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Why do you post conversations?

I don’t prioritize full length blogs the way that I would love to, but I do post snippets and conversations of our life over at Facebook at all the time.

Why?

Because the internet is still filled with stories about how disability = unable, how “non-verbal” = nothing to say… One such story posted on HONY today, a story I tried to give the benefit of the doubt when a friend messaged me about it. Except that she was right, and I was wrong. We cannot give those stories the benefit of the doubt. We don’t have the privilege, not when the mainstream story is still that reading books and learning is a pipe dream for the majority of our kids.

I share these conversations because I want to show the world — and many parents — how much their child can do, right now, as their child is. We didn’t “uncover” Diva. She wasn’t “hidden inside”. She is just herself. She has multiple disabilities. She learns differently. She is impacted both by her disability and by the way society treats her. One of those things can be changed.

Diva has conversations with us using single words and telegraphic speech. She uses signs, body language, AAC, and vocalizations. Sometimes she goes all day only talking about Diego & The Wolf Pup Rescue. Sometimes we go a long time with her ignoring us and hanging out in her room. All of those conversations can — and should — be respected and valued just as much as any conversation with past tense and contractions. Her conversations are shared because you need to know that your child can do this too.

Little Man sees the world through a completely different lens than the neurotypical child. He struggles with the gray areas of thinking and problem-solving, but he also is creative. He struggles with abstraction and social norms, but he also has a big heart for friendship and kindness. He struggles to understand jokes, but he also loves to be silly as he recently told his aunt. None of these things are not mutually exclusive. His conversations are shared because you need to know your child can do this too.

I don’t want their lives to be inspiration porn. I don’t want people to read a conversation and think that Diva has “overcome”. Overcoming is crap. The only thing she has to overcome is this world’ stupid projections on her, and I don’t think that’s fair. I’d rather tear those projections down than force her to fight against them. My biggest hope for each of my children’s lives is simply that they will be seen and loved without feeling a need for pretense or hiding. Isn’t that what we want for every child?

The true story is that there is value in their way of thinking, being, and interacting in the world, without a need to become more neurotypical. In fact, I don’t want them to be more neurotypical. Their value is being who they are as they are, just as my value or yours is made. And so I write. I share the everyday moments of our lives. And I hope that every child with a disability will know the same things — that their voice is heard and that they are seen.

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Appy Monday: Clicker Communicator Review

App: Clicker Communicator

What it’s for: Communicator is an AAC app with three built-in levels of vocabulary. It’s a core word language app with lots of available language on vocabulary level 2 or 3. Clicker comes with Acapela voices and the Symbolstix image library. You can also create stand-alone vocabulary sets that could be used to supplement children’s systems. For example, if you were reading about climate change and wanted children to access words not in their systems, you could create a board for that. There’s also dozens of pre-made materials for various songs and activities.

What we love:

Home page of Clicker for Diva. Black background, gray message bar, red delete button, with nine Super Key clusters with different word types. Pronouns and prepositions to the left, verbs in the middle, descriptive words on the right.

Screenshot of Diva’s Clicker screen.

Screenshot of a super key. Gray message bar window, black background. Six keys in different colors with the messages: chat, actions, describe, don't, not, and wait.

Screenshot of a Super Key after it is selected.

Super Keys!!! The Super Key option is hands-down the reason why we switched Diva from Proloquo2Go to Clicker Communicator. Super Keys makes this one of the very best apps out there for children with more significant visual and/or motor challenges, in my opinion. What’s a Super Key? You can see in the images below that the main home screen of Diva’s page has been split into nine clusters of keys. When she hits that cluster, the six icons on that Super Key then enlarge. With Super Keys, Diva now has 45 buttons on a screen. The most she has ever had before was 25, and she really did better with 18 or less. It adds one extra hit, so to speak, but it opens up the whole world as her maximum vocabulary size tripled. And we are fairly confident that we will be able to expand this grid with time and add 3 more rows, one row per Super Key — another one thousand words. That will make her layout competitive with the number of words in LAMP, Proloquo2Go, and other robust language apps. Super Keys also has increased her independence and accuracy more than anything else we have tried — more than keyguards, more than spacing, more than color-coding.

The main edit screen for communicator. The topics (or pages/folders) are listed to the left, with the current page being edited in the middle. Color choices are at the bottom.

