Thursday, July 21, 2016

Movies and a Mission: the Prospector Theater

It is worth noting at the start of this post that this is NOT a sponsored post or a paid advertisement. There is some shameless gushing and praise, and in the world of blogs that seems to often involve compensation or free goods--that is not the case here (this is not a money-making blog, and I don't do sponsored posts). I'm just gushing because this is worth gushing over.

Oh, hello there.

It seems as if it's been 6 months and 6 days since my last blog post (but who's counting). Spring semester started at the end of January, and summer semester started 3 days after spring semester ended. I spent those two semesters working in the clinic (with my very own clients) and, well, I can be a mom and a student clinician, or a mom and a writer, but apparently I cannot be a mom, a student clinician, and a writer. Not yet, anyway :)  (This is where I should mention that I'm very active on the Facebook page, so that's the place to follow along and join in. I'm also going to try to move some of the "best" FB posts/reflections over here in my upcoming time off.)

Speaking of time off: I'm on vacation, folks. Maya's still in school, but the rest of us aren't. And because sometimes family time trumps school time (shh, don't tell) today we pulled Maya out of school to go somewhere more important.

The movies. 


It wasn't the movie (Finding Dory) that made the trip special (although the movie was great, and particularly resonates with families of children with disabilities---read more about that here). What made the trip really special was the theater.

You guys, this theater. The Prospector Theater (in Ridgefield, CT) is "a 501(c)(3) non-profit first-run movie theater that provides meaningful employment to people with disabilities."* That sentence alone is notable---as it is the only non-profit first run theater in the country, and because meaningful employment for people with disabilities is (devastatingly) hard to come by. The US Department of Labor Report from 2014 reported that 80% of adults with disabilities were unemployed.* 

But wait, there's more.

It's gorgeous. It's spotless. It's staffed by a group of friendly, professional people who are genuinely glad to see you and are working to ensure you have a good experience. The environment is warm, welcoming, and flexible. Movies aren't easy for Maya----she needs sensory supports, she needs movement, she needs flexibility. 

I can't remember how we first heard about the Prospector Theater, but I know that it crossed my Facebook feed around a year and a half ago (it has only been in existence since 2014). Last summer, when we thought the kids were ready for their first movie theater experience, I knew exactly where we were going to go---we headed to the Prospector Theater to see Inside Out. The experience was wonderful, and I knew that when we had the time for movie #2 (and something really captivating was playing, because movies can be a bit of work for Maya) we would return. And I knew that this time I would take pictures and write about it (what I didn't know is that we would haphazardly end up meeting the founder of the theater and getting a little tour). Which brings us to today. 

We were pretty excited.
image is a white wooden sign which reads "ridgefield library (forward arrow)Prospector Theater (right arrow)" posted in green grass

image is Will and Maya standing outside the entrance to the theater

We arrived early for the first movie of the day, and were literally the only non-employees there (more on that later). It gave us time to try out the bean bag chairs in the theater (which I totally would have stayed in, but the kids wanted to move back to the seats for the movie) and re-explore how beautiful (and meticulously clean) the theater is.

The theater our movie was being shown in:
image shows Will and Maya sitting in bean bags with the stadium seating section of the theater behind them

There were stars on the ceiling.
 image shows Will and Maya laughing in the bean bags, the blue lighting and stars on the ceiling is visible above them

The lobby.
 image shows an area of the lobby with fancy wood risers and different blocks to sit on. The bright pink walls of the mezzanine can be seen in the rear.

 This was inside the bathroom. Inside! It's so pretty.
 images shows Maya and I standing before a full length mirror, with white sparkly walls and dressing-room-style light bulbs lining the mirror

They have a bar. A coffee-but-also-wine-and-good-beer-on-tap bar.
image shows the entrance to the coffee and wine/beer bar, with small sign outside reading that "Beer & Wine are now served at Heads Up Cafe". The wall is exposed brick, and there is a spiral rack displaying t-shirts for sale outside of the entrance.

We were literally the only ones there to see Finding Dory at 10:45. An accidental private showing. We ate popcorn, we had a wrapping blanket and a few other sensory tricks ready. The usher in charge of our theater was courteous and helpful, and as the last scene faded away 3 employees appeared to assist with clean-up, thank us for coming, and bid us farewell. 

