The Use of Assisted Technology/Speech Applications
Guest Blog by Jim and Jennifer Vaughan
The technological advances in both software and hardware have made a world of difference for many language impaired students. The single biggest factor in engaging Anna has always been her level of motivation. From an early age, Anna, who is functionally non-verbal, demonstrated an attraction to, and an affinity for, music. She also demonstrated an uncanny visual memory.
Long before Anna had any real means of expressive communication- no software, no words of her own- we realized, almost by accident, that she had memorized the visual landmarks along the routes we travelled. She would become happy or agitated based on where she thought we were going. She knew if we passed by a certain billboard we might be going to the neurologist’s office, but if we continued on past the exit then we were going to hippotherapy (physical therapy on horseback), which she loved. She couldn’t ask where we were going, but she clearly knew.
This was significant because it demonstrated at a young age that Anna had much more going on cognitively than could be readily observed or tested. That type of cognition allows her to excel with speech software. Navigating forward and backward through menus allows a student to hone in on the specific item or need that they want to get across. Traditional speech units were often heavy which was difficult for Anna, who has some muscle tone and motor difficulties. Because the software that Anna primarily uses at home, Proloquo2Go, runs on the iPad, it is extremely light and portable. It also has the added benefit that, once purchased, the software can run across multiple devices owned by the same user. Anna can use the larger I-Pad when it is available, but if we are away from home without the device and she needs the software, an I-touch device in my purse displays the same choices for her, just on a smaller menu.
One of the most significant advantages of these technology advances has been the exponential decline in cost in the past few years. Just a few years ago, portable speech units started at a few thousand dollars and went up from there. Insurance coverage was spotty at best, and usually required a tremendous amount of time, paperwork and numerous evaluation and training sessions to even get started. Software such as Proloquo2Go can be purchased by anyone for a fraction of the cost. While there continues to be a need for the larger, more durable and time tested units, the reduction in cost has opened the door for many people to provide their child with a portable speech device for the first time.
Technology has proven to be not only helpful for our daughter's communication, but also given her the ability to direct her free time towards things she is interested in. In the same way that Anna can navigate through the layers of a speech application, whether it is Proloquo2Go, NOVA chat (application used at school on a small tablet) or any other, she similarly can navigate through the layers of other software applications. Because of her love for music and visual images, one of her favorite sites, not surprisingly, is YouTube. Because motivation is such an important part of getting children with special needs engaged, the attraction to YouTube was a perfect fit. With very little assistance, Anna learned to navigate forward and backward through layers of YouTube videos to find subjects that interested her. She quickly learned to go from a blank screen to a specific video simply by pointing and clicking the mouse, once again memorizing the visual cues presented to her to navigate her way. While she may use YouTube for pleasure, she has developed some very useful computer skills in the process. Navigating a mouse, clicking on the correct area of the screen and knowing when to use the keyboard are not skills that Anna would have developed so readily without the motivation of entertainment, but they are skills that will be vital to her as she progresses through school. For a young lady who is still mastering the skill of eating with utensils, learning to navigate around a computer is a huge accomplishment, and her attraction to technology has opened up new pathways for her.