The main edit screen for Communicator.

Editing screen of Clicker Communicator, with an animals pop-up. 12 animals are displayed that you can touch to add to the page.

Displaying a pop-up where you can select images for a page.

Editing – Communicator has some of the easiest editing features that I have played with. You can literally type a list of words in, hit enter, and it will send the words to buttons — and add pictures for you. You can also pull-up the pictures from your symbol library and select the ones you want to add. It will be inserted in the order that you click. If you’ve pre-colored buttons, they will keep their color as the words are added. Swapping button position is as easy as drag-and-drop. It’s pretty easy to pull up a button and make changes — will this button speak? Open another topic? Insert words? It didn’t take long to figure out, but there are also some really good support systems in place if you struggle with technology, including a built-in help guide. I’m now so in love with their way of adding words and pictures that I feel frustrated when I open other apps and have to add words button-by-button.

Gray message screen with

Picture supported word prediction keyboard. Alphabetical and QWERTY layouts are available. You can also edit the number of words predicted.

Keyboard – The Communicator keyboard also uses Super Keys if enabled. The extra bonus comes with the picture-supported keyboard. While we rarely use picture supported writing during journals, I love the picture supports for communication. It will assist my daughter to find words independently, while also giving her a way to access UNLIMITED vocabulary.

Alarm – I have to make sure I mention Diva’s favorite feature, which is that you can set a button to sound an alarm, rather than speak text. This is when it became clear to me that Clicker knows its audience and has worked with children with multiple disabilities for a long time. This alarm is essential for her — it gives her a loud and quick way to call for us across the house. She also tends to use it these days to say something like, “I mean it!”:)

What’s okay: The vocabulary templates are pretty solid. They include core, fringe, and keyboard access. There are spaces marked to help you remember to put things in (like “my name is…”). My only complaint is that the layout was not necessarily designed with Super Keys users in mind. This makes some of the positioning a little awkward. There might be 3 different colors of word types on a single Super Key. It’s still usable, but we did end up designing our own vocabulary layout.

Support: The support team for Communicator has been hands-down amazing. We participated in one webinar that was offered to the public, but were then able to set-up a second webinar for ourselves, Diva’s team, and a friend to ask specific questions about Super Keys and scanning. The Faceook group is small but the support staff have been really on top of it. They have answered questions, taken ideas/suggestions, and helped troubleshoot the things that come with any brand new app roll-out. I’m a HUGE fan.

Caveats: We have not yet tried any switch control with Clicker Communicator, since Diva uses direct access. I could see the set-up’s working really well with switch scanning, automatic or two-step, but I can’t speak for it personally.

Price: $150, with in-app purchases of PCS or Widgit symbols for $50 each

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Friday Five: Shaking It Up 

Sometimes I find our language modeling is getting stale. The first sign is usually that we begin noticing repetitive conversations and phrases. We aren’t branching out, and so Diva is not branching out. We might use the device a little less, and rely more on guesswork and gestures. Here are five things we do to help keep the routine from getting stale — and to keep expanding Diva’s language. 

