Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Toss-it-back Tuesday: Maya Finds Her Voice

Don't be intimidated by the 10 minute timestamp on this video---once you start watching (it opens with 2 year old Maya signing "open" and making some noise) you kind of get pulled in.

This was put together for an assistive tech conference that we added two years ago, and it shows highlights from 3 years of Maya's AAC journey (age 2-5). While progress is real life is slow and sometimes inconsistent, this video gives the wide view on what AAC looks like with a new user.

(It also makes me think, "Oh man, I should be getting more video now, so that I can make a year 5-8 video next.")

Without further ado . . .  Maya Finds Her Voice.

2.5 years old and so cute! (Click the link above to get to the video)

Monday, October 12, 2015

Emailing with AAC (video)

Before I had kids I'm not sure that I would have predicted that I would be encouraging my child to start sending email as soon as possible . . . but that's definitely what happened. On a quest to encourage Maya to work on writing (writing = typing; and spelling things phonetically, or even typing strings of jibberish letters also = writing) I set up an email account for her well over a year ago . . . but it never really took off. She tried it out, but she wasn't much interested in trying to write anything intentional, and she lost interest after a few days of banging out (literally) some email.

At that was it, until last week.

Last week Maya's app (Speak for Yourself) sent out an update that allows the user to email from within the app. (This is awesome. Also, there are a few other apps that have similar functionality---so if you have a child/client using something different, check whether you have this option.) Now Maya can compose an email the same way she uses her app to speak, just by building sentences into the sentence bar, and then she can click to send them. It's been a game-changer.

Before I talk about how we're using email, here are a few logistics: 1. I deleted my email account and contacts from the iPad and then added Maya's email account and contacts, so that she only has access to a small number of family/friends to email. 2. We do email on a separate talker, not on Mini (this might change, but not right now). 3. I only turn on the email function for designated email times.

So, here's what email is doing for us---and what it's not. 

  • It's letting us work on narrative building. Conveying information has important parts, and if you leave information out the message gets muddy. It is strange to just say "Hi Grandma" and send that as an email. If you're writing to someone it should have a few sentences. If you say a few things about yourself, it's nice to ask a question so that your friend has something to respond to.
  • It's letting us work on punctuation (and eventually grammar) in ways that feel more natural than speech. Consider "be for Halloween" (something Maya actually wrote in an email yesterday): is it a statement (before Halloween let's do xyz, or I'm going to be something for Halloween) or is it a question (what are you going to be for Halloween?). For Maya, it turned out to be a question (I know because I asked her) so I showed her how to add a question mark. Using punctuation is a skill of composing stories that I don't really target when she uses AAC to communicate, because it feels strange to add punctuation to speech . . . but it feels natural when you're composing an email. 
  • Eventually, I will model some recasts of her grammatically incorrect sentences, but I am not doing that right now. I want writing email (or stories, or anything) to be fun---not to feel like work. I want her to feel successful and motivated. I may insert myself to add a punctuation mark (because that doesn't feel obtrusive) but I'm mostly sitting back (and just encouraging her to expand).
  • Emailing from within the app is not taking the place of other typing. It's fantastic that this gives her a way to work on writing skills (composing sentences and questions, telling stories, etc) but it doesn't take the place of using letters to spell phonetically. That phonetic spelling is what will lay the foundation for true literacy, and it needs to be included in her days (right now this is generally done at school---I'm not doing formal spelling work at home. Not due to lack of interest, but lack of time). You'll see in the video that she does sometimes incorporate spelling into her emails, which I am encouraging but not requiring or prompting. 

I thought it might be helpful to share a video of what it looks like when we sit to write an email. I was trying something new here, asking Maya to "tell 2 things and ask 1 question" in order to thwart her natural tendency to write a word or two and then send immediately. I'm intentionally not modeling any possible sentences because I want her to really generate the ideas on her own, not to copy something that I say. 

If you have ideas or feedback, I'd love to hear it :)

Friday, October 9, 2015

AAC Family, Week 2!

Happy AAC Family Friday, everyone!

I received a smaller crop of pictures this week (I blame myself for forgetting to promote it until Thursday morning---oops!) . . . but the ones that were sent it are fabulous :)

For next week, a theme: let's get a big post next Friday filled with our AAC users out and about. Your mission this week is to get a picture of AAC use outside of the home. Send your pictures to uncommonfeedback@gmail.com (and I promise to remind you guys on FB before Thursday).

Without further ado:

We were out on the weekend here in London and took this picture of Cady with her talker in a greenhouse. She was using it to tell me the colours of the different flowers we were looking at.

 Chatting with PODD. Anna 8 years old with Angelman Syndrome and we live in The Netherlands. Since May we use also the Compass app and I just love that our house is not so quite anymore.

Tia Sara has undiagnosed nevro- muscular genetical condition (probably Mitochondrial disease). She in 9,5 years old, and is using head switches with computer (SD) and iPad (app Go Talk NOW). This picture is Tia Sara choosing what she wants to do.  We are from Slovenia (Europe) where aac community isn't very large.

Nadomestna komunikacija/neverbalno sporazumevanje (a link to a Slovenian Facebook group):  https://www.facebook.com/groups/310899679098188/

And this is a link for Tia Sara's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/tiasara2006

 A screenshot from Nico (a 4 year old Speak for Yourself user who has Angelman Syndrome) asking his parents to take him swimming!

 One of Nico's younger brothers exploring AAC during a bath!

This is Finn!  He is 4 yrs old and has a rare chromosome deletion and global developmental delays.  In this pic he is using his talker (TouchChat on an iPad mini) to talk about what he sees on our daily after school walk to the park.  His favorite part of the day!

 Roo (age 5) at AAC themed camp (ALL the kids/adolescent campers used AAC devices with camp activities geared around fun using their devices) with her camp counselors that are SLP students. We live in Houston, camp was in Mississippi.

Milo and Lily Grace chatting with their PODD books during a play date in San Francisco, CA!

Charlie using PODD to cheer on his rugby team in the world cup!

Maya and Will waiting for Maya's bus in the morning. Maya is wearing Mini, an iPad mini in an iAdapter case, and uses Speak for Yourself. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Pulling Your Team Together

Whether you are the parent of a child with special needs or a professional (teacher, SLP, OT, PT, ATP, etc) working with children with special needs, you have likely disagreed with someone at some point over something related to goals and priorities and implementation. Maybe you’re annoyed that the classroom teacher is spending so much time on tracing when you think the child should be keyboarding, or you feel that the time devoted to learning to jump would be better used practicing ascending and descending stairs. Or maybe you feel like the school team is working like a well-oiled machine, but the family isn’t doing any carryover. The conflicts are fairly common, especially when a child is complicated and may have a large amount of team members jostling to direct their area of expertise.

We’ve been through this with Maya’s team over the years, many times. There are a large number of things that I let go (for example, I’m rarely involved with PT, as it’s just not my priority, and it’s the area in which I am least informed about goals and methodologies). I’m semi-involved in OT, mainly because I want her to have the skills needed to write (in whatever form that takes) and I check in periodically to ensure that the occupational therapist is remembering that that is our goal. But communication . . . well, I’m all over that one.