And we were just about to leave when I noticed that the founder of the theater was there. I know a bit of the backstory from following the theater on social media and checking out their website (more on that below)---the building had once been a theater, then a bank, then was scheduled for demolition. Valerie Jensen ended up taking over the building and having it restored/rebuilt into a stunning, fully accessible* 4-theater movie theater.  *really fully accessible: every theater and the projection booth are fully accessible, and all theaters support both closed captioned glasses that provide subtitles and high-quality headphones that stream dialogue and provide descriptions of scenery, etc.  Val, sitting with her computer in the lobby, was hard to miss---both because she is an active presence on the theater's Facebook page and because she has fluorescent pink hair.  We were half out the door (literally, Dave and Will were already walking to the car) when I turned back to say hi to her and compliment the great work and mission of the theater.

Long story short, we were there for another half hour. (The guys came back in from the parking lot.)

Val chatted with us, small talk at first, then more in depth. We talked about teaching (she is a former teacher as well) and about the theater.  She told us about seeing the need for meaningful employment opportunities for people with disabilities and responding to that need for jobs. The theater has 110 employees (known as Prospects) and receives thousands of applications. To create maximum job opportunities, the Prospects run every aspect of the theater--from concession stand to landscaping. She described the running of the theater as a model of inefficiency---everything takes a little more work than necessary to ensure the necessity of more job opportunities. 

We talked to her about AAC and Maya showed her Mini. Val excitedly led us to a mosaic on the second floor that she had created as a communication/conversational piece. Embedded among the colorful pieces are a variety of images and objects---and the purpose of the piece is to serve as a communication starter. She talked about how communication pressure could be lifted when two people approached the piece together---and that by simply following the lead of whatever a person gravitated toward or commented on, a communication partner could easily get to know someone better and find common interests.

One side of the piece
 image is of a brightly colored (blues and greens, mostly) mosaic that is the size and shape of a  fireplace

A close up: I spy Santa Claus
 image is a close-up section of the mosaic, with a picture of Santa's face in the middle and the words "yes I can" spelled out in letter tiles

There's Val's hot pink car
image is a close-up of another section of the mosaic, featuring a bright pink matchbox-style car

So, art as a communication support. How brilliant is that?

Eventually it was time to leave (we had lunch at a great spot within walking distance, fyi). Before we left we asked Val what the theater needed most---and the answer surprised us: it needs more patrons and more publicity. More folks walking through the door to see movies. I imagine that more special events, more birthday (and other) parties, more people stopping by to get coffee or buy a t-shirt would also be very welcome. BUT WAIT---if you're too far away to stop by regularly (or ever), you can still support their mission.  And it's easy to do!

First, follow the Prospector Theater on social media. Even if you don't live close to the theater, someone that you know might live close by. Or someone that you know may like or share the information with someone that they know who lives nearby. So, click here to like their Facebook page, and then go click "like" on a few recent posts. When you see them post stuff, like it (it doesn't matter if you like whatever movie is being promoted, you're clicking like to support their mission . . . although honestly they show all of the best current movies. Plus they're showing Goonies and ET this summer. Goonies and ET, people.)  That should get the FB algorithm to bump it onto a few of your friend's feeds, and to show you some of their upcoming posts. You can also find them on Twitter (here), and Instagram (here), and probably on other social media spots that I'm too old/out-of-the-loop enough to know about (what's a "snapchat"?).   

Next, share the heck out of this.Share this post, or the theater's website.  More people should know about this place, and there should be more places like this.

Also, if you're within a reasonable distance, go see some movies. As I mentioned, it's about an hour's drive for us---but a pretty drive. In the fall it must be stunning. The theaters are beautiful and underpopulated, and there are multiple meal options within a block or two. Take a drive and make a day/night of it. (Or, if you're not within driving distance, do you know someone who is? Be a stellar friend and buy them a gift card.)

Finally, the Prospector can host events---they have private party space. Do you know businesses looking for unique event space? Or people looking for a cool spot to host something? Or a unique birthday party idea? Here it is.

We can't wait to go back.

Maya, the flier she was reading about upcoming events, and Val
image is Maya standing next to Val, who is kneeling. They are jointly holding a flier with this week's movie offerings. The wooden risers of the lobby are behind them.

Again, not sponsored in any way--no goods or services have been provided to me. We (happily) bought tickets, concessions, and a t-shirt, and we had never spoken to anyone at the theater prior to today. 

