child questions (What is your favorite color) or the child can ask the puppet. 
  • Two puppets can talk to each other----one on the finger of the child, one on the finger of the communication partner.
  • The communication partner can play the role of the puppet, or can act as a narrator independent of the puppet (Like "I wonder what he's going to say next" or "Let's ask him what kind of ice cream he likes . . . Hmm, it looks like he's going into the dessert screen, I wonder which flavor he's going to pick!")
There are a ton of possibilities, I imagine---these are just a few that we played with today. Please feel free to chime in below and share ideas for how these might be used----or with ideas of other fun puppets to create!

(Also, I shared this previously on the blog's Facebook page, but this also works with actual puppets. We did this a little while ago and it was fun for a bit, but I have a feeling that the characters will have more staying power---my kids love characters.)

puppet with a finger hole cut out for modeling

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Communication Repair at 2: Speech, Gestures, and AAC

This is Will. Will is a "typically" developing 2.5 year old who has had access to his own AAC device since the age of 17 months. This happened partially because he really really wanted to get his sister's talker (she is an AAC user with complex communication needs), partially because I think that all toddlers could use the help of AAC sometimes, and  . . . partially because I had spent the previous 3 years shouting from the mountaintops that AAC will not impede the development of speech and now it was time for me to kind of put my money where my mouth was.

But I'll talk more about that another day.

Today I want to share this video of Will, taken yesterday morning right before we headed out to our playgroup. He was sitting in the stroller and making some sort of gesture, accompanied by word approximations that I couldn't quite understanding. Maybe something about a book? I assumed it was an item that he wanted to bring with him (he had just asked for the little Daniel Tiger popsicle stick puppets in his hand) but I couldn't guess what he was asking for.

I had just handed him the puppets, started singing a song about walking to playgroup, and moved toward the door to leave when he started gesturing and talking to me. We backed up a step and I grabbed my phone and started filming.

I don't want to spoil the ending by talking about what he was saying (we did, in fact, arrive at the answer in the end) so go ahead and watch this first----see if you can guess the answer before I did:

In hindsight, it seems so obvious. So obvious.

So, a few take-aways:

1. This is pretty great stuff. I'm so happy that he has another tool in his communication toolbox that can help him get his point across. He knew to ask for the talker when he realized that we weren't going to get there with just speech and gestures. He is a speaking child, but AAC does many things for him (again, that will be a big post), including providing a means to repair communication breakdowns. (For more on communication breakdowns and AAC, see here.)

2. I'm going to pat myself on the back for my wait time in this video. When he starts poking around, looking for some word to provide me with a clue, it was hard not to jump in. When he was on the character page, I resisted the temptation to name characters whose names have similar sounds to "doe wahn." When he was on the academic page, it was hard not to point to the tile for "book" since I thought that might be his target. But I'm glad I kept my mouth shut (and my fingers still).

3. I thought field trip was an error.  I'm glad that I wasn't dismissive or negative about that selection---I could have said "No, not field trip" and reached across and deleted it. That probably sounds awful, but I've seen it happen time and again in videos---the communication partner is sure that they know what the child is trying to say, and they keep redirecting and redirecting until they get that answer. (For more on we-can't-read-their-minds, please see: I Am Not A Mindreader (And Neither Are You).)  Instead, I asked "field trip?" and when he said "No" I repeated "No" to confirm what he was saying (my tone was a little dismissive---I wish I had asked "No?" instead).

4. This whole exchange brought me right back to two years ago, when Maya was (persistently, amazingly) trying to tell me to add a word to her talker, and I was (desperately) unable to understand what word was missing. Similarly, there was a happy ending, but boy---the emotional rollercoaster leading up to it was a bit gutting. You can see that here (and the creator of the TV show being discussed actually swung by to comment, which was pretty neat): I Need A New Word

And finally, here is a picture of Will holding a stop sign. Without a picture, this post isn't pinnable and is more difficult to share, and I like this one. I'm including two different symbolic interpretations below the picture. I prefer the first one, but if I'm being honest with myself the second is equally (if not more) accurate.

Stop! Wait! Give me time to use my device without interrupting!
Stop singing that atrocious made up song about going to playgroup! It's Wheels on the Bus or nothing at all!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Cartoon Character Guess Who (with download)

Nearly a year ago, I wrote about Maya's great love of characters. At the time she was fairly determined to learn the name of every cartoon character under the sun, and to have them all added to Mini (her talker). (You can see that post here.)

Soon after that blog post, I found the old game Guess Who at a thrift store and grabbed it. I didn't totally remember how the game worked, but I know that it's a favorite among SLPs and teachers because it can be used to practice labeling with adjectives, discussing characteristics, and asking questions. I knew that Guess Who would be most compelling for Maya if the human faces were replaced with some of her beloved characters  . . . and so that's what we did.

It took a little fiddling to get the dimensions right, but eventually they were perfect. 

The document containing all of the characters above can be downloaded here . . . and if you don't like those characters, feel free to use the grid and just add pictures for your preferred people! Hint: Print this on cardstock so that you can easily slide the characters in and out.

Oddly, it's taken a year to post this---I have no idea why I didn't put it up when it was first created (I think that maybe I shared it on my Facebook page and forgot to write something here?). I only noticed today because I scrolled back through my blog to find the printable sheet (we needed some replacement tiles) and realized that somehow I never put it up. In case you're curious, this is what Maya's character page looks like today:

And we've got a new one growing, too:

(we also have Disney princesses, but they started out on a separate page)

For what it's worth, we still walk the line of figuring out when to add every-single-new-character she encounters, and when to wait a bit. But these pages sure are invaluable when she wants to chat with new kids in a waiting room or other similar situations. I imagine she uses it with her friends at school, too. Kids need the vocabulary of other kids, even when that vocabulary includes hoards of cartoon characters :) 

Friday, April 10, 2015

A typical conversation, using AAC and speech

This is a video of nothing particularly interesting.

Now I bet that you're dying to watch it, right?

I realized yesterday that it's been a while since I got video of Maya and I chatting, or using AAC, or really anything. This is due to the fact that she generally strongly protests to sitting and being video'd, I generally honor her request not to be recorded (because, you know, right to privacy). I set up the tripod yesterday while Will was napping and eventually persuaded her to hang out and chat and let me record a little. 

Here's a brief summary of the recording (spoiler alert): we chatted about things to do during the last few days left of our break, and then Will wakes up and we look at him on the video monitor.

It's not really noteworthy, but also it's a good representation of what our home communication looks like. Maya is an AAC user, but she's also a speaker, a gesturer, a user of facial expressions and some intonation. In choosing to honor total communication, we mostly let her choose the method she wants (typically, a combination of methods) to get her point across (the mostly is because she sometimes needs prompting or questioning to know that her message wasn't clearly received, and she needs to use a different method to help clarify). 

You might notice that I'm not doing a lot of modeling. If you're an AAC professional (or experienced AAC family) then you know that modeling language is basically the most important thing that any communication partner can do for an AAC user . . . and you might be wondering why I'm not modeling more. The answer is kind of two-part, but it really boils down to knowing my kid: First, I don't always model everything when I talk to Maya. She knows where a lot of vocabulary is, and if she's very interested in a conversation and I start to over-model, she gets fidgety and bored and wanders off. Second, the video camera + over-modeling combination feels kind of like a contrived activity, rather than what a spontaneously multi-modal conversation really feels like. You'll see that at the end when I'm trying to prompt for synonyms she gets tired, physically starts to move away, and keeps saying "no"----we would have hit that exhaustion/rejection sooner if I was trying to make it more "teachable" and less "conversational".

Some things worth noting:
  • Her speech is pretty great, right? She's got some clear, well produced words (Daddy, Mommy, happy) and some others that are clear to us (Will, wake up!). What you can't see here is how limited her clear words are. One of the interesting things about her speech is that she doesn't attempt words that won't be understood (so you don't hear her saying any unintelligible things here).
  • She will choose to speak something that is clear but might not be an exact fit for the situation, rather than trying to generate a novel word/sentence that she doesn't have the motor plan down for. For example, she wants to shout that Will "woke up!" or "is awake!" but she's never said either of those utterances, and it would take a lot of motor planning to form those words and put them together----so instead she shouts "Wake up!" which is something that we ofter say while playing (one person pretends to fall asleep and the other yells "wake up!") so it's easy for her to produce.
  • I think it's funny when uninformed critics have said that AAC users may become overly robotic because they "just stare at computer screens and type things" (I've heard this a lot from people saying nonspeakers should focus on learning sign language because it's "more expressive"). I think it's pretty clear from her expressions, clapping, etc, that using AAC isn't disconnective. 
  • I love at 3:21 when she runs her finger along the line of choices and selects the past tense verb "woke" very deliberately. (The picture below shows that row and the choices that she rejected, including "awake".) She wanted to say (appropriately) that he woke up. I helped finish the thought by modeling the addition of "up" and then said the whole thing together.
she chose "woke" on the far right

Here's the video: