Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I need my communication system!

From time to time I visit a former student of mine.  He is a great young man: full of smiles, a ready laugh and a star on his speech device.  Recently, I stopped by and his mom told me that he was feeling down.  He hadn't been communicating using his Tobii eye gaze driven speech device or his gestures.  He also had not been laughing or smiling much.  I was puzzled, but thought perhaps it was related to some changes happening in his life.

Eventually we sat together and I could see that while he was trying to activate his speech device it wasn't working.  The minute I touched the screen and went into the eye gaze menu he started smiling and pointing at me and then the screen.  He knew something no one else knew - his device setting were wrong - and he knew finally someone was going to figure it out!  It turned out his eye gaze profile had been deleted, which means that the device wouldn't work properly.  Also the amount of time it would take for him to activate a message had been turned up very, very high.  I won't speculate on how or why these things happened, or on why it hadn't been noticed by the professionals in his life whose job it is to notice these things.  I will speculate on the utter lack of training we, as professionals, offer parents and caregivers of augmentative and alternative communication devices.  If we trained parents better ("we" means schools including SLPs, AT specialists, teachers as well as vendor companies) this sort of thing would happen less.  Let us all take it upon ourselves this year to teach parents how to recognize when there is a problem with assistive technology and what to do about it!

I will also speculate on the fact that when I was a teacher I did not give my student a way to communicate that he needs his speech device or that it is not working correctly.  To that end I have created a couple items over at the Teacher Learners with Multiple Needs Cafe Press store.  They are text and symbol based bracelets, dog tags, stickers and pins that say either, "I need my communication system." or "I need my communication device."  The goal of these items is to attach the stickers to wheelchairs, beds, tables, walls, side of pools, mirror, sinks, etc. or have the student wear the jewelry or pin  and to teach them to point to the message when they need their device.  Note:  (Communication Bracelets also sells a fill-in-the-blank "I want_____." bracelet.  Linda Burkhart also sells "I need my book" bracelets if you are lucky enough to see her present.)

Additionally I would like to suggest that everyone make, laminate and attach to speech devices a quick troubleshooting guide that includes a section about when the individual is communicating less than usual and what to check both on the device and with the individual.  Send me pictures of what you create and I will share your ideas!

1 comment:

  1. I think this post is spot on. How many times do we as professionals find ourselves having to focus on the hardware because it fulfills the budget and looks like we're accomplishing goals; whilst forgetting about the "software?" Besides putting a communication device into the hands of a student, it would seem important for someone to get acquainted with it, to be able to trouble-shoot and also to help the student develop new ways of using it. The gift in this situation is that you were able to find the solution among what could have been hundreds of possible solutions; and give your former student back his means of communicating.


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