*description and statistic taken from the theater's website and promotional flier

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Wins Between Our Losses

You know when times are kind of challenging, but you’re fighting the good fight, and then some things start to go right and you win a few small victories, and you feel pretty good about yourself? When you see memes like this:


 . . . and think “Yeah, that’s right! I’m not giving up, I’m not discouraged, and I’m playing the hell out of my hand right now!”

This post is not for you.

(not right now, anyway)

Go enjoy your victories.  Celebrate them, roll around in them, delight in the fact that your skill and cleverness in playing your hand has pulled the chips in your direction. You are fantastic! You are working hard and it’s paying off! You deserve the breaks you’re getting!

(But maybe bookmark this for later. Not that I’m suggesting that this lucky streak is bound to end or anything, but, well, you know, life.)

The rest of you, the ones who see those memes right now and roll your eyes, or mutter to yourself, or narrowly resist the urge to click this window closed and quit reading this. . . this is for you.

Let’s talk about poker.

Yes, poker. The card game. Texas Hold’em, to be specific. For those reading who may not be card players, I offer a (very simple) overview to the game: Each player is dealt two cards (which are kept secret from the other players) and five communal cards are dealt face up to the table (in baby steps: 3 first, then 1, then the final card). Each player makes the best 5 card poker hand that they can (they must use their two “pocket” cards, and can use any three of the shared cards on the table). So if we consider this image below, the person seated across the table has pocket Ace-King, and their final hand would be two pairs, kings and tens (ace, king of spades, king of diamonds, ten of spades, ten of clubs). The player seated closer to use would have a full house, the winning hand (king-clubs, king-hearts, king-diamonds, ten-spades, ten-clubs). Got it? 

Poker, a game that requires skill and intelligence, but also incorporates chance, is a pretty solid parallel for many aspects of life. Almost all of the aspects, really, if you’re willing to think outside the box and really stretch your metaphor-making muscles. I’m going to narrow my view to special needs/AAC parenting, but if you think a bit wider the points that I’m about to make can apply pretty broadly.

When you’re new to the world of AAC, you are a new poker player. You have found yourself with a seat in an upcoming tournament, and there’s no backing out. You’ve never played before . . . actually, until yesterday you had never even heard of the game. So now what?

You read and research. You watch YouTube videos of other players, read poker blogs, and lurk in online forums where strategy and game play are discussed and analyzed. You learn the odds, and how to play in a way that will optimize the likelihood of your success.

And then the day of the tournament arrives, and it’s time to play. You’ve put in your time researching, and you know the best practices of playing poker. You have learned from the work of some of the top players in the field, and you are ready to get in the game. When the tournament director calls “Shuffle up and deal!” you are nervous, but confident.

You play conservatively at first. You fold a few hands, kind of hanging back. You’re in the game, but you’re starting slow, watching and learning. At the start of the next hand you check your pocket cards and see a pair of aces (it doesn’t get better than that, folks). You have the cards that you need and you know how you should play them. You bet smartly. Other players fold, and you are left facing only one opponent, who has pushed all in (bet all of her chips). You both turn over your cards and see this:

You have a pair of aces, your opponent has ace-ten. The likelihood of you winning this hand is 92%.  It’s time for the communal cards to be dealt. First the flop:

Now you have 3 aces, while your opponent only has a pair of aces. The likelihood of you winning this hand is 98%. The next card is dealt:

It's still 3 aces vs. a pair of aces. The likelihood of you winning is 91%. Final card:

You end the game with 3 aces while your opponent has beat the (formerly staggering) odds and has a straight (ten, jack, queen, king, ace).

You lose.

You had the right cards, you played smartly and boldly, you made the same correct decisions that anyone in your position would have made, and you lost anyway. Because, in poker, sometimes you lose anyway. 

It’s a game in which a poor hand can, indeed, be played well and triumph in the end.  But it’s also a game in which you can play your heart out---skillfully and cleverly and artfully---and then get beat. Beat from behind, beat by a hand that was overwhelmingly favored to lose, beat badly.

In fact, this is called a bad beat. A bad beat is a situation in which you have the cards that mathematically should have won, but they didn’t. It’s almost like the term a “bad break” but also fundamentally different : a bad break is something that you haven’t worked for and that occurs totally by chance. For example, if I know that Maya needs an AAC evaluation and I’m hoping that we are assigned Sarah (who is fantastic) but we are assigned Britney (who is awful), that’s a bad break. But if, during the evaluation, I present Britney with 40 pages of research about why I think a certain system would be most appropriate, and I have letters from doctors and therapists to support my ask, and Maya can demonstrate competency on the desired system, but Britney chooses to ignore this information and recommend something different? That’s a bad beat. I worked shrewdly and tenaciously to make all of the right moves, and I should have been successful, and I got beat. A bad break feels unfortunate, a bad beat feels unfair. 

