Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The (Briefly) Open Window

Yesterday Maya and I were in the car, driving from school to therapy. Maya was doing a variety of things: looking out the window, answering questions about her day, and occasionally typing or saying something with Mini. She was very jazzed about a class trip happening the following day  (today) and she was saying “Legoland tomorrow!”  There was a period of frenzied typing, wherein she opens the keyboard in her app and hits a bajillion letters with both hands. It’s annoying (each letter shouts individually as she types: A! K! L! LDKDJJEVMVKEKSMAM!!!”) and it’s a favorite activity of hers. I try to allow the typing within reason (no typing at meals or when someone is trying to talk to her) as I’m sure the letter play is helpful, and so is exploring the keyboard, etc. I hummed along with the radio. I didn’t notice when she stopped typing. But I noticed when, after a pause, she started again:


Wait. What?

Maya has spelled her name for a long time, and she will spell Will’s name as well. But prior to yesterday I had never seen her spontaneously type another word. Ever. I have made gentle requests (including bribes) to see if she had spelling abilities (Hey Maya, can you tell me how you could write the word ‘cat’?) but was always shut down, directly (No) or indirectly (generally the dramatic typing of massive strings of letters or wandering away from Mini).  But now . . . lego.

Before I got too excited I asked her to hand me Mini, so that I could check and see that she didn’t have a screen open where she could see the word “lego.” For some time she’s been a fan of entering a button and then copying the spelling (Mommy. M-o-m-m-y.) but nothing was there. It was real.

I handed it back. I smiled a little, but I didn’t make a big deal of it.

A window had opened, slightly. Enough to let some light in and illuminate some of the dark areas of Maya’s knowledge. I spend a lot of time thinking about what she thinks, what she knows, what she understands, what she can do . . . and now, somehow, I was getting a glimpse.

I thought quickly and carefully. She was tapping out long strings of gibberish letters.

“Could you clear that out?”

She eyed me in the rear view mirror, cautiously, but I saw her hands tap around the screen silently and thought she must have done it.

“I’m going to ask you about a word and I would like to hear how you want to spell it.”

No response. I tried not to let any hint of I-really-care-about-your-answer come into my voice.

“Cat.” I said, clearly but nonchalantly.


“Hey-good spelling.” I smiled, but played it cool.

“What about ‘dog’?”


She started listing classmates then, moving around the app, talking about different things. I waited, then asked her to clear it again and offered the word “run”.


I kind of liked that spelling error, because it gave me the idea that she might really be thinking about how the words sound, rather than just reporting sight words.

Good job! Run actually has a u in the middle, but you typed ran—that’s so smart. What about ‘mop’?”

A pause.


That’s definitely not a sight word, that’s phonics. That’s fantastic. She has some writing abilities now, for real. Things are happening! This is amazing!

She’s not interested in playing my game anymore and wants to listen to the radio, she recognizes a song from the school bus. She looks at the snow and the river, and I try one more, asking her to spell “like.”


A valiant try, and she included the silent e! Amazing!

We got to the office, did homework, and she had a great session. I kept thinking about the open window, the opportunity that I had been surprised with  to see a new ability. I had no idea she could generate text. She has literally done nothing like that before. As we walked back to the car an hour later, I was anxious to ask her a few new words that I had thought of, hoping to feel out the edges of her phonics awareness. I waited a few minutes, while she drank a chocolate milk box and we talked about going home to see Daddy and Will. Then I asked, casually,

“Hey Maya, do you think you could tell me how to spell ‘food’?”

She typed F- and then looked at me, deliberately in the rear view mirror as she continued –JKKLLKJLKLKNKMKJKJKJKJN

And the window shut.

I can't wait to see the new things waiting the next time it opens up. It's always there, you know, this knowledge and thinking and processing and analyzing, but it takes a stars-aligning type of situation to get to see it all (sensory stuff, cooperation stuff, motivational stuff, attention stuff, muscle/motoric stuff). Just another story to file in my "this-is-why-we-all-need-to-always-presume-competence" folder.