When there are family vs. professional (or professional vs. professional, or family vs. family) conflicts related to AAC choices, AAC implementation, the balance between AAC and other speech services . . . well, it can feel pretty emotional. Fostering an individual’s ability to communicate autonomously, to say exactly what they want to say, to whom they want to say it, whenever and wherever they happen to be----that’s as high stakes as it gets. If one member of a team feels that they have a plan for how to support the child in using AAC and another team member disagrees, or isn’t interested in trying, it feels like a very real threat to the child’s ability to become a communicator (and, truly, it often is a real threat).

Things get emotional. You-have-to and This-isn’t-how-we-do-it declarations are made. Heels are dug in. Invisible lines are drawn. People are defensive. The team is not a team, but loose collection of different people with different agendas who are teetering on the edge of not trusting or respecting each other.

No one wins.

I've been there, as a parent and as a teacher, and I imagine that in a few years I will be there as an SLP, too.  And for the past several years I’ve been in the slightly awkward position of being the AAC expert on Maya’s team, as well as her mom. As you may imagine, it has been uncomfortable to introduce myself to the new SLP each year . . . I have to walk in, teach them about Maya’s system, explain my goals (total communication goals, AAC goals, and speech goals), and give them a rundown of some AAC best practices. Sometimes I have to spend time gently informing them about motor planning, and why I won’t allow them to program or re-arrange vocabulary, and why topic boards aren’t really appropriate or a best practice. So basically Even though you are a professional and I’m the mom, I know more than you do about AAC, and I’m going to tell you how you need to use it, and actually some of the stuff you thought you were doing correctly aren’t really best practices anymore. Oh and hey, nice to meet you!


And then I do it with the teacher and para, too.

I’ve been pretty fortunate to have team members who listen, learn, and work together---and I’m sure that part of this is luck, but part of it is also the approach. As someone who has been a teacher and a parent, I can see that there is one underlying key to getting everyone to come together: investment. The team leader (in the example above that's me, since I was the person calling the meeting) has to get each member of the team invested in the matter at hand. It’s a central concept of leadership, I think: if people feel empowered, motivated, and valued they become excited to dive in and give it a go.  (Whereas if people feel uninformed, un-confident, and like demands are being placed on them, they become defensive and may be “forced” to comply, but their participation will be subpar, phoned in, and will likely fade quickly.) 

And so, here’s my approach. (Note: In this approach you have to presume competence and good intentions of the people on the team. Extra note: If you suspect your team member may not be competent or have the best intentions, put on a fake smile and try anyway.  If needed, when this fails you can move up the chain of command knowing you did your best----but they may end up surprising you.)

Step 1: What is happening here is amazing!!!!! In this step, you share what you are implementing and how it's working. Bonus points for having video clips of AAC use or AAC modeling in action, or work samples, or anything concrete that can catch the team member's eye and pique their interest. Some examples:
  • We are building a foundation of language by modeling without any expectation of him to use it in return, which will lead to his ability to share his thoughts when he is ready and able.
  • We are encouraging her to love and interact with the talker, which will sometimes be purposeful communication and will sometimes be noisy exploration, and this will lead to a greater knowledge and mastery of the vocabulary in the device.
  • We are responding to everything he taps as if it is purposeful and meaningful, which will lead to the understanding that we respect his use of this device as truly communicative and not “just playing.”
  • We are choosing to focus primarily on core vocabulary because it is highly useful and flexible, and using smaller amounts of fringe vocabulary right now while he is learning, which will lead to her ability to communicate about many things throughout the day, rather than just during circle time.
  • We are responding to “misuse” of the device the way that we would respond to “misuse” of speech, by using phrases like “right now isn’t a time for talking” or “we can talk about that topic during free time, but right now it’s time to discuss this story.”
  • We are attempting to increase her utterance length by recasting and expanding upon her statements throughout the day, which will help her to share more of her thoughts with all of us.

Step 2: You are uniquely poised to play a role in this amazingness, and it’s easy to see that you are going to do an amazing job being an amazing member of this amazing team! Some examples:
  • I can see how much you are invested in the success of your students, and I know that he really looks up to you!
  • Since he spends the bulk of his time in your classroom, the support that you can provide for him will have a huge impact.
  • As an SLP, you play such an important role in improving her communication, and analyzing the areas of language that we can target next!
  • During your sessions she will be able to really target and practice new skills in a way that she won’t be able to do in the larger classroom.
  • I’m only her teacher, and I am so excited to hear the new thoughts she will be able to share with this device----I can’t even imagine how exciting that must be to you, her parent.

Step 3: Don’t worry if this seems new-there are a lot of different ways that I can support you and we can work together to keep up the amazingness!  Some examples:

  • Let me show you a few things that are working for us. We’re really excited about them! 
  • I know that you have a lot on your plate. Let’s figure out how we can ensure that this is easy for you to implement (and doesn’t create much extra work)
  • Let’s identify a who/when/where/how for starting implementation (in a discreet way)
  • Let’s agree on a bottom line for these first two weeks, and then we can check in. 
  • Let’s figure out how I can support you. Some ideas include:

        -report what we talked about at home/school
-create a target word list
-create print supports
-provide you with some research articles about AAC
-send home worksheets for you to complete together
-provide you with links to videos of modeling, or video myself modeling with this 
                         -come to school to guest model for part of a day, or invite you to our speech session 
                           so that you can see modeling
                          -refer you to some online groups/websites that have great AAC resources and 
                          -help you to troubleshoot

Step 4: I welcome your input as a valued team member! Make sure that you give the team member a chance to respond, and really listen to what they say. Take notes. Examples: 
  • What do you think about this?
  • What do you see as being the biggest potential challenges? 
  • After a few days of trying, let me know what you think, I’m looking forward to hearingyour input.

Step 5: Catch new team member being amazing, shout out the amazingness!  EVEN if the team member isn’t doing things perfectly, don’t criticize yet!!! For example, if the history tracker shows that the talker was only used at lunch, you praise that use at lunch, and don’t mention the silence elsewhere. They are dipping their toe in the water . . . you need to build them up, reinforce that the water isn’t scary and that they are ready------you don’t need to yell at them to jump in the pool. You want to give a few rounds of praise before gently pushing for more. Examples:
  • I was thrilled to see the modeling that happened at lunch yesterday! Keep up the great work!
  • (Child) said that you used the talker to talk about stickers, and he was really excited. His favorite stickers have green bugs on them---maybe that’s something you could talk about today!
  • I can see that the talker is being used every morning during circle time---great job being consistent!

Once you’ve got people on board and feeling good, now you’re ready to pick a new goal. Then you go back to step 1/2 , telling everyone that they are great and amazing, and that they’re ready to up their game a little bit J
Now . . . is this a magic approach? Will it work smoothly, without any resistance? Probably not. So here are some ways that you could address resistance:

Some possible things to say if a new team member is resistant:
  • Tell me about what you think the biggest challenges would be here.
  • I can see how that could be challenging. (That period is important! Acknowledge that it’s challenging as a full sentence and wait before rushing in to tell them why it’s not challenging).
  • When I was new to this approach it seemed strange to me, but as I learned more I saw how amazing it is---you’ll see J
  • I hear your concerns. Would it help if I could provide additional resources or references about this approach?
  • Maybe we could have a trial period and then re-evaluate what’s working and what needs to be tweaked?