Foot-stompingly, heart-breakingly, tears-of-frustration unfair. Upend the table, send the chips skittering across the floor, and quit the game unfair.

So then what? What happens after a bad beat?

Or, to take it over to AAC, what happens when you are pretty certain that you have the “right” AAC system and the “right” implementation strategies, and you’re not having success? What happens when you are targeting motivating and meaningful vocabulary, when you are modeling skillfully and often, when you are keeping things light and fun and positive, and your child seems uninterested or unable to participate? What happens when you see and hear other families with the same materials that you have, making the same implementation decisions that you are making, and they are sharing win after win, while you aren’t winning at all? 

You keep playing.

If you need to, you sit out a hand. If you have trouble not taking it personally (because you’re new to the game or because you’ve had a string of bad beats recently and it’s just. so. hard.) then you take a walk and have a cry or punch a wall or something. And then you sit back down and ante up. And you play.

And before I talk about why you keep playing, and how to recenter your mindset a bit, I’ll let you in on a secret. That bad beat hand that I described above, the one with the pocket aces? That really happened (mostly, anyway-I simplified the intro a bit, but the cards are real). Watch the whole thing unfold below:

I’ve watched this video an embarrassing number of times. At first I just enjoyed the shock and chaos after that king landed. Then I watched again to see Annie Duke’s celebration and apologies (if only life’s bad beats came with a “you don’t deserve that” acknowledgement and an apology). And then, I watched again, several times, and focused on Paul Wasicka. The loser. The victim of a big, bad beat. After the crowd quiets a little the camera swings over to him, sitting and smiling, and he speaks. Did you catch what he said?

“It’s not over yet.”

It’s not over yet comes easily to some people, myself included. I’m generally stubborn and sure-footed, more likely to stand my ground and fight back than to retreat and lick my wounds. But his demeanor, the zen-ish, probably-a-little-shaken-but-also-doing-just-fine smile . . .that does not come easily. When I see someone try something that I’ve suggested, to be met with greater success than I myself am having, little seeds of jealously, anxiety, self-doubt, and frustration sprout and take root.  If I don’t complain aloud, I certainly complain internally.  (Shockingly, this complaining does nothing to improve my situation.)

To recenter and move forward in the most clear-headed, non-emotional way possible, let’s consider this tag-team quote, which comes from Howard Lederer and Annie Duke (siblings and professional poker players). 

First, let’s take a look at that “If” because, in our shoes,  it’s an important word. When recovering from a bad beat, it makes sense to analyze your play. Step back and self-evaluate: are you really applying best practices? Is there anything that you could have done differently? After your self-analysis, reach out for help (or just for confirmation). Call on someone who is more experienced and has a generally good degree of success, and ask for their input. Are you using the correct materials, and the correct approach? Is there anything that you need to adjust?  Walk your way around that “if” and examine it from every angle until you’re sure enough to stomp it down. 

Now you’re left with “You’re making good decisions.” Yes. You are making good decisions. You suspected it to be true, and any doubts that may have sprouted after the bad beat have been stomped back down with expert confirmation (or you’ve made appropriate revisions to optimize the correctness of your decisions). In the game of poker, some things are left to chance. In AAC implementation there is a large amount chance, due to about a hundred variables that are just not in our control. The oscillating health of the AAC users that we are supporting, fatigue, sensory and attention challenges, access challenges, sporadic interest, environmental issues, lack of consistent support at school, and other things that we probably don't even perceive . . . we can work our best to understand the elements at play and seek to minimize the chance associated with these factors, but we cannot control these things. What we can control is the decisions that we personally make about implementation, advocacy, and support. And although you may not have much to show for it right now, you are making winning decisions. The best thing for you to do is keep playing. Which brings us to this:

We are playing the long game, folks. In poker, in life, in advocating for our children, in implementing an AAC system and supporting autonomous communication . . . the game is long. We cannot expect that each day (week, month, year) will feel victorious. I would guess that poker players who expect to win every hand are more likely to be shaken by a loss, while those who take their seats expecting to play several winning and several losing hands will have an easier time brushing one off and moving forward. In the video clip above, Paul Wasicka actually says “It’s not over” twice: once before the flop, when he had a 92% chance of winning the hand . . . and again after he lost. He’s playing the long game. He knows that the loss of this hand, while currently crushing, won’t matter at all if he’s able to win the overall game.

