Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Exploring AAC

 Last year Mason had an evaluation with an AAC team (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) at our local children's hospital. They recommended we try auditory scanning with Mason, since we have always felt that he seems to hear better than he sees.

Auditory scanning involves listening to choices on an AAC device (iPad, in Mason's case) and waiting until the preferred choice is spoken aloud to hit a switch and choose that item. We've been working with the speech therapist provided by our local school district to try out some of this equipment with him (borrowing equipment from the state assistive tech library).

Before we tried scanning we wanted to be sure Mason understands cause and effect - that he knows hitting a switch helps him control a choice or action. We know he does because he uses his switch to activate a series of rewarding video clips in a simple, free app called "Sensory Room."

He also shows us while watching TV that he knows when to activate the switch (notice how, in the clip below, he is watching his favorite YouTube playlist on TV; when he knows a video is coming on he doesn't like (and he knows them by heart; he particularly doesn't like the song "Do You See an O" so in advance he usually fusses very aggressively to let me know he wants me to skip that one; but now that he has some AAC tools, he isn't fussing; he instead asks me very intentionally for help to skip it by clicking the head switch on his right :)

So, now that we know he understands use of the switch, one of the most basic apps we're using to teach auditory scanning is called Racing Cars  by InclusiveTLC. Mason loves it, and he understands that he needs to hit the switch to activate it; the next step is trickier as the voice will then say "nothing here" and keep saying "nothing here" until it gets to the box showing a car; then it says "a racing car;" Mason, upon hearing "a racing car" must hit his switch to choose it and make it race around the track.

The problem we are having is knowing whether Mason hears well enough to distinguish "nothing here" from "a racing car" when they are spoken in sequence. This is key for him to properly use the technology; we know he hears sound because he giggles but he giggles when either phrase is spoken. We are looking into the possibility that an FM system may help him hear more clearly to distinguish these phrases in a meaningful way. (Many people who do not hear well, even though sound may be amplified by hearing aids, explain that that hearing sound does not necessarily mean understanding the sound, especially on a TV, radio or other device). Mason knows he has to hit his switch again to make the car race, but he has trouble knowing when he should hit it this second time. Pray with us that audiology will be able to help us if know if distinguishing sound is an issue for him, and if so, some possible ways to overcome this.

For now, we are using the app GoTalkNow to make him some basic communication boards. But he'll need to show he can do auditory scanning before they are very functional for him. In the meantime, we're going to have him practice using screen mirroring on our TV (using a digital AV HDMI cord by Apple - where he can play his apps on the iPad but they display on the TV instead, and his switch still works with it). That way the display is much bigger so he can also hopefully see the images better. We are excited that so many options exist for helping kids with dual sensory losses make the most of their existing abilities to communicate with the world around them :) We'll update later with how it's going on the AAC front ...

Mason's Mix

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones