Nic is a delightful and interactive student in grade 5 at Huband Park Elementary. Although very engaged and communicative, he is non-verbal. Nic uses a lot of vocalizations, contact gestures (i.e. putting your hand on something he wants your help with) and actions (i.e. going to his backpack to indicate he wants to get his lunch out and eat, or to the door to indicate he wants to go for a walk) to communicate. Familiar communication partners are well able to interpret his behaviours, but his opportunities to communicate with a larger number of people has been limited. As well, he has only been able to communicate his wants and opinions in his immediate environment. Since March 2013, he has had another tool which is opening communication doors for him. It has also helped to develop his receptive language and has created other learning opportunities for him.
Nic’s team received a Logan ProxTalker communication device from SET-BC with the intention of giving him a way to communicate more messages with more people. The team chose the Logan ProxTalker for Nic for many reasons: it is concrete and simple, the act of communicating is very physical which matched his level of understanding and his fine motor skills, it has voice output, and it is robust. The hope was that it would give him more independence while developing his communication skills.
The Logan ProxTalker is a nice transitional step between low-tech picture symbol systems (“pics”) and more complex, dynamic display communication systems. It works by using tags (plastic cards of two sizes with symbols or photos on the front and a RFID—radio frequency identification, or “smart label”—barcode on the back) with a set of velcro pages for tag storage and a base that uses a RFID reader to translate to voice output. The communicator selects the tag with his desired message (a single one or a set of them to create short phrases), places it on the base, and presses it to activate the voice output. The Logan ProxTalker is the best of all worlds for an emerging communicator—it makes use of the tangible concept of a low-tech pic system and has the flexibility and scope of a technological communication system. It also has the naturally understood and effective elements of voice output.
Along the way in learning how to use the Logan ProxTalker, Nic has experienced challenges with symbolic interpretation. He would very intentionally communicate using his “talker” but he did not understand for a long time that different tags represented different messages. In other words, he used the Logan ProxTalker to gain his listener’s attention and deliver a message but was still expecting his communication partner to interpret what he was wanting. Consistent reinforcement of his message has helped him to understand that the specific tag choice was as important as the communicative act itself in getting access to what he was hoping for!
Nic also interacts with a collection of specially created Choose It Maker activities on his SET-BC loaned touch screen (paired with a desktop computer). These Choose It Maker activities are designed to develop his skills with 1) cause and effect using direct selection, 2) interpretation of symbols, 3) discrimination between symbols, 4) identifying common vocabulary items and early concepts, and 5) following simple directions. His work with these activities has contributed greatly to his success in using the Logan ProxTalker and will hopefully help him have a smooth transition to an AAC device with a dynamic screen display in the near future. He has made such amazing gains over the last few years that it is only a matter of time.
Nic’s communication independence, opportunities for choice-making, and receptive and symbolic language skills have increased because of his use of his “talker.” His journey in learning how to use his communication system has not been a quick process, but it has been steady and exciting. He is currently trialing Touch Chat Suite’s new 4 Basic Vocab on an iPad. Nic’s world continues to open up thanks to technology. This awesome kid has so much yet to say!