If you're interested in reading more about the "sudden" emergence of skills or ability, this post is great: Night-blooming Flowers: Sudden skill acquisition and extreme context-dependence

Monday, February 23, 2015

Ponderings on Icons, Text, and AAC, via a mini experiment

Like many children with global challenges, Maya has always been a child with a large number of goals. I realized early on that, as a human with limited energy and resources, it wouldn't be possible for me to approach all areas of development with universal enthusiasm and passion, and I decided to focus on communication and literacy. These seemed, to me, to be the cornerstones of everything else---communication is a right, and I was pretty determined to help her find a system that would serve her well. Literacy opens the doors to basically all learning (Want to learn about nature? Let's read a book about it. You like geography? We can find a book on that.). In the world of children with complex communication needs, literacy and AAC are two fields that, when displayed in a Venn diagram type of way, have a solid overlap. To someone with decent (but not deep) knowledge about the two, they seem to mostly compliment each other, except for a few fuzzy points.

This is where I note that the bulk of my reading and learning is about AAC, and I'm not a literacy expert.

Here's one area of conflict: With regards to literacy, there is research that indicates that the pairing of words with icons (like in early reader books where there is a little picture of Dora directly above the word "Dora" in the sentence) is not beneficial, and may be (or is? I don't remember) actually detrimental. This makes sense, as icons would distract the reader from the words being read, and also kind of pull their eyes out of the left-to-right flow of the sentence. 

The goal of AAC, though, is not to teach reading but rather to facilitate communication (although immersion in text-via-AAC seemed to accelerate Maya's reading ability). I imagine that there are apps/systems that only display text in their sentence strip, and there are others that display one or more icons along with their words. I imagine that "should the icons be displayed with the text in AAC" has been a question discussed and debated, particularly among those who develop these systems.

From what I've seen of AAC using/learning, it seems to me that having the icons displayed in the sentence strip along with the words being spoken makes AAC learning/using easier----particularly for young AAC users or for AAC users who are learning their system. (Side note: I, as a part-time user, am perpetually learning the system. I can't imagine when it will be effortless for me to use it, even with the automatic motor planning element. Even as I become more fluent with frequently-used words, we are constantly adding new words to the vocabulary.) While I certainly can't make any grand claims on behalf of all AAC users, I want to share what I've seen with my kids, who present as an interesting case study.

Background: In Speak for Yourself, a word can take one or two taps to say (no word takes more than two taps). When a word is selected it is spoken aloud and move to the sentence strip at the top of the screen. The two icons that were tapped to select the word are displayed under the word, as shown below.
"I" is a 1-hit word, and has 1 icon displayed. "corn" is a 2-hit word and has 2 icons displayed. First the user selects the initial icon, and that takes them to a secondary screen where they can find the second icon.

Will (2.5 years) and Maya (6.75 years): Maya has been using SFY for the past 3 years, Will has been using it for a little over a year. Both were obviously pre-literate at the time they started using the app. It's difficult for me to remember much of Maya's early AAC use (because I'm old, my memory is spotty, and I was just so excited that it was working that I wasn't scrutinizing much)---but now I am watching Will become an elective AAC user through an increasingly academic eye. So here are my take-aways, with a few minutes of video of a small experiment (taken yesterday).

First, a video of Will. For this experiment I selected two words that I knew he had never seen in SFY. I selected one (while the screen was out of his view) and then placed the talker in front of him to see if he was able to properly follow the icon path to select the word without help. 

The big take-aways: Will understands left-to-right flow of (icon) language and is able to follow it independently. Also, having the icons displayed in the sentence strip allows him to practice and copy words that he would otherwise be unable to find.

Broken down:
1. For Will, use of the app has solidified the concept that text (or icons) read from left-to-right. I don't know whether he initially learned this concept from reading stories at home or from studying the order of the icons in the app, but he gets it. He doesn't hesitate when he sees the 2-button-path to Tyrannosaurus Rex, he knows immediately that the button on the left is pressed first, followed by the one on the right.

2. Will is now, I suspect, fully able to "read" Speak for Yourself. The best idea of a "Oh yeah? Prove it!" experiment that I can come up with would be to print off a sentence of icons without including the text, and see if he can recreate the sentence. My suspicion is that this would be easy for him.

Next, a video (in two clips) of Maya. First, to include her, I asked about Tyrannosaurus Rex and escalator, but she already knew where they were (her vocabulary knowledge of SFY outpaces mine). After that I picked a word that I was 100% certain she had never seen---"Trackball" (I don't know what a Trackball is, it's a pre-programmed word in the app). Then something interesting happened: after she viewed the word, I accidentally erased it, so she no longer had the icon path on screen to follow. This leaves two possibilities for how she found the word: a) she memorized both icons in the sequence, b) she memorized the first icon and scanned the page for a word that had the text features of "trackball." I think she did the latter, since she would easily recognize "ball" and also she has long mastered starting sounds.

The big take-away: Maya uses the icon path to help her navigate towards the target word, then either uses an icon OR reading text to locate the target. (I guess I could see if the latter was correct by showing her a novel target with only the first icon and not the final target icon, and see if she was able to use decoding to find the word.)

Maya is an early reader, and her reading has been loosely assessed as at-or-above grade level. I assume that she also read the icons of SFY and that following the icons made it easier for her to practice words in the app or to copy words modeled by other people (Will is currently doing both of those things). However, learning from the icons appears to not have negatively impacted her ability to attend to text.  From what I have seen, she studies the icons in order to locate words, but she also notes the text. For commonly used words she doesn't seem to notice the icons in the sentence strip at all, but if she's in a therapy session where new words are being modeled she will lean over to closely examine the screen of the therapist's iPad, and then she will select the same icons to produce the word on Mini.

Conclusion:  Ha! There's certainly nothing to be "concluded" here, from two specific kids with one specific app in one specific home. But I found it interesting to see Will already following the icon language, and to see that Maya still uses it now for new or less frequently used words. Also, when I use a novel word I find myself staring at the icons in the sentence strip, trying to memorize the path to that word. It seems valuable to have icons displayed to facilitate and solidify AAC use/learning.  


Disclaimer: As always, I'm not a professional (nor do I play one on the internet). Comments, critiques, links to research, and other thoughts are welcome below or on our FB page!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

AAC Sibling + Fantastic Search Feature = (Really Cute) Success!

Last week I wrote a post that highlighted the interesting (and kind of amazing) development of AAC siblings: both in terms of their inter-sibling spoken language and their inter-sibling AAC use. That post included a video in which Maya was delightedly using the search feature in her app (Speak for Yourself) to walk her way towards words. These were words that she already knew the location of, but it was more fun to practice spelling and navigating than it simply would be to select the words. (More on how the search feature works in a minute.)

Yesterday, in a development that shouldn't have been surprising (but still kind of was), I found Will sitting in his crib after nap time using the search feature in his talker. He was opening the search feature, entering "m", selecting m&ms, and then following the path to the button for m&ms. And he was very smiley and proud of himself for figuring it out.

The concept of "search feature" might be abstract for the non-AAC-users out there, so let me break it down. Speak for Yourself has what is arguably the best search feature in the world of AAC (certainly the best one that I've seen). A user taps the magnifying glass in the upper left corner, then begins to spell the word that they're searching for.

search feature open with "m" entered

Upon entry of the first letter a scrollable list drops down, and the user can scroll through and select their target word. Two things about this list are unique (and awesome): First, you don't have to spell the whole word correctly. Maya has been able to discern the starting sound of a word for quite some time, at this feature became useful for her as soon as she could type in that initial sound. Second, the icons appear right next to the word---so a child who knows starting sounds but is pre-literate can find their target by recognizing the icon next to the word.

When the word is selected a flashing purple square outlines the path to the word. First, it flashes around the button on the main screen . . .

main screen with the word WITH highlighted-the target word (m&m) is found under that screen

then it flashes around the target word on the secondary screen.

m&m highlighted on the secondary screen

The search feature makes it easy for Maya's teachers and therapists to quickly find words that they want to model. Maya enjoys experimenting with it, but I've also seen her attempt to use it purposefully---when I say "where's 'spectacular' " and she furrows her brow, pauses, and then opens up the search and types in "s." And now Will is in on the game.

Here he is (that's a chocolate ice cream mustache), searching:

AAC siblings are a special kind of awesome. And also, apparently the search feature in SFY is so easy to use that a two year old can use it.