  1. Add more words. And make them interesting ones! Add more basic core words, certainly, but also add fun words like delicious and aggravated and mime. Part of learning to talk is falling in love with the language. Give your child things that s/he can fall in love with. And if your system has no room for playful words, it might be time to explore new systems. 
  2. Add special interests. A lot of moms I know talk about how they add new TV characters when their child starts losing interest in their talker. This makes so much sense to me because our kids need to be able to talk about the things THEY love. If they can’t, they won’t use it. Add TV characters and train line stops and the titles to favorite songs. Give them a way to tell you about what they love. We just added the characters from Yo Gabba Gabba, and you can bet that was the first thing Diva wanted to talk about in the morning. 
  3. Double-check: are you ensuring access to the system all the time? Systems are so easy to get left behind. This is why we use a Gab & Go Harness. When we start seeing a drop in language use, we often find that we weren’t doing our best to re-attach her harness after a bath, or first thing in the morning. The talker HAS to be there to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. If your child cannot have constant access or easily initiate their full system, maybe consider teaching use of an “I have something to say!” wrist band (raise arm in air), Big Mack, or other way to provide a link between child and system. And make that always available. 
  4. Try a new activity. Be creative and try a new play activity that might spark ideas for words. New activities inspire us to try new words, but they also offer us a chance to let go of the “I know her like a mom does” thing. We make a lot of assumptions about what our kids think and feel. New activities force us to drop that and see what they actually SAY about this. And there are so many different things we can explore. In a FB community, a mom mentioned having her child direct her to make different things with Play-Doh. Dana wrote a blog about TV character puppets. We have used new music videos to spark conversation, since Diva is hugely into music. I think it’s really, really important for the activity to be chosen because it’s FUN, not because of its therapeutic value. FUN is what gets kids talking. 
  5. Create a new family ritual. Find a way to add a 2-3 minute family ritual to your day that relies on communication. Don’t make it hard or a burden. And don’t pick a time of day that’s already hectic. Morning rituals would be a disaster for us. Evenings work better. Dinner. Before bed. After bath. Rituals can be prayers, questions about days, telling stories, sharing a cuddle on the couch, working together on a puzzle . It’s what works for YOUR family and what causes you to model. One of our favorites is to have everyone share a highlight or funny part of their day at the beginning of dinner. It doesn’t happen every single night, but it happens often. We model things that we say, and then we give Diva her own turn. Seeing her participate on her own has been awesome. No more guessing or relying on teacher’s notes. She says herself – “markers markers markers” and “favorite show want get”. That’s worth all the time and effort in the world. 
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How We Do It: Her Words, Not Ours

Two weeks ago, we wrote about how we familiarize ourselves with Diva’s talker and get comfortable with the concept of modeling. This week, I’m focusing on how we started modeling language — what we modeled, when we modeled. A lot of families and classrooms start with a few focus core words, like the year of core words. They choose 9-12 words to model for a month, rotating throughout the year. This can also be done by choosing 2-4 words per week. More, eat, play, want, those all tend to be really good starting words. This approach works for a lot of families. I’ve even recommended this approach for families. It builds familiarity with the system. It offers lots of options. It prevents you from getting stuck on the same 5 words and never moving forward. It’s a good approach.

It doesn’t work for us.

I’ll never forget a Linda Burkhart workshop where I asked about this, and whether we should choose focus words. She responded by reminding me that part of communication autonomy means that Diva gets to decide her first words. She gets to decide which words are important to her. Toddlers aren’t limited to 12-15 words we think are most important. Some of them choose really strange words to fall into their first 10 words, based off how they sound and what reaction they create. Diva needs the same opportunity. She needs all the words, and she needs to decide what’s powerful.

Still, that can be overwhelming. All the words? But we’re brand new! We’ve never done this before! Where do I start? Start by knowing that you will make so many mistakes in this process. Communication is messy. You will miss opportunities. You will accidentally speak over your child and move their hand from the board. You will guess wrong. You will forget the talker on the table when you’re in the bedroom. You will forget to charge it. And none of that is going to wreck your child’s communication for life. Start by doing the best you can right now, and knowing that you will keep growing.

When did we model? We chose one or two routines to observe and focus on modeling language. We started with snacks and meals, because the positioning is really good, access is easy, and both parents are there. We made sure she had her device all day long, but we took extra time to think about and pull in communication to these meals. After a few days, we started doing more during play time with her. Then, we focused on modeling whenever we were transitioning to a new place. This isn’t perfect, but we found that as we gained fluency in these routines, we started modeling at other times of the day very naturally. Without planning, without thinking, we started modeling her system all day long. And we started modeling a lot more things than a word of the week. Our lives are busy with attention split in 20 different ways at any given time, and this is what worked for us.

What did we model? We watched HER. We wanted to guess what words would matter to HER. Not our words. Not what we think matters. But what might matter to her. What objects is she looking towards? Reaching for? What are the other people in her life touching, playing with, watching right now? Does she need a way to request or comment on those objects? What is Diva’s body telling us? Is she smiling? Frowning? Does she appear frustrated, mad, or sad? Is she spitting that food out or munching on it happily? Does she ask for this thing again and again, might it be a favorite? What choices can we offer her — not choices of requests, but choices of things she may want to say? Linda referred to this as linguistic mapping — mapping language on to what a child’s body language and expressions may be telling us. Linguistic mapping is hands-down the most powerful thing that we have done for Diva. And her first words with her talker weren’t nouns, nor were they more, want, eat, play. They were “next” like “What’s next?” and “next song”. They were “mad” and “frustrated” and words to express her disapproval of what was happening around her. They were “go away” (first two word phrase).

