Our communication/AAC journey

*Disclaimer: I am not an SLP or AAC therapist.  I have no speech or therapy background at all.  I'm just a determined mom who has read a lot of literature and gone to a lot of workshops.  Over the past 4 years we've tried a bunch of stuff to help my nonverbal daughter communicate, and most of it is easy to replicate (time consuming, but not too challenging).  Here's what we've done so far. 

If you are here because you are a parent of a child with limited speech and you are thinking about pursuing other methods of communication, I think you should start here: An Open Letter to the Parent of a Child with Speech Delays

If you would like to see a video that showcases some of our communication journey, you can see that here.

Our Current AAC "device":
Maya's current AAC "device" is an iPad (she uses the orginial iPad, or the iPad1).   She uses the Speak for Yourself app to communicate.  Her iPad cover is the AMDi iAdapter, which is the best case that I've seen for a young child who is using the iPad as a communication device.  We have a plastic keyguard for the app, attached to the case with Velcro.  Prior to the keyguard, we were using a made-at-home glove to prevent Maya from accidentally hitting the wrong buttons with her knuckles, which was impeding her ability to start effectively communicating with the iPad.  Maya began working with the app in January of 2012, when she was 3 yrs, 7 mos old.  (Prior to this, we've used a bunch of other low and high tech AAC stuff, chronicled below.)

Relevant links (these are my personal, unpaid, unsolicited assessments of the stuff we're using):
My review of the Speak for Yourself app
My review of the AMDi iAdapter iPad case
The do-it-yourself glove to prevent accidental button hits on the iPad
My review of the Speak for Yourself keyguard made by LaseredPics

How we came to use Speak for Yourself: We had full intentions of using a true designated communication device, but after meeting with reps from Dynavox & Prentke Romich and checking out their devices (and even doing a 6 week trial with a Dynavox device), we just couldn't find a good match.  (This post speaks about why I wanted one of the big devices).  I re-focused on the iPad and developed this master list of features/abilities that I wanted to see in our ideal app, and just kept searching.  In late December, a friend pointed me towards the newly-released Speak for Yourself, and it was a perfect match. 

All of the stuff that we tried prior to January 2012:

Sign language: We began teaching Maya sign language when she was probably around 6 months old.  She still signs some words, although her signs aren't always clear (similar to the way a toddler will say yeh-yo instead of yellow, because they don't have the best oral motor muscle control, Maya's finger dexterity isn't the greatest and her signs are garbled).  Since we want her to be able to communicate in a way that will be understood by everyone, not just those who speak ASL, we choose to focus most of our time on other methods.  We still occasionally will teach some new signs, though. (I made this video to translate Maya's signs for her new preschool teacher.)

Toddler-grabbable Picture Cards (PECs): Sometime between Maya's first and second birthday, we started working with picture cards (sometimes called PECs, although we weren't following a traditional picture-exchange protocol, just using picture tiles that she could "talk" with).  The picture cards required some tweaking, because Maya couldn't pick up a thin, laminated card.  I came up with this solution, which let her pick up cards to say things.

Household Labels: In an attempt to create a rich environment, I labeled everything around the apartment.  First with words, then with a image-and-word combination, once I realized that I should label with the same PECs that we were using.  You can see my labels here.  When we started to use Boardmaker symbols, I took all of the old labels down (again) and replaced them with new ones (again) that were in the Boardmaker/PCS language.  (sigh) When we switch to Speak for Yourself, I took the labels down (again) and replaced them with new ones (again) that were in the Speak for Yourself/Smarty Symbols language. (sigh again)

Proloquo2Go: P2G is one of the most popular communication apps on the market, and is customizable, so when we got Maya's iPad I bought it right away.  I figured out a way to customize it for our purposes (which you can see here) and introduced her to it.  She was able to use it (see her in action here) but it just wasn't able to grow with her the way that I had hoped.  Modeling proper grammar required navigating through a cumbersome series of folders, and I want her watching me use the device to model correct sentences and phrases.  It served us well as a starter app (an expensive starter app) but it wasn't enough for the long haul. (It's important to note here that AAC is very personal, and many people find P2G to be the ideal app-just because it didn't work for us doesn't mean it won't work for anyone. Also, they have since come out with a major update that is based on core words, I believe, so perhaps the navigation isn't as tricky? I'm not really sure.)

Boardmaker: In fall 2011 we started using Boardmaker.  I finally learned how to use it and started to make some boards at home, designed to mimic the format of the boards that her preschool teachers & therapists were using with her at school.  Here's a look at the first board that I made, and here's an example of her using a specific board (zoo-themed) that I made for a field trip with her class.

The Word Book: Plain old Boardmaker boards only lasted a few weeks before I decided that they weren't cutting it.  It was too annoying to have enough boards on hand (ex. a general activities board, then a specific coloring board if she wanted to color, then a dinner board with dinner foods, etc).  It didn't seem like a viable way for her to be able to find the words that she wanted to say.  So, using the Boardmaker program, my trusty laminator, a 3 ring binder, and Velcro, I put together the Word Book, which Maya absolutely adored (she still sleeps with it).   This post, written nearly 2 months after the creation of the word book, explained (and showed) more about how we used the book with Maya to help her communicate.


We stuck with the Word Book until Maya seemed interested and comfortable enough with Speak for Yourself to make the leap (which happened pretty quickly).  You can use the labels found in the right column of the blog to see additional posts on communication topics that might be relevant to you.  (Some labels to note might be Speak for Yourself, iPad, AAC, communication . . . you get the idea)

Also, this was a post from the fall that basically shows all of the different ways that Maya communicates with us, and vice versa.

This post is a small showcase of how her ability to use Speak for Yourself developed over the first four months that she was using the app.

This post shows us doing some interactive reading with the talker.

If you have any questions, or you're an AAC guru and have any words of advice, don't hesitate to get in touch with me at: uncommonfeedback@gmail.com