Note #1: If you've got an eye for detail, you may notice that the coloring of the screen in the still pictures differs from the color-coding of the screen in the video. The still shots were provided by another user of SFY and reflect her color-coding. (I wrote this at my college library and didn't have a talker on hand to get still shots!) Different users and families choose to color code the buttons in different ways. 

Note #2: I am not an employee of Speak for Yourself.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Remarkableness of AAC Siblings (part 1 of 7,682)

I don't have 7,682 posts lined up--but as I watch Maya and Will interact with their talkers, I stop to note how remarkable it is, in the truest sense of that word. Several people have asked me about their interaction, both in general (curious about what sibling play and interaction looks like, when language is so limited) and related to the talkers (curious about whether they sit and communicate through the talkers).

In general, they play and bicker and tease and celebrate, just like any siblings. Will's verbal language is just now at the tipping point that I've anticipated . . . the point where he begins to surpass her with speech. They both are mimicking a startling amount, but his imitation of my words and phrases are more clearly articulated than hers (although hers are hugely noteworthy, since prior to now she wouldn't really try much in the way of spontaneous imitation). Sometimes they play quietly, sometimes they boss each other around ("Right here, Will!" "No, Mema!"), and sometimes they argue loudly. The arguing is a combination of "No!" and yelling strings of nonsense at each other (which is somewhat hilarious). They have at least one word that is meaningful only to them ("dah-tah") and despite multiple attempts at asking each of them what it means, I'm left clueless. Maya always shakes her finger at him when she says it, and they both use it when someone is getting in trouble, or when one person is aggravated and the other is teasing, or when there is amused fighting. They also understand each other kind of effortlessly, and when I can't figure out what someone is saying, and the speaker can't translate him/herself with a talker, I ask the sibling "Do you know what s/he is saying?"

Their talker-related interaction has just started to evolve recently. Up until this point they would each use a talker independently, and if one of them was using a talker the other would certainly take note and become an active listener, but that was about it. So, if Maya had Mini at the table and started to say something, Will would try to lean over or pull Mini sideways so that he could watch what she was saying. Sometimes the listened would then try to take a turn on the talker (Will reaching over to say something with Mini after Maya was done) but this was often met with resistance from the speaker ("No!" and pulling the talker back). This type of exchange went both ways.

Recently, there's been a shift. It started one night when I set them both up next to each other at dinner, with talkers on the table. Maya said something . . . and Will quickly copied it. This happened a few times, then they switched---Will said something and Maya copied it. This game continued for the duration of dinner. Hours later, when the kids were playing in the living room, I heard Will say some of the words that Maya had showed him at dinner. He's an impressively fast AAC learner.

This video was taken last night. The kids are eating (and Will is protesting the appearance of the camera). Maya has decided to experiment with/practice using the search feature, and while I'm not sure if her first search was deliberate, there is no doubt that the following one was. (She types in a letter and it pulls up a list of words, which she scrolls through to find her target.) Will and Maya take turns prompting each other, when they appear unsure that the sibling can find what they're looking for, or maybe when they think the other is taking too long?

It feels noteworthy, this type of exchange. Their joint attention is pretty cool, as is their patience and prompting and turn-taking in this little game. They've moved from experimenting next to each other with talkers to experimenting together, certainly. I imagine the last step will be actually talking to/with each other through the devices, using them conversationally. I'm kind of on the edge of my seat to see that unfold.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Maya reads a book

Nonverbal children struggle to learn phonics, they said.

Children with apraxia and other speech sound disorders are at high risk of literacy-related difficulties, they said.

With regard to cognitive functioning, Maya is in the 0.4th percentile when compared to same-age peers, they said.

They didn't know.

We didn't know either . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . but we presumed competence.

Maya, this afternoon, reading:

Notes: The words in parentheses are the words that appear in the text that she omitted when she read aloud. Also, this is a long clip. There's a chunk in the middle that's not very interesting. But I don't like watching videos that are all chopped up, because I wonder what may have been edited out, so I left it long.

There are a few interesting things here. First, a skeptic could wonder whether she's really saying the correct words (since her speech sounds are so limited/garbled)---this is why I picked a random word (ride) and had her clarify with her device. I've done other activities in which I asked her to read sentences solely with her talker, and she did so correctly. So, if you don't believe that she's reading accurately . . . well, then, that's totally your right---but I hope you (and your skepticism) are employed far away from the classroom/therapy/special needs sector.