We do model what we are saying and doing. The slowing down of our phrases and highlighting key words has helped with understanding and providing a rich vocabulary. It also automatically gives us content to model, since we tend to speak too much anyways. But it’s never been our focus. Our focus is always about what she might want to say. If we are modeling “STOP”, 97% of the times it is modeled are because she may want the swing to stop, may want us to stop, may want to leave the activity. Her talker isn’t a way for us to dictate what she must say and do in her life. It is her voice.  Hers. It is her way to control her world, express her feelings, and be the independent and sassy tween that she is.

To close, I’ll leave you with some examples of things that we may model during a short snack, hoping to showcase the way that we make this about her words (not ours) —

  • Do you want COOKIES or PUDDING?
  • I wonder if COOKIES are your FAVORITE.
  • That looks DELICIOUS.
  • I think you might be HAPPY or EXCITED.
  • You want MORE.
  • Your brother is LOUD. You DON’T LIKE.
  • This is MESSY and STICKY.
  • Do you NEED a NAPKIN?
  • Maybe it tastes SWEET.
  • I wonder if you want to EAT or DRINK right now.
  • You are FINISHED.
  • You look like you WANT to GO.
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How We Do It: Modeling Language, Part 1

Over the past year, I’ve become fluent in AAC-speak across several systems. I model language in all of my waking hours, between work and home and play. Anytime there is a device around, I am touching it (with consent) and showing where words can be found, what things we can say, how those pictures relate to what is happening all around us. It was not always this easy, and so I am sharing a few tips that got us here.

1. Carry it everywhere. I mean EVERYWHERE. Be sure that AAC is available in the bathroom and the car, at a restaurant, on a swing, at the park. Bring the device to small group art projects, trampoline play, pretend play center, the cafeteria, and whatever else pops up in your school day. Do your very best to find ways for your child’s voice to be available everywhere they go, all day long. This is even more important for children who are not able to fall back on gestures and vocalizations, or who cannot go get their device on their own. Use a harness. Try different straps. Find a mount for the wheelchair. Attach pages to walls and tables. You, the adult, wear it, if your child or student will not. Find one way or many ways that you can make sure the device, the book, the system is always, always at your finger tips. It is impossible for me to exaggerate the importance of this first step. If this is all you do for two weeks, three weeks, or even a month, then you are being successful. We need to get in the habits of always having our children’s words available to them, just as speech is always available to those without AAC. To leave a device unavailable is to tape our children’s mouth shut. Yes, I know that sounds extreme. It’s true, though. What way does your child have to share her thoughts or his opinions without it? Can they effectively protest, reject, gain attention, and comment when their system is on the other side of the house? We are so serious about this around here that when Husband forgets to attach Diva’s harness before she scoots into the living room, he immediately apologizes to her. When I get a picture from OT, I say — “Where is her talker?” When we visit her at school, we note whether her words are within finger tip’s reach from her. Yes, it is that important.

2. Play. Whenever we have made changes to Diva’s system, we’ve spent time each night, after she goes to sleep, just playing on her talker. It doesn’t have to be long. Five minutes is enough. We don’t have a mission of what we want to say. No agenda. We’re not practicing for something, rehearsing scripts and phrases. We are literally just playing. We hit buttons repeatedly to hear what the word sounds like. We string together nonsense sentences. We follow our whims as we open this folder, close that one. Play is so important. It takes off the pressure to “figure it out” and know what’s happening. It lets us experience the joy and playful associations that come with visual and auditory language, re-experiencing the way we played with sounds and words as  a toddler ourselves. I’ve seen myself that when staff members and general education peers feel comfortable approaching talkers just to play, their language modeling increases dramatically over the course of the day. They are so much more comfortable with the system and with their own understandings of it.

