Communication Devices for Nonverbal Children

Communication Devices for Nonverbal Children
My nonverbal son Matthew is almost finished with fifth grade. I recently purchased the Go Talk 9+ device for use at home and school. Prior to this device the Los Angeles Unified School District loaned us the Cheap Talk 8 device for home and school usage.

We were first introduced to the low cost voice-output device when in preschool special ed for three years at an Elementary school campus. This is where the initial AAC assessment took place. The Cheap Talk followed Matthew to his next classroom, as well as onto the next Elementary School until I just returned it a month ago.

The Cheap Talk had six levels with four icon boxes on the top and four on the lower level. It was a bulky item that was not easy to carry back and forth and got banged around a lot by Matthew when dumping his backpack on the ground. The device has to be turned on and off automatically by an adult, which meant that in preschool it was left on most days sitting on a table for all students to pound on. Since I had signed for this device I asked that it be kept out of reach of the classmates who did not really grasp that this was not a toy but a means for communicating.

The problems we encountered over the years included having a different teacher each year along with a new SLP. By the time everyone was acclimated winter recess would come along and then intersession with a month of half school days. Then the next process was to decide on photos and obtain overlays from the AAC department.

There would never be any specific goals in the IEP for utilizing pecs and the communication device. Instead these were listed under supports and more generalized. I tried to implement the Cheap Talk for outside therapies and would take photographs of therapists and Matthew engaging in various forms of play and learning. We were met with resistance at every turn and step along the way.

One year the Cheap Talk would be at my house collecting dust, while the next year I would make contact with the AAC department to get them to utilize this once again at school. The first year at the current Elementary School the AAC accessor came and had meetings with the aide, teacher, SLP and OT. I was informed of these after the fact. I requested a report for Matthew's triennial IEP in 2005 and for an AAC represenattive to be present so we could brainstorm some ways to utilize more visual supports in the classroom.

My other son Nicholas is the one who recorded the words for the Cheap Talk device. This was a neutral voice for the classroom and would not distact the other students by being a familiar voice. We used many universal terms for all the levels, so that the last button to the right on the top row would always be Help and the bottom row would indiate Done.

I would have an overlay with therapy items, another one for food related items, one with colors and then one for directions like - more, wait, look, bye, hi and no. One of the levels was to be utlized by the speech and language professional, but they never got around to bringing the Cheap Talk to the room for therapy.

In order to get all this implemented one person needs to be the responsible person and make sure the device is being used with all related services, ovelays need to be done and meetings to cover updates in goals and how the pictures need to be expanded, etc. Some people use colored photos, others want images from real items and then there are those who prefer the stick images and figures. There has to be a team effort with open lines of communication. We lost that objective for many years and it is my hope that with this transition into Middle school and a new aide that my son will start to thrive in his communcation skills.

One year after attending an Autism Conference and browsing all the exhibits, I met with AAC and SLP at the classroom to observe Matthew. This was an attempt to try to get the district to change from the Cheap Talk to the Go Talk. I brought along catalogs of products and the camp report on how well Matthew did with the Go Talk. AAC brought along a broken device and said that pushing the buttons was harder for kids and really wanted to give the Cheap Talk another try. We came up with ideas for how Matthew could participate with the device at circle time each morning.

Once I received the Go Talk 9+ device I contacted the AAC department at LAUSD and let them know I wanted to return the Cheap Talk device and that I bought the Go Talk 9+ based on the experience Matthew had the two previous summers at camp, where this was utilized on a daily basis for communicating his wants and needs. You are not limited to overlays with these devices and can use regular picture cards and velcro them to the square box for whatever need that may arise. I have plenty available from the pecs wall, notebooks and boxes galore. There are Activities using picture cards and the Flash CD, plus I run a pecs group on yahoo.

Unfortunately the new assistant was not there the day AAC and I observed, but we came up with some ideas for Matthew to be conversational with his assistant when performing tasks. I wrote the following phrases down for overlay development:

you do one, I do one (turn taking)
let me do it, help me (interactive)
want a squeeze (or a hug)
request a fidget (like a ball or pencil grip)
the 3 top core vocabulary keys for all levels are (yes, breaktime, no)

To get feedback on his work he could press button to ask - how did I do, what next, I am waiting or look to get attention on a task he did. For interacting with teacher during circle time the days of the week could be programmed for one level and then she would ask what day is today. The same thing with all the students names/photos and then ask who is absent today?

Some phrases for Matthew to indicate his needs - too cold, too loud, repeat, no more, wet, sick, feels good. Other ways to interact with others would be for good morning, hello, thank you. This makes it more conversational for Matthew to be part of the classroom.

We did receive the overlays from AAC last week so Nicholas and I got four levels programmed. I never indicated anything about Mc Donalds but there was a image there next to the help button that his assistant was working on when Matthew needs his new sneakers to be tied. That day upon getting home Matthew went into his backpack and got out the Go Talk pressed Mc Donalds three times and off we went to Burger King since they sell onion rings and that is his current food of choice.

The next day at school the assistant had to cover up the Mc Donalds icon. We need to do some fine tuning to this overlay. The Go Talk is sleek in deisgn and more appropriate for Matthew as he enters MiddleSchool.

Communication Resources for PECS

Strategies Using Low Cost Video Output

PECS Manual

Assistive Technology Options

Educational Autism Tips for Families 71 page resourceful ebook for families entering the school system with a recent autism diagnosis. Find out what issues take place over the course of a school day and meet these challenges head on.

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