Second, she seems to really understand the text. When I asked her about the reindeer's name, she looked back and found it. When Anna fell off the horse and it was cold, she said "Oh no!"

Third, her word omissions are interesting. She will often drop words that don't change the meaning of the text (the, a, an, etc). She also omits those words in speech and when using Mini, and I wonder if generating them (via speech or AAC) just seems not worth the effort? And, if so, is she reading them and choosing not to generate them, or is she not seeing them there at all? I wonder if there is research about similar omissions among children with speech difficulties or AAC users. She also skips reading "Anna" on most pages---maybe that word keeps throwing her off, or maybe she doesn't have an easy way to say it? I'm not sure.

And the most interesting thing, of course, is that she blows me away. She reads over my shoulder now. She can pick out words in my intentionally-sloppy handwriting.

She is, undeniably, a reader.

If you're a literacy or special ed person with thoughts (even if they are that I'm doing something wrong, or should be doing something differently) I would love to hear from you (here, on FB, or at

Monday, January 19, 2015

If You Give An AAC User A Large Vocabulary . . .

A few weeks ago, Maya accurately (and surprisingly) used the word "cubicle" during speech therapy. There was a character hiding in a poster, and the expectation was that she would say "behind the desk" . . . but instead she said (via Mini, her talker) "behind cubicle." It seemed too specific to be accidental (she has several thousand words in her device, and she picked cubicle) . . . but no one could remember even teaching her the word cubicle. Some probing the next day revealed that, oh yes, it was a deliberate selection (that story is here).

When a 6 year old who can't speak correctly uses the word cubicle, adults pay attention. When an AAC user uses sophisticated, appropriate vocabulary, it is a strong reminder that not being able to speak isn't indicative of decreased cognitive functioning. Sometimes, the best way that we can help the AAC users in our lives (whether they are your family members or children on your caseload) advocate for themselves is to make sure that they have a robust, colorful, extensive vocabulary. And there are at least three important reasons for this, as far as I can tell:

1. It's more motivating to use exciting words. Maya wasn't motivated to talk about which items were big and which were small when presented with a field of items . . . but she was interested in jumping in when we added giant, huge, enormous, tiny, and some others.

2.  A large vocabulary provides the user with a better likelihood of being able to say exactly what they want to say. A young AAC user could see a school bus drive by and think "That bus shines like the golden sun, roars like a lion, and speeds by like a racecar" . . . but without a large vocabulary, he may only be able to say "Bus yellow loud fast." (And honestly, I'm not sure I would even try to share my complicated thoughts if I could only produce "bus yellow loud fast.")

3. As mentioned above, communication partners are influenced by what they hear. If an AAC user is relegated to only using simple words, then their thoughts sound simple, no matter how amazing they might actually be. If teachers, therapists, and family are only hearing simple words, there is a subconscious lowering of the bar. A child who can say gigantic instead of big sounds like someone who needs more words, more opportunities, more conversation.

It's a cycle, right?

If an AAC user is given a lot of words, they can use a lot of words, which causes others to raise their expectations and presume competence . . . and then those communication partners will program more words.

The more I thought about this cycle, the more it felt exactly like one of those "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie" children's books . . . so I made an AAC themed book that follows that pattern. 

If you're interested in printing and sharing, it can be downloaded here.

(click to enlarge pictures)

For another great story about presuming competence and programming exciting words, check this out.

If you're interested in thesaurus style printable books to teach some interesting synonyms, this blogger has created some (one is free, the rest are for sale). If you have time to create some of your own, all you need is some time with and some clipart. (And if you do that, please email them to me! Not kidding.)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

AAC Family Post: December!

Here are some photos from AAC families, near and far, in December---thanks to all of those who submitted pictures! The next AAC family post will be on the last day of January (2015!). Photos can be emailed to
5 year old Westin talking to Santa using Proloquo2Go!

From Lemmy's mom: "Lemmy (age 4) was talking to his Aunt Rita with the iPad using Speak for Yourself. He was talking about various toys and I (his mom) went and found them for him. He was really amused. I think he was enjoying me running around the house trying to find them."

Harry (3 years old) chatting while hanging up Christmas decorations in Australia!