3. Practice. Now we start practicing, often when the child or AAC user is asleep, unless you have a second system. You can also practice on a printed version of the child’s high-tech AAC if you do not have access to their device (such as a teacher who cannot take a child’s device home). Brainstorm some things that you may want to say to your child, something that you wish you knew where it was today. Look for those words and phrases. Practice putting them together and then speaking the message, if you have a system with a message window. One of our favorite ways to practice is to watch videos on YouTube: a clip of your child’s favorite TV show, a cute video of a baby laughing, or a video of two kids playing — whatever seems relevant to your lives. The first time through, we brainstorm things we might say. The second time through, we practice using that phrase in the moment. This takes all of five minutes — two minutes to watch the clip, one minute to find words, and two minutes to practice using it in the moment. Five minutes a day and you will be prepared for all kinds of topics as they come up during the day.

4. Converse. When you are feeling really brave and ready, you can build on your practice by having conversation. Sit with your best friend, your husband, your mom, and chat using only AAC. One of the moms in a favorite blog of ours has spent days speaking only through AAC, which taught her so much about the experience of living our children’s lives — and made her very comfortable with AAC! We’ve done dinner time with one parent speaking through AAC only. It was eye-opening in learning which words were not available, but also in slowing down our speech and engaging conversation around the table. Our son thought it was so fun that he asked for us to put her app on his iPad so that he could join us in using AAC!

Of all these things, carrying a device everywhere is the most important. It’s difficult to take advantage of opportunities when the device is in the next room — or still at home. I know that none of these things are actual language modeling to your child, directly, building their skills. Your fluency helps, though. It builds comfort and confidence. It takes away that awkward feeling that comes when you first try to speak and touch pictures at the same time, especially around people who may not be familiar with your child or AAC. That “I feel weird” is often the biggest hurdle for parents and staff to overcome. Who do you want to learn French from? The struggling student who is also learning to memorize a series of nouns, or the fluent speaker who can break things down, show new paths, and illustrate the rich joy of language? You want to be that fluent speaker. Creativity and inspiration come when automaticity allows our brains to focus on what we are saying, rather than how we are saying it (via device, instead of vocal speech). Besides — it shows our children that we are serious about their voices, that we find value and importance in learning to speak to them in their language. And that is an important first step.

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Mission: Independence!

I’ve written about Diva’s AAC system before, along with where we were when we started. My sweet girl has worked so hard to express herself, and come so far. She tells us when she’s frustrated, mad, tired, and happy. She asks for her favorite shows, for milkshakes (“dessert juice”), and Christmas songs. She bosses all of us around, just like any almost-tween. It is sort of hard to believe that she only started accessing a speech-generating device less than a year ago.

Since then, we’ve learned about, explored, and assessed some other systems — high-tech PODD 15+, Unity 45 One-Hit on an Accent 800, LAMP on an Accent 800, and even Compass. We’ve almost succumbed to the lure of the internet and the “this app is the best thing EVER!”, as well as the guilt of whether we are doing enough. The thing is that Diva has multiple disabilities. She doesn’t have autism, or a genetic syndrome, or apraxia. She has both visual impairments and physical disabilities. In fact, she used to be considered legally blind, though her vision has improved substantially over the past six months. When we talk about not being able to access small buttons, she both cannot see the buttons and cannot manipulate her hands to isolate each button. With an impending school move, we spent the past week making some “final” (ha!) changes to her current system — always trying to find that balance between independence and ALL-THE-WORDS! I thought I’d describe some of her system so that you can see how we worked through this, in hopes that it helps other kids who are struggling with being able to be autonomous communicators.

Home page of Diva's talker.

What she’s using: Proloquo2Go on an iPad Mini, attached to her via the Gab N Go Harness. We chose the smaller screen of a mini for its portability. We wanted to be sure Diva could carry her own talker everywhere she goes. P2G is probably the most customizable system that I’ve had my hands on, which is why it keeps working for her. I think the danger of P2G is that people end up with a series of words or pages, instead of a language system. We’ve worked really, really hard to make sure that Diva has a language system.

Access: Diva uses direct access via hand. We tried step-scanning and automatic scanning, but she has literally thrown the devices at us each time we have done this. She has no desire for any of that. She wants to do it herself. She is able to isolate her pointer for short amounts of time or with light adult support, but adult support is interpreted by presume-incompetence people as proof these aren’t her words. They are her words. They are 100% her words. So a huge reason we made changes was to increase her ability to independently access the words, no adult support, and speak her mind.

