Thursday, 5 September 2013

Our AAC appointment in Cologne

I would like to give you a short update on our AAC appointment which was the reason for our trip to Cologne.

Let me preface this by saying that Sunny loves using his talker. But right now he does not use it to communicate. When he wants to tell me something he still uses his regular vehicles like signs, sounds, single words, or pointing/showing. I, on the other hand, am no specialist and new in AAC so I was missing out on ideas how to support him better. After all, learning to use a talker is like learning a foreign language. You cannot give someone an English book and expect him to be able to read and understand it before you taught him the English language.

I had known the counsellor from a group on Facebook that I am part of. He is working as a counsellor for AAC and also for people on the autism spectrum. I got to know him as a very engaged, creative, and supportive person so I thought that it would be worth a try. And I was not disappointed. The appointment lasted about two hours and in that time he had so many ideas.

He made a few short tests with Sunny in order to find out about his comprehension skills with regard to symbols and language. It became very evident that both skills are very well developed and used appropriately. He could also see that Sunny had no problem finding symbols and categories on his talker.

The result is that Sunny already has good competences when it comes to be supported with AAC and he holds very good potential for it. He recognises and understands symbols (even those unknown to him). He also understands his talker and its technical features and has no problems changing categories over various levels in his talker. All of this made it clear that using a talker is the right choice for him.

However, he needs more support for learning how to use it. He needs to be taught communication strategies, he needs to feel that his communication attempts are valued and important and he needs support in order to grow into his alternative communication system. And this is our job - the job of Team Sunny: our network of family, teachers, and therapists!

Yes, sometimes he finds the most unusual places to play ;-)
He suggested a few ideas in order to enhance Sunny's communicative skills with regard to the use of the talker:

1) Teach and model the use of focus words. There is a list of about 100 words that are needed in everyday life very often which should be modeled as often as possible. This is done over the course of six weeks for each group of focus words.

For example, the first group of focus words consists of "again", "done", "not", "want", "look". We all should model the use of these words on the talker as often as possible within those six weeks. Sunny should not be forced to use them, it is just to show him frequently where those words are and when they are used. After six weeks there should be an evaluation whether Sunny started imitating using them by himself and if we can move on to the next set of words or if these should be modeled for some more weeks.   

2) Develop communication rituals. While spontaneous interaction with the talker is very important it would also be good to implement defined rituals in order for Sunny to have recurring learning moments and more situations that show him how he can use the talker for third parties in a meaningful way. One could be that he has to greet his teacher and his classmates every morning with the talker.

3) Develop causes that he needs to use the talker to communicate for. This is very important since he should learn that the use of the talker gives him an extended benefit. However, it is very important that these causes are not artificial. In Sunny's mind he is already communicating with his signs, his sounds, his pointing to/showing of things, and his words that he can say. So it would be rather frustrating if he told me in his way that he wants to have a ball and I act as if I do not understand and he knows that I understood him and that he already told me he wants to have a ball. It would be the same if you told me "please give me the ball" and I would tell you "can you tell me with the talker, please?". You would be annoyed and frustrated because you already told me what you wanted.

I was wondering how I could do that and then I knew. We have so many, many books and very often Sunny is looking for a special book. He tries to tell me and sometimes I do not know which book he means. So I am going to put pictures of all his books in the talker (OMG this will be a huge task! ;-) ) and if he wants me to find a book for him he needs to tell me with the talker.

Additionally, he suggested some iPad apps as a learning aid, e.g. for the written language acquisition.

He had many more ideas but he said that this would be enough for the beginning. ;-) I am really glad that I made the effort to have an appointment with him! I can see clearer now what we have to do in order to support him.

He also strongly suggested to have Sunny diagnosed properly for possible ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). After the appointment he told me that if I had told him that Sunny was on the autism spectrum he would have believed it immediately and not doubted it for a second. He sees 40-50 kids with autism each year and is also a 1:1 aide for a child on the spectrum so I think he knows what he is talking about. After all, it is his job to support people on the spectrum.

Possible autism has been mentioned from time to time in the last years from various sides but Sunny was never really diagnosed (at least not thoroughly). Very often when I see him do something in his special way I just naturally think about possible autism, too, so this did not really surprise me. We have to find out where to have him diagnosed best and then do it. He would be entitled for other therapies and other kinds of support if he was diagnosed.


  1. That sounds like a plan, after all, the goal is to support Sunny as best as possible, and if having a diagnosis would aid that cause, then perhaps it's well worth pursuing.

    I'm glad that you have such a supportive person helping you to use the talker. It seems like real tangle of a thing to manage, but it sounds as though it's coming on well, and you have some great strategies worked out.

    Way to go :)

  2. Go JOY! We failed on ACC but that was our failure, not Boo's. We just didn't get why she had to fumble with a book if she could go to the cabinet and sign what she wanted. I am so happy that you are not stressed about a possible autism diagnosis. I wish you peace of mind my friend. ACC is definitely a team sport so I also wish you good sportsmanship :)

  3. I love reading about other parents' experiences with AAC! My daughter uses a VL2 from PRC - what is your son using? I totally understand your issues! One idea instead of adding each individual book would be to try to have him narrow down his book want by something already available to him if that's an option with whatever talker he's using - by color? by size? by topic? Mouse book? Blue book? Big book? That might help and would save you some time. I've been tempted to add every title of a certain TV series mine likes, but she has surprised me by using other words to describe what she wants (after much prompting, whining, and modeling!).

    Good luck on your journey! (I found you via Love that Max's linkup.)

  4. Argh, blogger just ate my comment! I'll try to recreate it.

    I was thrilled to read your post - I love reading about other families' experiences with AAC. My daughter (who has CP) uses a VL2 from PRC - what does your son use? I totally can sympathize with your issues. One idea instead of adding every single book to the talker (which would take of lot of time) would be to see if he could instead use the words he has available to describe the book. Is that an option? Like..."Mouse book" or "Blue" or "Big" and so on. Just a thought!

    Good luck on your journey! I found you through the Love That Max linkup. (And my apologies if you get two comments from me after all this!)


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