 Harry uses the PODD pageset on the Compass app.

 Josh (6) at the park . . .

and feeding ducks!

 Isaac (5) uses TouchChat60 to talk to his mom. She said that winter break is a little too long for him!

 Wyatt greets Santa and wishes him a Merry Christmas! (You can read more about that meeting here.)

Cymbie heads out with her sister, Ainsley (3), and Speak for Yourself to see some friends on her 7th birthday!

 Mirabel, age 3 and lives in Ohio,  "helping" mom at work on a weekend with Speak for Yourself in her talker, a plate with donuts and Baby Signing Time on her DVD player. She is also signing eat in this picture!

Tom (using Speak for Yourself) joking around by spelling out the word "poo!" (Editor's note: Ha! Maya would totally do this.) 

E (3) and C (19 months) color together and use C's talker to discuss crayon colors. E already knows how to help C into babble and is gentle and playful about prompting use of C's talker. C is in her second week of using SFY!

"We have since added the keyguard to C's talker. She is sitting on Mommy's lap making jokes- calling Mommy the names of her therapists and giggling about the silliness!"

Joshua using his iPad mini with Speak for Yourself at the zoo!

From mom: "Carlos Andres, who uses a Tobii I12 with eye gaze. We've had a HUGe mount that is almost limiting, however, the table stand has finally arrived!! I kept the box in the picture! We are so thankful for "Tobii" he's become part of the family. ;)"

From mom: "Santa left a message for the kids on Felix's talker, obviously Speak For Yourself was pretty easy for him to learn. 'Thank you for the cookies, your (gingerbread) houses look great, love Santa.' "

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Communication Breakdowns & Repairs, with AAC

Although the phrases "communication breakdown" and "communication repair" may be new to you, the concept isn't. I guarantee you've experienced many of this situations, especially if you have children, or a spouse.

A communication breakdown happens when there's a disconnect between the sender of a message (the speaker) and its receiver (the listener).

Think about how often this happens in daily life--even for adults with normal hearing and typical speech skills (the ability to speak loudly, to clearly articulate sounds, etc). Maybe I take special notice of my own communication breakdowns because I hate repeating myself----but it happens pretty often. Now imagine how often it would happen if you couldn't speak clearly.

Listen to Maya speak in the video below. You may be able to guess what she's saying, but it's more likely that you won't. In the second loop of the video I provide context and captions---clues that serve to repair the breakdown, and everything becomes more clear.

 Maya's speaking life is more or less one big communication breakdown. I expect that this will shift, that as her articulation improves she will be more understood, but I also expect that the shift will happen slowly. Unfortunately, people are so eager to understand her speech, to validate and encouraging her speaking, that they often jump in, make assumptions, and kind of run her right over. She'll say "bug" and they'll reply "Bus? Yes, you rode a bus to school. Your bus is yellow, right? Do you like to ride the bus?" More unfortunately, when these breakdowns happen Maya tends to just stare blankly at her listener, or wanders away to something different. Rarely (very very rarely) does she take the initiative to stand her ground, to tell the listener they misunderstood, to try to get her point across. She doesn't try to repair the breakdown, she gives up.

This isn't unexpected, really. It's taken her a long time to speak at all, and if she tries and it doesn't work . . . well, then what? She's got a limited repertoire of speech sounds, and it's hard to think on your feet and come up with another way to more clearly express something that you couldn't say the first time. More than that, communication partners speak quickly, change topics quickly, and move on quickly. Life doesn't pause while you try to come up with another way to say "bug." She also has had a lifetime's worth of experience of not being able to keep up verbally. Frankly, I'm consistently impressed at her dogged pursuit of speech, and the amazing proliferation of speech and sound attempts that have occurred over the past 2 years. And, while sometimes she can use her talker to clarify what she's saying, sometimes the word (or sentence) she was saying just isn't there---or maybe she doesn't think to switch from speech to AAC.

And so, communication repair has become a huge target of ours. We are determined to empower her to become frustrated when people don't understand, to assert herself and say "No, that's wrong!", and then to draw on a variety of tools to help clarify and re-communicate her point.