Visual design: Diva has been using high contrast icons since January very successfully. The high contrast PCS decrease visual clutter and extra details, as well as use color to help differentiate pictures that would often look very similar (e.g., all the faces with emotions). With CVI, the more she sees pictures, the more she can visually understand them. We recently noticed that she had switched from relying on auditory feedback (push button, hear it speak, decide if that’s what she wants) to visual scanning the images. We switched the button backgrounds to black. We deleted one row, moving her from a 5×5 array to a 6×4 array. On P2G, this means that her buttons became squares and the images became bigger. We also increased the space between buttons to decrease mishits (hitting the button to the side or above accidentally). At first, we had everything in yellow borders. After talking with a dear friend, we realized that adding the color borders would help communication partners to identify words more quickly when modeling. I already think it’s helping Diva as well.

Language organization: Diva’s language system has been designed from scratch, with a focus on core words. The customizable features of P2G means that we have been able to keep features from different apps that work for her. The first page consists of all folders, each of which open to a second page of 24 vocabulary buttons. We don’t repeat any words, one path per word. Our original hope was for her words to be within 2 hits, such as with apps like Speak for Yourself. Except we presumed competence, she kept growing, and we realized that we need something that will be able to grow and grow and grow. So we incorporated a couple of other features we love — the categories page and list features from PODD. Both of these features allow us to collect and add fringe words in easily accessible ways, without substantially increasing the amount of hits. The absolute most number of hits to access any word in her system is 4, with most words being between 2 and 3. I am not someone who thinks “number of hits” is the be-all, end-all feature of AAC. I do think that the more we can keep visual scanning needs down, the more independent Diva will be. It’s taken a lot of time and feedback to come to these decisions, but we’e tried to think through everything — where words will go, what color, where “clear message” and “turn the page” are located (same place on every single page). We have a “cheat sheet” that shows where and how words are placed. Nothing is added without thinking through the whole system. Nothing is added because it will make things easier right now without thinking about what Diva needs long-term.

The second page (under "look") of her talker. Notice "TV shows" in the far right column, which leads to a  list. This will be a pop-up when P2G 4.0 comes out.

The second page (under “look”) of her talker. Notice “TV shows” in the far right column, which leads to a list. This will be a pop-up when P2G 4.0 comes out.

This is Diva's categories page with her current unmasked categories. The left column shows one of my favorite things in PODD -- a way for kids to quickly help us know what they are telling or asking even if they are not yet using tenses.

This is Diva’s categories page with her current unmasked categories. The left column shows one of my favorite things in PODD — a way for kids to quickly help us know what they are telling or asking even if they are not yet using tenses.

Vocabulary selection: We used the UNC Center for Literacy & Disability Studies’ forty word core word list to decide the core words that needed to be most easily accessed. We then used a bunch of high frequency core word lists to select vocabulary. Her personal core consists of family names, television shows, most frequently used toys, and therapists/teachers in her life. We collect lists of fringe words and add them in the evenings. The vast majority of her current vocabulary is unmasked, which means they are visible to her. She’s learned so many new words through modeling and babbling — hiding the words seems to be a bad decision. If we weren’t sure about this, I hid some words and walked in to her pressing blank spaces repeatedly, looking for where her words had gone. The exception to this is that we do not have all categories unmasked yet, since these are new.

Making these changes meant that her absolute max vocabulary grew from 400-800 maximum slots to 1200 – 1500 maximum slots. I realize that 1500 is still so much less than something like Speak for Yourself or P2G with a much larger array or more categories. But she can access these words! All by herself! She can tell me from across the room that  she’s thirsty and wants juice. She can tell me to watch her! It’s not helpful to have 3,000 words if you cannot get to them — she can get to her words. It’s not helpful to have an awesome pragmatic system like PODD if half the people in your life aren’t using it. Maybe by the time that we get to hitting 2000 words, Diva will have the visual & motor skills to access larger arrays. Maybe completely different technology will exist. I don’t know. I do know that I cannot let mama-guilt and mama-fear take me over. I’ve got too much real work to do.

This is the first in a series on AAC that I hope to do this week, covering her design, the way we use it, the way we support others to use it, and so on. If you have questions, leave them in the comments!

