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A new communication device does not build vocabulary

By Slim - Posted on 02 September 2009

This is an essay I wrote for ACOLUG, a mailing list for Alternative & Augmentative Communication (AAC). Augmentative Communication to describe quickly is the field of studying how people use language through means other than their voices or Sign Language. People who use Augmentative Communication, called Augmentative Communicators, typically use speech generatiing devices or manual communication boards. We as Augmentative Communicators typically has some physical limitations along with the inability to express ourselves clearly through speech. On the lower end in terms of physical ability of an Augmentative Communicator is the famous Stephen Hawking where has limited movement of his whole body and cannot use his voice to speak. On the higher end of the ability spectrum is myself where I am physically able to move but can only use broken sign language and speech at best.  Peter is looking for more sophisticated language system to use than her current 60 location device that she has at this time. He was looking for a new device. Here is my response to him.    I am a digest reader of the mailing list. So my responses is a little slow at times. This thread of Peter trying to find his 6 year old daughter a new device intrigued my interest, because it brings up a few things that needs to be considered before a new device is thought about being purchased. Or at least I feel anyway.    I have a few questions about the trial of 84 locations in the Vantage II last year with your daughter. Just buying a new fancy schmancy device wouldn't help her struggles in building a more sophisticated vocabulary. Especially since she possibly has issues with accessing a more "sophisticated" language solution (smaller icons and more complex sequence structures) with her vision and learning disability.       First how was the 84 location introduced to her? Was a second Vantage II brought in or the Vantage PASS program used? So she could use her familiar 60 locations to ask questions and comments while she was transitioning Minspeak MAPS from 60 location to 84 location. Plus with the PASS you could use a larger computer monitor to explain what the ICON is therefore she could just train herself to memorize the ICON by location not necessarily by face. She may adapt to smaller ICONS once she has the spatial mapping down of the 84 Location MAP as compared to 60 Location MAP. Some who don't use Minspeak on a daily basis, or may know the basics may say switching Minspeak MAPS shouldn't be so hard.    As a person who has transitioned from Word Strategy with Liberator, to Unity 128 on Pathfinder, and currently making the transition Unity 84 with the Vantage Lite. Language wise it's like speaking different dialects of the same Language.  Subtle differences that only native speakers would struggle on. Most of the issues stem from the motor memory. Which if you say she's been using her device since she was 3 she developed a motor memory where she doesn't think about the sequence just the word, and her body does the rest out of routine.  If she does have some dyslexic and visual impairments the transitioned to a new device may take just as long. 84 locations has more choices, more things to think about because sequences are different, and it takes more fine motor control practice to be efficient on that layout. So the question remains what was the issues with the more "sophisticated" 84 location layout on the same device?    I am 31, considered myself fairly intelligent, and been using Minspeak for 15 years with much success. Yet still I have a hard time locating a word in Unity 84 MAP just because it's not what I'm comfortable with at the moment spatially. The thing that helps me is that I was taught how to navigate the semantics of the ICON sequences. Rationalizing my way through the ICON relationships until they are more . With a 6 year old who just probably bull memorize the sequences on the 64 location MAP will undoubtedly have a hard time transitioning. Which brings me to the next question what's the team plan or road map to help her expand her vocabulary in Unity? You definitely want to have a chat with Robin Hurd of the AAC Institute about this. Because building a language of a young AAC user is a bit tricky. They need reinforcements in they everyday life. Just like like language development of "normal speakers" is reinforced by reading a book together. You correct them as they read and speak the words out loud. They build their vocabulary and fine tune their pronouniation while looking at the words all at 1 time. AAC users need that reinforcement in their chosen language system as well to grow and become more "sophisticated"  in its use as well. Again Robin Hurd is the expert on some techniques of how the Nuts and Bolts of this works.    I am playing around with the vocabulary builder that comes with my Vantage Lite. That's a good way for introducing new words and into the realm of an AugCommer's vocabulary. Reminds me of my youth building my vocabulary on my manual word board. While transitioning to a new SLP that just took over for the SLP who created my manual board. My manual board was as complex as Minspeak, and many who were not familiar with AAC were afraid of it. So the new hire didn't know what to do with me and another student who used the same exact board I used. So every Friday we had a joint session where we play King of the Board. The SLP had flash cards with vocabulary words that were already present on the board. The board was made similar to word Power, so there's over 500 words on it. We sat across the table from one another. Palms of hands had to start flat on the table. Then when the SLP held up the card, the first person who got it right got a point. Best out of 10, and you have to win by 2 points to get the Candy. We were very competitive so the session was fun and interactive. We didn't get the list ahead of time. So we had to be prepared for any "core" word. The activity worked on a lot simultaenously. It worked on our memory recall, speed  and accuracy of our pointing, and the urgency of communication.    An adaption to the game for Communication Devices. More specific PRC devices as they are what I am most familiar with in communicating. You don't have to have another device, but use the emulator of the PASS software you received with the device. You could play with your daughter, a sibling can, or a friend can as well using the mouse or keyboard on the computer.That way it can be a family event where everyone can participate and talk smack in the name of fun. This could be a class activity too, but it's more fun in a family setting where parents can say " I'm better than you grasshopper". Then the day you see the kid just on fire, and everyone is urging them on. There's no better feeling. The opposite can be said too. If you as a parent are always slow in the game, and one day just catch fire and stick your chest out like your the stuff in a playful way. No better feeling four the Aug Com user, because it is full inclusion. Not just them alone learning and being excited about learning Minspeak or any other language system vocabulary (WordPower, PCS Symbols, Bliss, etc.). The focus is on everyone competing against each other on a level playing field. It would be really interesting to see a Ruler of the Device tournament Event at the next PEC. See some of the best AAC users compete for bragging rights. Of course the two players should use the same access method like scanning, direct select with finger or mouse pointer, direct select with a joystick or a tracker, to play Ruler of the Device. I think it would be a fun event anyway.   I'm getting off topic, but my point is if a device has the capaabilities to have a more sophisticated language and the device is in good working condition otherwise. Does the team know or have the support to build vocabulary as the Aug Commer grows and evolves. A new AAC device might make the learning curve easier, but still the major issue is how to give the person the best chance how to acquire the more sophisticated vocabulary.   I am no expert, but just giving people things and options to think about in developing language