And a possible thing-to-say if they become obstinate:
  • I know that this approach is new to you, and that it may not be your preferred course of action, but I also know that we are both working toward the same goal: helping my child communicate as independently as possible. It seems like we each have a preferred way of working toward that goal, and I think that we need to find a way to merge our approaches so that we can better support Johnny together.

And if there’s just no getting through and the meeting time is done and you’re nearly in tears (not that that’s ever happened to me), here are a few possibilities:
  • I’m disappointed that we weren’t able to figure something out today.
  • I am frustrated and scared for my child, and desperate for him to become a better communicator. I feel like he’s not getting the support that he needs to work toward this goal at school, and I was hoping that we would be able to make some small changes today that could pay off in big ways. 
  • I’m going to request a meeting with (principal, superintendent, speech supervisor, district person, etc)---and I hope that maybe having more minds at the table can steer us toward a better resolution. 
  • I’m going to put in a written request for an assistive technology evaluation through the district, so that we can get a specialist in to help both of us come up with a better plan.
  • I’m going to hire an independent assistive tech/AAC specialist/AAC-SLP to come in and consult with the team, and hopefully she will help formulate and action plan.

Calm. Compassionate. Seeking first to understand why team members may be holding back or disagreeing, then to have your proposed path and solutions understood and accepted.

Presuming competence and good intentions from the people that you will likely be stuck working with (for better or for worse) for many months, and trying to unite with them to create a support network for your child. You are not begging or pleading, but also not demanding. You are firm and calm and clear, and inviting and affirming and welcoming.

Will there be times that this doesn’t work? Yes, yes there will. But with those people, nothing would have worked---the yelling and demanding or shaming or threatening wouldn’t have worked, either. I believe that this approach gives everyone the greatest likelihood of building a team . . . and if not, at least you’ve taken the high road of being respectful and professional as you advocate. No one ever regrets taking the high road.

(And that’s when you take the high road right up the chain of command.)

Feel free to share you own tips & tricks in the comments :)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Toss-it-back Tuesday: An Open Letter to Parents of Children with Speech Delays

Every Tuesday in October I'll be linking back to one of my "greatest hits" posts, and this is an easy first pick. This is probably the post that most often makes it way back to me via mentions-in-emails, as in "I hadn't heard about AAC until I read your Open Letter" or "After I read your Open Letter I knew that I had to just do it."  When I first heard about AAC I was equal parts enthralled (oh my god this might really work) and furious (why has no professional ever mentioned this to me before)  . . . and so I feel obligated to spread the word to parents out there who are in the same spot that I once was (searching, wondering) and say "Look! This is a thing! And you absolutely can do it on your own if you need to! In fact, you kind of must!"

(image found through Google image search)

Monday, October 5, 2015

Aided Language Input/Modeling Videos

Looking for a little modeling inspiration? Check out these videos of modeling in action :)

Note: These are all YouTube hosted public listed videos. I don't own them (well, except for the two that have my kids in them) or have any affiliation with anyone involved in them.

This is a really solid, great overview to Aided Language Input. I love how it doesn't focus on requesting, but shows how to model comments, questions, and many other things that a child (or, really, any person) might want to say.

This video is about using a PODD book for communication, but the first three minutes demonstrate some great modeling and exploration that would be useful to an AAC communication partner on any type of system:

This clip shows modeling in a therapy session with a 2 year old who is new to AAC:

This video (of Maya and I) shows dual device modeling--when the AAC user has their device and the communication partner uses a second device to model. At home we use a mix of modeling on one device and dual device modeling:

This video shows modeling in action with an older student (longer sentences, questioning).


This video (of my kids) shows Will learning the word "drink" on his talker. There is modeling in the beginning and then again around 1:45 (and I think this shows the light, fun tone that home AAC use can/should have):

And this is an example of what modeling sometimes really looks like: only occasional attention paid by the kids, as I model away to myself. But you can see Maya sneaking glances, and we've seen over time that these glances really add up, and she will apply this learning later:

Hungry for more videos about modeling? Check out this Pinterest Board from the great Lauren Enders: AAC Video Example of Implementation/Aided Language Support.



Friday, October 2, 2015

AAC Family Friday!

Our AAC families: kids, adults, siblings, and professionals . . . all joined in AAC.  

Eva and her brother in post-bath Avaz chatter in French!

A second talker for modeling? No way---I can use them both myself!
Roo, 5, lives in Houston TX, uses the Speak for Yourself app, and has an unspecified genetic disorder.

Friday night fun for Roo's mom: programming the extra talker for the teachers to learn motor planning!

Hello AAC family! This is C at a family wedding near our home in Vancouver, B.C., getting ready to make a request for the DJ.  She took this over to him and about 5 minutes later he played 'Redemption Song', much to our little Bob Marley fan's delight. We use TouchChat with WordPower on an iPad mini and the case/stand is Chatwrap.

This is Cady using her talker (Speak for Yourself) in the backyard this summer. (London, UK) 

The life of a Special Education teacher ... Spending our 'holidays' making and re-binding PODDs in Australia!
(part one)

(and part 2)

 Aidan is texting like a boss! 

For more information on Aidan's text messaging abilities using Speak for Yourself, check out this post from his mom: http://familysynapse.com/thoughts-about-our-21-day-aac-challenge/

C and E curled up together in the kitty bed (what is it about kids and small spaces?). C was reading a book while E found some words on the talker. When she couldn't find one and lamented aloud on the fact, C reached right over and found it for her.

I know some parents get frustrated when their kids perseverate on a button. Why is it necessary to press the same thing over and over? C definitely has annoyed her sisters with her insistent button pushing. I remind them that this is her way of learning and cementing the motor planning pathways. The other day, she was in Babbly mode and kept pressing ON. All of the sudden, she squealed and jumped up- she went over to the light switch and turned it on. Back and forth she flew, continually pressing ON then turning the light on or off. Presume competence- without all the practice pressing the same button over and over, she wouldn't have made the connection. (picture #1)

(picture #2)

 Here's my cheeky Charlie using his PODD to let me know that he's trashed his playroom. It goes something like this....'throw' (laughter), stuff gets dumped out of the toy box, 'throw' (more squeals of delight), more stuff hurled, 'throw', 'throw', 'throw' (uncontrollable giggles), the dog gets covered in soft toys....thanks for the heads up buddy! Charlie is 7, we are in the UK. 

Charlie's mom also shared this great video about what PODD/AAC means to them! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwPTLWSg8w4&feature=youtu.be

Lily Grace, a PODD user in San Francisco, telling her parents to hurry up and get her on the train! 

Nico, 4, on his favorite slide! Nico has Angelman Syndrome and has been using Speak for Yourself for just over a year.

 Nico using the light tech printout of his homepage during water play!

 Harry from Australia chatting with his PODD Compass app in the car. Now he can chat about trucks and buses to his heart's content and direct the music choices. So it's The Wiggles on replay! 

 This is Lemmy, aged 4, with his little brother Linus, 1 year old, shopping in target. Lemmy likes to use his talker to make excuses to hurry up, like being hungry or tired. Sometimes he complains he's bored. Lemmy uses speak for yourself on an iPad Air 2 in a gripcase.

 Mirabel, age 4, eating a quick lunch between therapies and using Speak for Yourself. Her little sister (17 months) demands a talker too and uses SfY on the mini.

This is Emiko,7, using her LAMP app in the ball-pool last Saturday, in Devon, UK.

Maya and I working together to program new words in Speak for Yourself on her iPad mini. 

Thank you all :) Snap some AAC pictures this weekend and start sending in your submissions for next Friday!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Welcome to AAC Awareness Month!

October might be my favorite month of the year. I love the multicolor leaves, the edge of cool in the air, salted caramel mochas, all of it. And, as a bonus, it’s AAC Awareness Month!

AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication, if you’re new to this) is actually a topic that could use some increased awareness. People may be unable to speak their thoughts for a wide variety of reasons; and while some people use AAC 100% of the time, other people can use verbal speech for much of the time but need to switch to AAC when their ability to speak becomes inaccessible, which also happens for a variety of reasons. My first introduction to AAC was in learning about Stephen Hawking, but “that guy with the computer voice in a wheelchair” was kind of all I knew . . . until I had a child who couldn’t speak.

In celebration of AAC, and in the spirit of raising awareness, I’ll be doing a month of (almost) daily AAC related posts. In the spirit of maintaining the illusion of organization, each day will have a theme. In the spirit of making this project possible for me (in addition to my mom and grad student duties) there will be a combination of posts, sharing previous posts, and Facebook activity.

This year the general theme for my month of AAC Awareness is not just going to be general AAC awareness, but will focus on modeling (with a few general resources thrown in). I've chosen to focus on modeling because the recent 21 Day Modeling Challenge that I hosted was very well received, and seemed to make a difference for many families (including my own!), and I'd like to keep some of that momentum going. Here's what you can expect to see each day:

*Daily Modeling Support/Chat/Inspiration:  I will have a modeling check-in post every night on our Facebook page. These typically post between 7:30-8:30pm EST and are a great place to come brag about your modeling successes, share what you're working on, post a picture, etc. (If you participated in the 21 day challenge, you are familiar with the general format of the daily FB post)

Modeling Movie Monday  . . . a video clip (or two) of modeling in action (some old, some new)

Toss-it-Back Tuesday . . . a throw-back post about modeling/AAC

Work Together Wednesday (on FACEBOOK) . . . on Wednesday I will post an AAC discussion topic or question on our Facebook page and encourage everyone to share, share, share! Challenges, tips and tricks, questions, etc.

Thoughts on Thursday . . . a new blog post here. These might be simple reflections about our previous week of modeling and what we are looking ahead to, or may be bigger pieces about AAC (depending on time and on my typing arm).

#AACfamily Friday . . . a compilation of pictures sent in by AAC users (and supporter of AAC       
                                         users) PLEASE JOIN IN! (More information here)

We-have-a-life-too Weekend . . . in which nothing gets posted here, because we are too busy. (But 
                                                        there will still be AAC stuff shared on the blog's Facebook page 
                                                        over the weekend!)

Happy AAC Awareness Month!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Returning in 3 days---AAC Family Fridays!

Every Friday in the month of October (AAC Awareness Month) I will be bringing back #AACfamily Fridays. Please see the post below (re-run from last year) for more information. Email your pictures in today!


My daughter uses a talker to communicate. Nothing delights her more than seeing other children, or adults, who also use talkers to communicate. She doesn’t care which app they’re toting around, which dedicated device is mounted to their chair, whether they gravitate towards low or high tech . . . she just likes seeing people who speak with things other than speech.  She sees it, recognizes it, and connects with it . . . these alternative communicators who she sees as just like her. She’s eager (sometimes too eager) to check out their systems, to hear their voices and see how their words are organized. She’s excited to see other AAC users. She doesn’t judge their systems, or remark that perhaps they should change their vocabulary layout or move onto a bigger grid, or get a different case for their iPads.

She sees another AAC user and she celebrates.

We AAC families are, well, a type of extended family. We are lumped together in the public eye: people who “use some device to talk” (or people who have a family member who uses something to talk, or therapists who are often seen using devices to talk as they model and plan).

We are bound together. An #AACfamily.

We are proud AAC users, or we are parents who have fought to provide our children with voice, or we are siblings who have learned to speak the language system that our sibling uses,  or we are clinicians who have laid awake at night thinking of what will work for their clients.

We are #AACfamily.

Speak for Yourself users, Proloquo2Go users, LAMP users, TouchChat users, PODD users . . . I’m looking at you.

PECS users, Tobii users, Dynavox users, PRC users . . . I’m looking at you.

GoTalk Now users, TechSpeak users, AutisMate users, Aacorn users, users of the apps and systems that are escaping my tired mind . . . I’m looking at you.

Therapists, huddled over your iPads and programming, ripping up binders and duct taping and laminating into the wee hours of the morning  . . . I’m looking at you.

We are family, united in our need for communication modifications. We are family, united in our passion for presuming competence. We are family, united in our challenges: did you remember to plug in your child’s voice and charge it tonight? Do you spend way too much time trying to figure out appropriate amplification? Do you think to yourself “seriously, we should own stock in laminating pouches and velcro?”

Our “nonverbal” (ha) children have so much in common. So much. And, by extension, so do we. We share the challenges we face, the triumphs we share, the doubts, the IEP goals, the worries over whether this year’s classroom staff will model language enthusiastically.

We share the moment when our child first said something with their talker that they couldn’t have said without it.

We share the way we teach extended family members about the importance of modeling, the way we see the AAC siblings start to use a talker and think about meaningful peer models, the time we spend online reaching out to new users and saying “no, seriously, AAC won’t impede speech.”

We are #AAC family. We may speak different symbol languages, but we are in this together.
We may use different devices, we may have different vocabulary philosophies, we may all feel passionately about our personal preferences . . . but our differences, in a global view, aren’t so great. Compared to the general public, we certainly have more in common than not.

And so, happy almost AAC awareness month to you, my family J

October is AAC Awareness Month, and I’m declaring Friday to be #AACfamily day. Let’s come together to celebrate AAC users and raise awareness about AAC! Here’s how it works:

1. Email me an AAC related photo (uncommonfeedback@gmail.com). Here are some ideas: your AAC user using their device (or with their device), siblings or families using the device, your device charging, your PODD book resting overnight, your PEC making supplies strewn across your kitchen table, a photo of your laminator in use, (professionals: your devices charging, the gadget you might be hoarding, stacks of folders that you’re putting reports into) . . .anything AAC related. Anything.

2. Give me a little info, if you want it shared. In general, it's fun to know which system is being used and where in the world you're located. (If you have a label you would like me to use, eg “John climbing a mountain with his talker!” then please include it. If the photo comes with an email that says "Katie at the beach with her iPad." then I will assume that's what I should post with the picture.)

3. If you have an AAC related link that you would like to share, include it in the email. I will include links to anything AAC related: a blog, a Facebook page, a twitter account, a Pinterest page, a website (app/product related, clinic related, whatever), a youtube channel, a Facebook users’ group, your favorite AAC product’s page----if it’s related to AAC, and you want me to share it with your photo, I'll put it up!

4. If you would like to double share, please feel free to share pictures, links, anything on Fridays in October with the hashtag #AACfamily  on your twitter or Facebook pages (for FB users: you’ll need to set your post to “public” if you want it to appear when people search for #AACfamily on Facebook)

5. Spread the word. The more, the merrier. Share this with your therapists (or your clients), in users groups, on FB/Twitter, with your AAC friends. We need to stand together, to celebrate together, and to spread the word (and the love) together. I want to see users of every device, every app, every language system, represented every Friday! I want to see therapists, users, families, friends, adventures, anything! Whatever differences we have, we have more in common. Let’s come together as users of augmentative and alternative communication systems!

*There are 5 Fridays in October and each of them will be #AACfamily Friday.  Photos must be received by 8:00pm (EST) Thursday night in order to post on the following day.

My #AACfamily 

Monday, September 7, 2015

21 Days of AAC Challenge (the whole thing)

This post is the summation of the 21 Days of AAC Modeling Challenge that I just finished. This link will bring you back to the post that introduces the challenge and explains the logic behind it. Below I am copying & pasting my daily Facebook status updates so that I'll have it all in one spot. The hyperlink for each day will take you to the original Facebook post, in case you'd like to see the conversation and sharing that happened each day.

I've been increasing my modeling for the past 3 days (Maya's summer break started on Wednesday, which kind of inspired the timing of this challenge) so I have a bit of a jumpstart. On day 3 my kids are responding in a noticeably different way, somewhat intrigued when I reach for a talker. They are pausing to listen and watch more, which is great.
I'm sharing the modeling that I did while playing Memory with the kids this morning. We are just introducing contractions, so you'll see that the screenshot I'm sharing says "It's your turn." Other things that I said included:
-It's my turn/his turn/her turn.
-That's not a match
-Awesome match
-No match
-Whose turn is it
-No stealing my match you little thief
Simple. Easy. If I were modifying for a newer user, I would drop "it's" to model "my turn/your turn." That could be further simplified by asking "Whose turn?" verbally and then modeling "mine" or the players' names. Modeling for matches could just become saying "Yes, a match!" or "No match" and modeling the yes/no buttons. That also could be verbally asking "is there a match?" and then model using the yes/no to answer.
For more advanced users, the possible targets are kind of limitless if you think creatively. If you wanted to focus more on social language, you could skip modeling the game play and stick to things like "Awesome!" "Good job" "You have a great memory" "Nice teamwork" etc. Adjectives could have been targeted by describing the items on the card ("that looks like a FRIENDLY dragon"). Verbs could be targeted by narrating the actions used in the game (OPEN the box, FLIP the cards, PUT them back in the line, TAKE your turn, etc) and more advanced verb forms could be modeled as well ("I just flipped over 2 cards but didn't see a match").
The point is kind of that you can pick any activity and model simply or model more complicated-ly . . . but don't get overwhelmed by the possibilities. I kept things simple (there was some card stealing and refereeing that needed to be done along with modeling) but I was actively engaged with a talker, and that's fantastic.

One thing that I've noticed about modeling more is that the simple act of wearing/transporting the iPad around makes me much more likely to use it. The difference between having it in the stroller vs. having it on my body, or having it in the room vs. having it at my fingertips . . . it's a big difference. It's kind of like instead of needing a reason to cross the room and get the iPad to model, I would need a compelling reason NOT to model, since it's already right there ready to be used.
(picture 1) We went for a long walk and to a playground this morning, and the kids didn't want to hold the talkers in the stroller while they were having a snack. Usually I would stick them both under the stroller . . . but today I wore one instead. As it turned out, there were two times that we paused on our walk and I could quickly model ("Are you going to use your spray bottles?" and something that I don't remember). Also, the act of wearing the talker had me (strangely) thinking about whether I knew the locations of the words that I was saying. So when I was pushing the stroller and said "We're going to have fun!" I was mentally tracing the path through the talker to build that sentence. We also added the words "cicada" and the name of a new playground to the talker smile emoticon
(picture 2) Later in the afternoon we went out with spray bottles to squirt things in the neighborhood, and I wore the talker to model again. Nothing profound, but again---having the talker right there made me feel like "if it's hanging around me I may as well use it."

The Good: We hit the farmer's market this morning, as we do most Sundays. We always have the talkers with us, but I don't usually wear one around while Maya and I shop (Dave and Will usually wander to kick a ball around in the back). Today I wore a talker, and had a chance to model "the biggest beet" (seriously, it was the biggest beet ever), to talk about Maya's yellow vegetable selections (she picked yellow carrots and yellow tomatoes) and to comment "so many colors!" (shown in the picture below). We also noticed that we needed to add "nectarine" and "overflowing"-due to an overflowing garbage can. When I programmed that in Dave pointed out that overflowing is also a verb, so we also added the other forms (overflow, overflows, overflowed).
The Bad: Later in the afternoon we went to Target, and I confidently entered the store with a talker around my neck. And then I didn't use it once. Because crowds and noise and blocking-the-aisles and things-to-touch and things-to-see and chaos and I'm-not-stopping-right-here-to-model-because-you-don't-care-that-much-and-we-just-need-to-get-out-of-here. But maybe I'll try to bring the kids back on a weekday morning, when things are quieter, and I'll try then.
The Numbers Don't Lie: As I added more words tonight (fake, fakes, faking, faked, faker, and +rooni---- that last one is because I like to add -rooni to words, and now she can too. Ex: fakerooni, stinkyrooni, sillyrooni, etc) I thought to myself "I really wish I had thought to keep count of how many new words I open/add over the course of this challenge" . . . and then I realized that because of the word counter in our app, and the frequency with which I save back-ups, I may actually have a count. I looked back to Tuesday night (the start of Maya's break) and I had saved a vocab file. On Wednesday I started to up my modeling game, so today is kind of day 5 for me (it took me two days to think up the challenge).
In the past 5 days, I've added or opened 60 words. 60! It's so easy to see what words aren't there when you start to use a talker yourself.
This isn't to suggest that everyone start adding words as-fast-as-you-can, or that success = adding more words, but it's been eye opening for me. Maya isn't overwhelmed by the addition of words, and she really enjoys helping to add them, pick a location for each one, select and image to go with it, etc. And it's great to keep adding words that are kind of fun and colorful, which are sometimes much more motivating for kids to jump in and use than the run-of-the-mill wants-and-needs stuff.

Today's update really comes from Maya, not from my modeling. I kept up with modeling throughout the day (at home, the library, the grocery store) but the more interesting parts of today were when Maya decided to talk. After nearly a week of upping my modeling work, today brought a jump in Maya's talker use as well. I started modeling contractions 6 days ago, and I haven't seen much interest in using them from Maya-until today. This morning I heard her talking in bed a bit, so at breakfast I opened up our history feature and saw . . . well, some interesting things (pic 1). First, I saw that she had independently formed a great sentence that included a contraction: "Sulley it's me." Next, I saw that she formed this sentence at 3 in the morning. She actually used the talker from a bit before 3am until 4am, and then went back to sleep. She told me that she was talking to Sulley (the monster from Monsters Inc). Once I got past the completely creepy idea that Maya was talking to monsters at 3am, I was psyched about the contraction. (Further inquiry yielded that it wasn't real, it was pretend, and that Sulley said "I love you Maya", so at least he's friendly . . .)
At lunch Maya made a few nice sentences, too. One was about this morning's activities (pic 2) . . . we walked to the library and read some books. Reading is a great modeling activity---so easy to talk about the books (verbs that the characters are doing, attributes that describe them, sight words or new words in the text to add).
She also made this amazing one about Sulley the monster returning tonight (pic 3). "He'll" = future tense contraction! Amazing! "Visit" = I had no idea where that word was, I was so impressed that she did. (Also, really creepy.)
So that's two spontaneous contractions after 6 days of not seeming to pay too much attention to how I modeled them . . . big win today smile emoticon We also added the word "diarrhea" (which we read in the book "Today I Feel Silly") . . . which the kids thought was hilarious.

Today was a sloppy day. We spent the (very hot) morning at the playground, where I added two new words (breeze and breezy) and modeled a bit, but not much. Despite knowing that having the talker on my body increases my modeling, I shoved it under the stroller while walking because it was 90 degrees, over 90% humidity, and I was pushing 100 lbs of double strollerness up and down hills. The pull of the talker strap on my sweaty neck was the last straw for me.
In the afternoon we played at home. We worked together to make a menu for the kids' play restaurant (that involved lots of AAC use) and then I narrated while the kids' played. At one point I realized that new-to-modeling families (or families currently in a am-I-even-doing-this-right place, where we all end up from time to time) may imagine that other parents are cracker-jack-modeling-wizards . . . but we all have our highlights and lowlights.
So I grabbed my phone and recorded a few minutes to show what modeling often looks like when my kids are otherwise engaged (in this case, eating pretzels and playing with toy food)----I'm talking to myself, they are occasionally glancing my way. This is no pressure modeling----at best, Maya is gleaning something from what I'm saying, or may turn and use the talker spontaneously because I'm holding it out and ready and interacting with it. At worst, I'm showing respect for the talker by choosing to use it, and practicing finding words (upside down, in this case).
I'm not forcing her to engage, making her use it, or saying "look here! look here!"----all of that, to me, would make AAC feel like work, an obligation, something that makes her stop playing and forces her to do something else. Sometimes I'll call out "Hey, look, I found that word!" or something, but if she doesn't look I just move on . . .

First, let me say that I am really enjoying this challenge. I am reaching for the talker more, partially because I know that I am coming here to report out at the end of the day, which keeps it near the front of my mind. Aside from my own increase in modeling, I love hearing your stories---which keep me motivated and also help me think of new things to try, new words to add, etc. I find myself checking FB on my phone more often between posting and going to bed, anxious to see if anyone else has shared smile emoticon
I took the kids to the mall this afternoon and managed to say some new stuff, including the phrase "this way." I'm not sure I had ever used the word "way" before, but "this way" "that way" "which way" "out of my way" "you're in the way" "way over there" are all really versatile and conversational, and I plan on targeting "way" more tomorrow (particularly since, as I write this, I'm struggling to recall which screen "way" is on*).
I had grand plans of going on the ferris wheel and modeling during the ride about how it was fast and fun and high, etc. Instead, Maya had a bit of a sensory overload, which led to us programming the new button "too much". Since I'm not sure whether it's too exciting, too scary, too overwhelming, or too . . . I don't know what . . . "too much" seemed like a safe bet. Now I just need to remember to model it during those overloaded times.

Today was a challenging day. I spent the morning in an orientation at Will's preschool, and returned home in the middle of lunchtime. Then came rest time, during which Maya did not rest, and the afternoon was filled with some behavioral stuff and some hands-on parenting that made modeling challenging. I know, in theory, that challenging medical and behavioral times are exactly when modeling is extra meaningful and essential (teaching to use language to work through challenges rather than behavior) . . . but I also know, in reality, that sometimes one's hands are just too full, and one's mind just too stretched, to deal with also managing an iPad and speaker and strap and don't-step-on-that and wait-now-you're-twisted-in-the-cord and argh-let-me-lift-you-here-and-put-you-over-here-and-I'm-throwing-this-gd-iPad-over-that-way-because-I-just-can't.
Then we went to a barbecue for Dave's work folks. Maya loves learning people's names, so leading up to the bbq, in on the car ride there, we practiced asking people what their names were, and introducing ourselves. She was ready! She was excited! She didn't use the talker at all the whole time we were there!
Tomorrow is a new day. No guilt here :)

We went to the zoo today, and I had some fun in the petting zoo area modeling what the animals were thinking (primarily "I'm hungry" "We're hungry" "I need food" etc). I took picture #1, of Maya feeding the goat and the modeling iPad hanging down at goat-speaking-level, thinking that that would be my AAC modeling pic for the day. But then things got interesting smile emoticon
Maya fed an alpaca and then turned away from him, which he apparently did not like, as he stretched out and bit her arm. There were tears, and I quickly said that we should yell at the alpaca with the talker and tell him that he wasn't nice. (Picture #2) The text reads "No biting you stinky alpaca. You are not nice." (Picture #3)
Then things got really ridiculous, as apparently alpacas don't appreciate being called stinky. The biter's buddy ran over, sniffed the iPad and listened to the sentence, and then bit the talker! (Picture #4 and #5---you can see the bottom blue bar of the Gripcase being pulled down in the last picture) Maya thought that this was hilarious smile emoticon
From Maya: Today at dinner, she used the talker to make a few big spontaneous interesting sentences with Dave---about a friend from school, a favorite song, and the fact that she wanted a "long" bath (in response to him mentioning that he would fill the tub for a quick bath). He said to me, "This might just be a coincidence, but she just said a lot . . ." Not coincidence, most likely, probably the increased talker use around here. Yay modeling!

The goat said "I'm hungry" so Maya fed him.

 Talking back to the biter.

"No biting you stinky alpaca. You are not nice." 

A friend runs over to investigate. "Hey lady, did you just call my buddy stinky?" 

"Then I will bite this thing." (You can see the bottom bar of the Gripcase being pulled down.)

Two weeks ago we attended the AAC Institute Camp in Pittsburgh. One of my biggest take-aways from camp was the somewhat unspoken, but universally accepted, idea that modeling is normal and is happening all the time. In a hotel surrounded by other AAC families it was really easy to model, but it really hit home for me when we took a group field trip to the mall. I modeled on that mall trip in Pittsburgh like a pro, but realized that I tend not to model at all when we are at our own local mall.
I thought about why this was the case, and I realized that it's because I tend to favor a low profile. Wearing an iPad is unusual (sometimes I think nothing of it, sometimes I see some glances and step outside of myself and realize just how strange it must look). Bending over and drawing the attention of my children to an iPad, rather than pointing out things around them or just chatting, must look very odd. Am I tutoring them? Are we playing some sort of video game? Why aren't we just enjoying our surroundings? Why are people so addicted to their screens these days?
(By the way, professionals, I think that this may be a big difference for families: if you're modeling out in public you may not feel awkward, because it's your job. I think it may be easier not to feel weird when it's your job, not actually part of your identity. When I think about modeling for other kids I don't feel self-conscious at all, but in our local playgrounds and grocery store and on the street and at Starbucks and when I run into parents from Will's playgroup and everywhere, I am becoming that-lady-who-wears-and-is-constantly-playing-with-an-iPad.)
Once I realized that my modeling was being negatively impacted by my desire not to draw attention to myself, the solution was obvious: to surrender any last bits of self-consciousness that I had and go for it.
So here I am today at the playground, being the lady-who-wears-and-plays-with-the-iPad. The kids are filling up cups of water from the sprinkler and carrying them to dump down the drain and stairs that are to my left. When they walk by me I modeled things like "You filled the cups" "Don't spill them" "Dump them over there" etc. We added the words dump-dumps-dumping-dumped.