Step One: Provide the Tools

I started by creating a page in Maya's talker (she uses the Speak for Yourself app) that can be easily used for communication repair. The ideas for the words and phrases on this page came from a variety of SLPs and AAC families, gathered primarily in a few FB groups. (A lot of these came from a great draft in the SFY user group.)

If you're an AAC person, there are two things to note. First, this page uses a fair number of phrases and sentences. In general, I like having one button per word, but I think that in times of communication breakdown an AAC user should be able to protest/redirect very quickly. Second, I have maximized the motor planning of a SFY user by stacking the buttons in the same location as things that they are related to on the primary page. For example, the phrase "slow down" is located in the same area (right column, fourth button down) as the word "down" on the primary page.

The information presented below, including the list of repair phrase and the color coding, can be downloaded and printed here.

Here is a master list of the phrases included on this page--since the buttons can only hold a certain number of characters, it's difficult to guess what they all mean. (The word in parentheses shows which location the word is under, when they are related.)

Top Row:
I don’t understand (I)
I understand.
okay (OKAY)
Ask me a yes or no question (ASK)
Put that word in my talker. (PUT)
I need help to find the word I want. (HELP)

Second Row:
You don’t understand (YOU)
Do you understand?
Are you listening to me? (ARE)
What do you mean? (WHAT)
I have no button for that. (NO)

Third Row:
Something from the past.
Something from today. (TIME)
Something in the future.
I have a question. (HAVE)
I give up. (UP)

Fourth Row:
That’s not what I said. (NOT)
the opposite of
Slow down. (DOWN)

Fifth Row:
It starts with
I will spell it
I will give you a clue (THINK)
This person is a clue
This place is a clue
You aren’t close
You’re getting closer
You’re very close
You got it!
Start over

Sixth Row:
It rhymes with
I changed my mind (KNOW)
I’m talking about (TALK)
That’s not right (RIGHT)
I’ll tell you how close you are.
Try to guess (TRY)
Can you say it again? (AGAIN)
Seventh Row:
It sounds like
This is frustrating (FEEL)
Listen to me! (HEAR)
I want to tell you something (TELL)
A question
An idea (SLEEP)
A place (THAT)
A thing (THIS)
A person (FRIEND)
An action (WALK)
A feeling
An event (WHICH)

Bottom Row:
It’s important
It’s not important
Never mind
I need a new word (NEED)
Wait! I have something to tell you. (STOP)
Be patient with me (BE)

The color coding is as follows: 
Orange= the most important buttons I want her to use (kind of assertive buttons)
Blue = questions
Bright yellow = strategies
Greyish purple = hints 
Peach= things that I wanted to look like a clump
White = everything else

Step Two: Teach the skill
This is clearly the more difficult step. How do we get her invested? We've learned that she is much more likely to use a new communication skill if she's had the opportunity to practice it . . . but it's difficult to practice repair. If you're the listener, it's hard to model how she should give clues (and sometimes it's hard to realize you've misunderstood in the first place). If you try to create fake misunderstanding scenarios, it's a gamble whether the AAC user will play along. And the idea has to be explained, too . . . "hey, if I don't understand you you should tell me to stop, ok?"

Enter one of our awesome speech therapists, who created a fantastic social story to introduce the idea of communication repair. The book starts by giving voice to the frustration of a communication breakdown, then moves on to lay out the two important parts of communication repair: stop the listener and let them know a breakdown has occurred, then try to use other tools to relay your point.

Here's what the book looks like:

Maya wanted to be dancing in this picture :)

The entire book can be downloaded here (as a PowerPoint file) and can be modified with your own photos or screenshots.

The book was introduced featuring one strategy from her communication repair page, "It starts with . . . ". This is a great technique for Maya, and one that she used spontaneously in the past, but she never had a button to basically say "now I'm going to tell you the first letter." New pages will be added to the book as different strategies are introduced and practiced during speech sessions. I'm going to send a copy into school and have shared it with our other therapists, so that they know what we are working on and can be mindful of potential communication breakdown and our repair strategies.

I hope that this page will help Maya become a more assertive communication partner. She has the right to be understood, and she has the right to say "Hey! You're not correct! Stop talking and listen to me!" Now it's our job to make sure that she has enough practice with it that it will jump to mind when a breakdown occurs, and that she feels like it's worth her time and effort to work through the repair process.