AAC implementation is a long, long game. After system selection, acquisition, and initial programming come exposure, motivation, modeling, enticing, teaching, supporting, modifying, and more programming. There is no shortage of language goals, either, with expanding vocabulary, expanding utterance length, targeting the many functions of speech, moving up the hierarchy of grammar, etc. There is always another thing-to-be-considered, there is always another hand to play.  And progress . . . it’s often inconsistent, slow, or unpredictable. We spent years (literally, years) modeling spontaneous, complete sentences without seeing similar production from Maya, until one Tuesday night, when suddenly she was creating spontaneous complete sentences. On that night, as I listened in awe, I no longer cared one bit about the three years of not hearing long, spontaneous sentences. I didn’t lament the time and effort that I had put in, or the months that we suffered the repeated bad beat of zero “progress” despite smart decisions and concerted effort. That night we won an important hand and collected a huge pot (the “pot” is the sum of the chips bet during a hand.)

Let’s talk about the pot for a moment.

A poker game will be comprised of many hands and the size of the pot will vary each hand (depending on how many people play the hand and how much they choose to bet). When a player is deciding to play a hand, they ideally create a mental ratio by comparing the pot size to the size of the bet that they need to stay in the game (this is called pot odds). (This is a little mathy, but stick with me, I’ll rephrase.) Generally speaking, if your odds of winning the hand are greater than or equal to the pot odds, you should stay in the game. Here’s a simple explanation from my statistician friend:

If you have a 20% of winning your current hand, you would expect to make your hand 20% of the time, or one in 5 hands. If the pot odds don't suggest you would recoup your money in 5 hands, you wouldn't consider it worth the bet.
In plain, non-numerical language, Annie Duke explains it like this, “The amount of the pot determines how sure you have to be that your hand is good.” As the size of the potential bounty increases, compared to a relatively small amount to risk, the more mathematically encouraged you are to play. Because you are paying in so little and standing to win so much, you can win only very occasionally and still break even or move ahead. For example, if it costs $10 to stay in a hand and you stand to win $100 in the pot, you could lose nine consecutive hands (-$90), win the tenth (+$90: the $100 pot minus your $10 bet), and break even. You could lose 90% of the time in that scenario and still be in decent shape. Ninety percent! That means that losing anything less than 90% of the time will have you actually increasing your chip pool over the course of the long game, slowly but surely.  If it doesn’t cost much to stay in the game and the pot is very large, your hand doesn’t have to be all that strong for it to make sense to play.

The wins between our losses just have to be big enough to keep us moving forward.

(And we have to stay in the game and believe that a win will come, eventually.)

In considering AAC implementation, the pots tied to each hand are pretty damn large.

Spontaneous, autonomous communication. Speaking to anyone, anywhere, about anything. Making jokes, being bossy, tattling, directing, asking questions, commanding, requesting, teasing, sharing feelings, telling stories, self-advocating, having access to all of the words. If you were silenced tomorrow, how much would it be worth to you to regain your ability to communicate? The pot is huge.

The bet isn’t that big. It’s showing up, modeling, continuing to learn about AAC. It’s practicing our implementation and advocating for more people in our children’s lives to use AAC with them. It’s teaching our teachers and therapists about total communication. It’s tiring. But it’s not a large bet, compared to what our children stand to win. (Yes, our children.) Because as personal as this feels, we’re not really the ones who truly have chips on the line.

We’re all playing as proxies. I sit at the table and play for Maya, because she’s not yet able to play for herself. I’ve learned the game to play in her place, until she might be able to take the seat herself, to direct her own AAC use and the support that she needs to continue increasing her skills and fluency. While I am emotionally tied to her winnings and losses, I have nothing on the line. I’m playing with her chips, trying to manage them as best I can. It’s a huge responsibility. I am doubly crushed by bad beats---once, selfishly, in a “but I’m doing everything that I’m supposed to do and this isn’t fair!” way, and then again in an “I’m sorry, Maya, I’m trying my best and we’re not winning right now.”

Not right now.

Not yet.

But maybe in this next hand.

Shuffle up and deal.

Related Links
Dealing with Doubt: Radiolab podcast segment that introduced me to the concepts of bad beats and pot odds.
Big Think interview with Annie Duke

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!