"My son is 20 months old and though he lacks a diagnosis, has many symptoms of cerebral plasy—he lacks a suck/swallow reflex, has significant motor delays and will likely be non-verbal. There are questions about his hearing, but it's clear to us that he understands what we say and can follow direction (when he wants to). We are told his cognition is very good, which is really the only good news we've gotten. We're seeing a speech therapist who specializes in AAC but as I've learned, we have to do our own research to educate ourselves and make sure we're asking the right questions. So, that's why I'm emailing you. Can the Proloquo2Go work for kids who can't yet read? Have you used any other apps that you've found useful? I recognize that Max didn't have access to an iPad when he was a little one since they didn't exist, so I'm really curious what worked for you and how you helped Max express himself."—Shanna
When Max was two, we wanted to make sure he had a means of sharing his wants and needs. So we did the most basic thing: We snapped a bunch of photos of stuff in his life, then taped them onto pages and labeled them by section: People/Toys/Clothes/Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner/Places To Go. We assembled them all in a looseleaf binder. When we opened the page for him, he could basically gesture at what he wanted (he hadn't yet started to point or shake his head). It did the job.
Eventually, we moved onto the PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System). It's an alternative communication option involving illustrations and is more advanced, in that a child has to understand the concept of drawings representing reality. They feature words.
Pictures about feelings, for example, look like this:
Max had a Dynavox device for a couple of years, which he mostly used at school. We found it overly complicated to program, but the latest version looks easier to use and now there's an app that can be downloaded. And then, iPads came around along with The Proloquo2Go ($219.99), also based on illustrations with words. That was a big game-changer for Max, who took to the technology right away (he loves computer anything). A couple of years ago, Max appeared in a demonstration video made by the company:
A child doesn't have to read to use the P2Go. You can create a super-simple page layout (say, just three images) and it can grow with a child (Max is now putting words together to form sentences). And you can upload photos, too. A child just needs the manual dexterity to tap the images; the P2Go actually encouraged Max to isolate his pointer finger.
Of course, there's the X factor—whether or not your child takes to an app. Other options I've heard about: My First AAC app, which as you'd expect is very basic—but is also just $24.99.
There's also a great app called Speak for Yourself ($199.99). Dana Nieder of Uncommon Sense has written about the success her daughter Maya's had with it; there's a free version on iTunes, Speak For Yourself Lite, to try. Here's Dana's video review (read more about their communication journey here):
Parents, speech pathologists and AAC specialists: What tips do you have for encouraging communication in tots who aren't verbal? What are your experiences using speech apps with young children? Please, share.
PECS images: amp'ed