Halfway through, officially, and the changes here are undeniable across the board. Here's an update, family member by family member:
-My AAC vocabulary has seriously jumped. I'm fast, my finger hovering above the next word and waiting for the screens to load and catch up (I'm still using an iPad2 and Maya has the original mini---unfortunately, these processors are a bit older and slower than is ideal). Sometimes when I talk I find myself thinking through the sequences to form the sentence via AAC in my head, and I wonder (a lot) if Maya does that, too.
-Will has increased his overall talker use (greatly) and is trying to remember and repeat sentences that he's seen used earlier in the day/week.
-Dave's AAC use has increased significantly. At dinner for the past 2 nights more than half of his "speech" has been via AAC.
-Maya is watching now, a lot. She's not ignoring my AAC use or fighting it---she's come to accept, I guess, that this is just a thing that I do now. She watches me when I'm using new words or saying something she she might not expect, and other times she does her own thing until I activate the sentence strip and then she'll look (either at the icons I've chosen or reading the sentence or both . . . I imagine that, like me, she may read the words and then examine the icons for the ones that she may not know the location of, but that's only a guess). When she uses the talker I can see bits and pieces of things I've modeled, and I see more sophisticated sentences, but I would say that the difference in her use is in quality, not quantity. That is pretty par for the course for Maya----she is always always learning, but we often sit for a while without much evidence that she's absorbing and applying all of it until--whammy--we unexpectedly see it some day.
Today I was gone for half the day with Will (first day of preschool), then she had speech, then the day was hit or miss. There was some modeling at the playground, a bit at the grocery store, some around dinner time. Nothing really noteworthy, just plodding along.

Will started preschool (for real, without mommy) today. I need to be on campus when he's in school, but Maya doesn't start school for another week and a half--so today was the first of several fill-time-on-campus days for Maya and me. We spent a lot of time in the lounge for speech students, which was lovely and quiet and empty (classes don't start for a few days) and we colored, made lists, read books, walked around, took pictures of things, and had lunch. She loved the college . . . primarily because she thought it was like the school that Mike and Sulley go to in Monsters University, and I think she was hoping to spot a monster on campus.
I modeled throughout the day, she made some sentences that she wanted me to add to a list. We added the word "calm" (Will calmed down quickly after we left) and the name of some cartoon airplane. She's way excited to return tomorrow, and she wants to do some tracing and writing and I think there are some fun opportunities to use the talker to share some story ideas.
Nothing exciting, but good consistent modeling . . . and I think she's ready to teach a class :)

Maya and I spent another day on campus while Will tackled preschool. We had a great morning doing something that is *highly* motivated for her: writing. She really, really loves it when people write things for her: lists, sentences, anything. While her AAC use for communication favors speed (as in, she will often use minimal words to get her points across), she will actually make phrases and sentences if she knows that I will write them down. I found a workbook of writing prompts and questions for preschoolers-2nd graders and she was dying to get at it.
I used the talker to ask the questions or get her to expand upon her answers (by adding "why" do a lot of questions). She used Mini to answer me, and the questions. I loved doing this activity with her because it centered not around functional communication, but around imaginative communication---which, I think, it something we don't do nearly enough. I'd venture to guess that a lot of AAC users could use more imaginative talk, both at home and at school (although maybe I'm just falling shorter than usual on that front). I'm going to make sure increase the number of imaginative discussions that we have.
I think my favorite one today was about the sad zebra (see pictures).

Me: What do you like to do in the winter?
Maya: Go have fun.

Me: What do you like to do in the spring?
 Maya: Ride a bike.

 Maya said her favorite zoo animal was a zebra (hence the stripes) and then drew a sad face on him. (She loves sad faces). I wrote "a sad zebra", she thought it was hilarious.

After drawing the zebra:
Me: Why's the zebra sad?
Maya: Because he wants to eat
Awesome answer. I'm pretty sad when I want to eat, too.

We spent the first half of the day at the zoo (no alpaca bites, although a goat got Maya's finger). I had the talker on and available, but we were moving at a good clip (and it was a bit hot to stop and model too often) so most of the AAC use was when we stopped for breaks, or during shady exhibits. At a snack break I modeled "Next we're going to see the dog" . . . and the kids laughed. So I deleted 'dog' and said "Next we're going to see the cat", etc etc until I said the correct sentence (tiger). Then Will came over and wanted to join in, while Maya and my mom looked on.
While walking through the gorilla exhibit we passed a few waterfalls, and I checked and saw that the word 'waterfall' is missing. It's so easy to quickly check and add words if I'm already wearing the talker . . . and wearing the talker, in and of itself, is a steady reminder to check for the availability of words that I am speaking. We've now added or opened 101 words since I increased my modeling. Waterfall is a word that we've said to Maya tons of times (it's hard to even guess at quantifying that) . . . how did I never think, before now, to check if it was in her talker? I know she understands the word. I'm pretty sure she can read it. In an emergency, she may have thought to combine 'water' + 'fall' . . . but she shouldn't have to. She should have all of the words.
(Again, your mileage may vary, but at this stage I'm not very worried about visually overwhelming Maya with crowded screens. If I notice that she's taking longer to find things I can always use color to break up/highlight/clump words.)

Today was an errand-running day: a haircut for Will, dropping stuff off at the thrift store, Target, a grocery store trip, etc. Modeling happened a few times at Target, at home over lunch, while on a walk, and at the store . . . so, again, frequently but not constantly . . . which seems perfect for me right now.
Committing to the 21 day challenge gave me the opportunity to really sink my teeth into modeling and figure out how to make it realistically work---which can be tricky for families, I think. When Maya first starting using AAC I was overwhelmed by modeling--when do I do it? How do I do it? What if I modeled wrong . . . would I mangle her entire language development?
Then, over time, her vocabulary knowledge mostly outpaced mine. When asked, she could find words that were impressively obscure. She became possessive of her device, and I wasn't used to having the modeling iPad on hand. Our AAC dynamic shifted, and I began, again, to overanalyze my place and the best way to support her. Also, honestly, I felt like I had permission to be lazy since she clearly 'knew more than I did.'
But that wasn't quite right, either. She may have known where 'cubicle' was, but she didn't often use sentences or long phrases. How could I know what her inner grammar was? Maybe it was fantastic, but maybe it had gaps . . . and either way, I should be modeling. It's part of my responsibility. But I would alternate between too busy and too unsure (don't get me wrong, I modeled, but not religiously) and get stuck.
Now I'm in, for 21 days, and it just has to happen. It doesn't have to be amazing, it doesn't have to be perfection. Sometimes I pick a focus (like contractions or pronouns or verbs) sometimes I just say whatever comes to mind. But it's happening and it's changing things and it's a big-but-not-big deal.
Highlight of today: opening the word 'naked' after seeing that our sticker from the grocery store said naked. Much giggling and delight when we saw that word was already in there. Also added: lean, leans, leaning, leaned.

We spent the day in NJ, visiting my parents and enjoying the perks of having a yard (grilling, playing with a baby pool and buckets of water and mud, etc). Most of my modeling happened in the first half of the day, chatting while playing with some toys and looking at magazines, and then modeling during the hour or two we spent outside.
I love these pictures smile emoticon For me, they really show life in an ‪#‎AACfamily‬. The kids were playing with bowls and spoons and water and grass and dirt, making 'soup.' I was modeling things about their soups, holding cups, catching water, pouring water, and being silly. In some of the pictures you can easily see a tan dish towel across one of my legs, which was there so that wet fingers could quickly be swiped dry if someone with a wet hang wanted to jump in and say something. I think in these pictures I was mainly modeling things like "Oh my goodness (that's a 1 hit phrase for us) all of the soup spilled!" or "That soup tastes delicious."
New words today: blast off, blast, blasts, blasting, blasted

"Oh my goodness, all of the soup spilled on Mommy (+'s foot)"
*The words in ( ) were being put in here

I think this was immediately after Maya dumped soup on my foot---I was acting shocked that more soup fell and Will was refilling my cup so that I could refill Maya's bowl.

"Oh my goodness, all of the soup spilled on the octopus"
I was trying to entice him to go feed an octopus toy across the yard.

This was a light modeling day. We visited with out-of-town family for breakfast, went to a birthday party, and then had kind of a lazy afternoon. There was some modeling, but it was nothing particularly special. My favorite modeled phrase was about being a "party pooper"---which was fun and also gave me the chance to model using the '+er' word ending. I like getting to use the word ending buttons because it's nice to show her how to play with words as units.
Tomorrow is my first day of classes (6 hours of class tomorrow---send coffee! or a seat cushion!) and Maya will spend the morning on campus with me (classes start at noon) so I anticipate much modeling in the morning.
*Also, in a few minutes I'm going to post a little survey question about this modeling challenge, so please go look for that in case the mysterious FB algorithms only show you my posts with pictures attached.

Holy cow, guys, it's already Day 18. Thanks to the folks who shared their thoughts on last night's opinion poll (if you didn't chime in, it's not too late---I'd love to hear from you, too). I'm going to continue sharing modeling snippets and reflections after the close of day 21, although I need to think more about how/when/what-it-will-look-like.
Today was my first day back in class, so I was with Maya, and modeling, in the morning. We did some coloring and writing and tracing, and I modeled thoughts about the pictures and stories. We added: trace, traces, tracing, traced.
When I started this I thought to myself "even if I forgot to model for a day it would be easy to lie and make something up" (I imagine that I just would have confessed, but the ease of lying did flit through my mind) . . . . however, I didn't anticipate how much this little project would impact me. I don't want to miss a day, and I find myself thinking "ok, what does this day look like, and where is modeling going to fit in?"
This is important to me. I want to make sure I model everyday. I want to make sure that it is a (high) priority not to let a day go by without Maya seeing someone else using a talker, too. This matters.

21 Days of AAC Challenge: Day 19
(the good and the confession)
First, the good. Maya spent the morning at school with me again, much to her delight. She now knows where all of the buildings are, has favorite hang-out spots, and delights in going on as many campus errands as possible (today we had to visit tech support, use the giant stapler at the library, and hit the bookstore). We used the talker on campus to talk about a few different things, mostly when we sat to have snack. Maya was carrying around a huge children's cookbook and we talked about what we could make this afternoon (after my class). We settled on chocolate chip cookies 
smile emoticon
The pictures below were taken during cookie making, which was a great modeling activity. We talked about the ingredients and the verbs that went with them: measuring, filling, pouring, dumping. stirring, and mixing. When we used the mixer (which is old and loud) Maya jumped in to say "stop" and "go." (pictured below)
Words added/opened: tablecloth, ingredients, eyelash
Now, the confession. I left Mini at home this morning. Maya's talker. I left it. I had my school bag, Maya's travel bag, Will's backpack, everyone's lunches, and the blue talker----and I had put the travel strap on Mini and put it by the door---but neither one of us grabbed it. I realized midway to campus that it wasn't there.
So, real life. ‪#‎AACfamily‬

Nothing profound here (besides exhaustion). After two days of class, my arm hurts a lot tonight, so I'm keeping this brief. Today I modeled in between rounds of hide-and-boo (which is like hide and go seek, except that I hide and then jump out and scare the seekers): things like "I'm going to hide again" or "I got you."
More modeling during pretend play with babies (about what the babies wanted, how they felt, what they needed), and chit chat at mealtimes.

It's been a good run, and ended on a high note. Maya and I spent the morning on campus, hanging out in the shade of the speech building. I introduced her to a color-by-number book, and we talked about how it had a key, just like maps. There was tons of modeling about the colors, following the key, directions, commenting, etc. Then we moved on to playing with category cards and talked about features that the items had in common and also differences. It was basically constant modeling for 2 hours, and it was great. We added/opened several words, but I can't remember what they were.
The numbers: Over the course of this increased modeling period, we added/opened a total of 136 words.
My (brief) reflections: Modeling makes a difference (I know, I know, we all knew this already). The ways in which it made a difference for us, however, were perhaps not the ways that a novice would hope to see . . .
-Quantity of AAC talking time: I didn't quantify the talker use (mine or Maya's) but if I had to venture an educated guess, I don't think that there was a huge increase in the amount of time that Maya spent using AAC. There was, of course, a huge jump in the amount of time that I (and Dave, too) spent using AAC . . . and Will showed a renewal of interest as well.
-Quantity of AAC listening time: Humongous jump for my kids. They were used to only seeing me model briefly on any given day, and now I was wearing a talker every time we walked out the door. Big jump.
-Quality of AAC talking: Huge jump for me---I am solidly fluent now, rightside up/upside down/sideways. I'm as fast as the system allows me to be. I still use the search feature daily (because I like to say what I'm really thinking and because I'm happy to take the extra time and model the search feature) but I'm happy with that. Maya's quality is great, as usual----and she's gained a bunch of words through these 21 days.
-Quality of AAC listening: Huge jump for Maya. She used to be indifferent to my modeling, often leaving me (literally) talking to myself. Over the course of these 21 days she has become undeniably and considerably more interested in watching me talk. She hasn't wanted to talk about my increase in talker use (sometimes saying that she likes it, sometimes that she doesn't, most often ignoring the line of conversation) but everything about her behavior says that this has been so good for us.
-Family Culture: We became a more genuine ‪#‎AACfamily‬. I wasn't just supporting or encouraging Maya to use a talker, I used one myself (or wore it, at least). I paused to say things. Our communication rate slowwwweeeedddd down, allowing for my pauses to tap out sentences, and probably settling in a space that was easier for her to keep up with.
-For me: I really feel like this has deepened the connection between Maya and I. It also effectively erased any sort of self-consciousness that I may have had about wearing the iPad and modeling everywhere, simply by making it my job ("I have to do this! I'm in a challenge!"). And I can't really imagine leaving the house tomorrow without wearing the blue iPad anymore than I can imagine leaving without my shoes. Rather than feeling like I have to make the conscious choice to bring it, I feel like I would now have to make the conscious choice to leave it at home.
It all feels like success.

 "Can you find another 9?"

We did 9 cards at a time and cleared them when she grouped and talked about the categories. These were the last two.