You Just Bought Speak For Yourself. Now What?
Welcome to the AAC Family! Congratulations on getting your brave on. It’s ok to feel overwhelmed, excited and nervous at the same time. Here’s what I wrote about starting AAC with Aidan.
Some of you may be starting this journey without the support of your SLP or education team. I’m so sorry to hear that but here’s my two cents. Yes, professionals bring experience and knowledge to the table but you are driving this bus. You get to take that advice and filter it through what makes sense to you, what you know of your child, and what you believe will work in your life. The field of AAC is very specific and constantly changing so not all SLPs can dive deep into that. I have made the decision to respectfully disregard the advice of several members of our team on occassion, specifically his PT and neurologist come to mind.
You can do this and you’re not alone. Let me help you get started.
Take some time to prepare yourself for this AAC journey:
- Watch the Speak for Yourself video tutorials which will show you how to use the talker
- Join the Speak for Yourself users group on Facebook. You’ll get real time answers from an experienced group of AAC users, SLPs and family members.
- Subscribe to the Uncommon Sense blog and PrAACtical AAC for excellent useful suggestions.
- Watch the Getting Started With AAC webinar
Now you’re ready to take action:
- Explore the talker to learn the location of words. I turned the volume down and took it to choir and found words that I was singing. “Now I walk in beauty…” You can sit at a cafe and plunk out your observations. “She drank too much coffee.” “I like his blue shirt.” Use the search function and then challenge yourself to repeating a phrase from memory.
- Consider just a few words you want to open for your child, perhaps 2-4. Start small. Choose words that are highly motivating and can be used with some frequency. As you go through your day, think about how you might use them. For example, I just put Aidan in his wheelchair. This would be a great moment for him to ask me to turn it ON. We’re having dinner and I know he’ll want MORE food. Read this Getting Started post for more comprehensive information about choosing words.
- Use the talker. Even though you’re all about presuming competence and believing in your child, just use it without expectation at first. Sit at the dinner table and tell your child you’ll give him MORE using the talker. Show him how he can ask for MORE. Modeling is the fancy word for using the talker. Just using it yourself means you’re succeeding already!
A few tidbits to consider:
- We are incredibly fortunate to have two ipads. We use one for modeling but it is set up with the same programming as Aidan’s talker. It has the same words open. We use Babble as a separate activity to explore words for fun, but otherwise we never have all of his words open.
- Consider making the iPad a dedicated device, meaning, use it strictly for communication. You can do this by triple clicking on the home button (we call it the belly button) and that will lock it into the app (Guided Access). Then when you turn on the iPad it opens to Speak for Yourself instead of having to navigate through the home screen. You can triple click to get out of Guided Access Mode. Both ipads go to school with Aidan and one is strictly his talker. The extra one is used to take pictures of his day, receive messages, and model words. Once we saw Aidan’s success, it was easy to give these up to him.
- If you are like anyone else who has used Speak for Yourself, you will lock yourself out of editing at some point and freak out that you broke that app. No worries. There is a tiny purple lock icon in the upper right corner that someone accidentally pushed. Go to “settings” on the iPad. Find “Speak for Yourself” then enable “editing.” That will allow you to open/close words and edit them. I keep ours locked most of the time and only unlock for programmming.
Now you have some decisions to make: (I’m listing these in order because one will impact the next)
- If your child uses a wheelchair you want to consider how to attach the talker to the chair so he can have his words accessible all the time. We are happy with our Daessy mount. Yes, it’s a bit cumbersome but it’s easy to use. Others use the Modular Hose system. It gives you more flexibility in using the talker in different places but the clip also takes a little umph to use. Pros and cons everywhere.
- Now you can choose a case and stand for the iPad. We use a case specific for the Daessy mount. We use a Gripcase for the extra iPad, complete with a strap so we can wear it when we are assisting Aidan with walking. I’ve also used the Big Grips case with the stand. Both of these are good choices as they are lightweight and durable. Now that the Big Grips has the Lift, it’s also portable, though it appears to only be available for the Air. The iAdapter case is an excellent and more comprehensive choice as well, but it’s very expensive. This is Dana’s review of the iAdapter case which she uses with her daughter.
- If your child has fine motor issues and the reason you hesitated in buying this app is because you didn’t think she could touch such tiny buttons, buy a keyguard. Lasered Pics makes one specifically for the Speak for Yourself app but you will need to specify which case you have. Ours have taken a beating so consider buying two so you have one on hand just in case and you don’t have to pay for shipping twice. Here is Dana’s review of the keyguard. Ours has square openings and the slide to unlock space open. I can tell you that Aidan’s fine motor abilities have improved greatly since starting with his talker because he is highly motivated to push the right button to say what he wants. We use double sided tape squares from Target to attach it because they are thinner than velcro tabs. Because we have to remove the guard for editing, we have to replace the tape at times.
- Finally, consider getting a bluetooth speaker. The volume of the iPad just doesn’t cut it in the hallway at school or at the mall or basically anywhere that other people are talking. We use the ion clipster because it attaches easily to the ipad case. You need to follow the directions to pair it with your device. (Settings, bluetooth, find device)We’ve had issues with it “forgetting” the iPad but I take a deep breath and just reprogram it.
Soon you’ll be ready to look ahead:
- Consider yourself to be an AAC family. This isn’t a therapeutic activity and it’s not even limited to your AAC user. You will find that your child’s success will change your family culture for the better and encourage use of AAC by other family members. Now when we ask about HIs and LOWs of the day at the dinner table, we pass around the extra talker. This helps us become more familiar with it, shows Aidan that we really want to speak his language, and reinforces modeling. Take the talker wherever your child goes so you have ALL THE WORDS ALL THE TIME. You will find that you use it more. Your child should have access to words even in moments we’re expected to be quiet. We turn the volume down at church but Aidan can still see what he’s saying. Some people put one earbud in the child’s ear and one in their own to keep a conversation quiet. Parents shush their kids all the time to teach them the appropriate time to talk, but it all starts with having your words.
- Stay tuned to the right time to do more than make one word requests. Aidan started with one word choices that had immediate consequences such as EAT, DRINK, MORE. That’s a great place to start. Now he can tell us he feels BORED, which gets him only my sympathy while we sit at another long doctor’s appointment, but I’m glad he can tell me. Since we obviously speak in full sentences around him, that’s what he hears in his head. Open some words that add to the sentence. We went from MORE to WANT MORE to WANT MORE PLEASE to I WANT MORE PLEASE. This is no easy task for him but he’ll do it because he’s hearing it in his head. It’s still a request but we’ve drawn it out to a complete sentence. Because we now take his talker everywhere, Aidan has been able to cheer on his brother at cross country meets by saying, “LIAM RUN FASTER.” We’ve opened a bunch of feeling words and some conversational questions (HOW ARE YOU?). Silly words will be next. Pace yourself but be ready to get your brave on again.
- Know that Speak for Yourself has the ability to message or email others. Aidan is a teenager and I find this a great age appropriate way for him to communicate and stay in touch with family. You’ll want to clear your contact list so your child only has contacts that you want him to have. It gets a little tricky using the same apple ID but it can be done. If you are able to purchase the app under a separate Apple ID that would be easiest.
I know this is overwhelming so just bookmark this post and come back to it as needed. You have already taken the best first step and you are not alone. Please keep me posted on your journey and ask any questions you may have. I’m so excited to hear what your child says when he speaks for himself!
This is the part where I tell you I’m not an SLP nor am I affiliated with any of the companies above. I’m just passing along what I’ve learned in using AAC with my son.