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Review: Gab & Go Harness

A frame featuring four pictures of Diva wearing her iPad harness. The harness has two straps that connect in a Y in the back. There is a band around the waist from which the iPad hangs.

Gab n Go Harness, by Safe N Sound.

The pictures above showcase Diva in her Gab N Go Harness, made by Safe n Sound Mobile. We first heard about the Gab n Go on a Facebook community group. I had asked for help with finding a way for Diva to carry her voice. Many of the kiddos I know literally carry their voices — they have straps, or handles, or some other way to manipulate their system. The thing is that Diva can’t carry her system like that. She primarily moves around independently through scooting and needs both of her hands. When she’s walking, she needs all of her energy to balance herself and get to her location. Yes, we could carry her system for her, but we found that this led to her being in a room without a voice for extensive lengths of time as we went about household errands. And, of course, there was another fear, any mama’s worst fear for a child with AAC — would her school ensure that her device was always with her? Would it end up in her backpack? Her cubby? Under her stroller? How could we be sure she genuinely had access to her voice, always?

Enter: Gab N Go.

We purchased our original harness in October 2014. I had no idea how it would go… Diva is pretty selective about what proprioceptive input she will tolerate and prizes her body autonomy. Would she try to take the harness off? Would she cry? None of the above! Diva tolerated the harness well, but we found the sizing and speaker holder were not working for her. We mentioned something in passing, and Safe N Sound contacted us to make sure things were right for her. They customized her harness to meet her needs, including stopping her from throwing her speaker because it was fun 🙂 (Small round object? Clearly we were giving her permanent access to a ball!) They adapted the sizing and she happily wore her harness for 3 months with no complaints. She had her voice everywhere. She had her voice when walking. She had her voice when swinging. She had her voice from arriving at school until dismissal, and even when sitting in her seat on the bus.

Gab N Go gives Diva a voice at (from top left, in clockwise order): the emergency room, the 10k race, bowling, and at her brother's soccer practice.

Gab N Go gives Diva a voice at (from top left, in clockwise order): the emergency room, the 10k race, bowling, and at her brother’s soccer practice.

After a few months, Diva started tugging on her iPad when it was in her lap, pulling it to the side so that she could hold her toy or juice in her lap instead. No problem — except that the snaps were breaking and her iPad was not staying connected to the harness. When we changed her iPad case to a Lifeproof, we tried to use the Lifeproof strap instead of her harness. And then the iPad throwing started… Clearly, the very best way to get your parents to come running is to drop your iPad. Mad because we weren’t coming right away to the bathroom? Drop the iPad on the floor. Frustrated because we didn’t get her juice right away? Drop the iPad on the floor. Our worries escalated when we found ourselves one morning at her school, having dropped her off, without her voice. She dropped it on the floor of the car without us realizing. Luckily, Husband could go back, but the idea of her being without her voice for an entire day was frightening and something that I didn’t want to repeat. I didn’t know what to do — she had broken her harness, the strap wasn’t working.

Enter: Gab N Go, 2.0. The lovely Safe n Sound started working on a re-design of the harness to increase comfort and ease for all their uses. Safe n Sound believes in what they do. They believe in how important it is for a child to have a voice and to have that voice all the time. They wanted to make sure that Diva, too, would have voice all the time. They asked us questions. They listened to our concerns. They make changes to meet the needs of the tiniest little toddler to an adult. And the new Gab N Go has been nothing but a blessing. The material is soft and easily washable, even in the washing machine. The sizing is adjustable and has allowed us to find the positioning that works best for Diva, who needs to be able to access and hold her iPad at a different angle than some children may due to her CP. Diva has yet to be able to get off the new and stronger attachments. Bonus — she can move her iPad to her side easily without damaging anything.

Photo Apr 05, 11 08 16 PM

Diva having Chip help her make a request at Disney World.

I recommend Gab N Go in every forum that I’m in — and it’s because it’s been a life-changing product for us. Diva has her voice ALWAYS. There is no forgetting it. There is no dropping it. She has it on the hammock. She has it in the car. She has it all around the house, no matter where she goes. She has it on a bicycle, on a swing, when completing a 10k. No one can ever take her voice from her. I repeat: no one can ever take her voice from her. No on can ever tell her that she’s talking too much and place it out of reach. No one can forget it when she’s in the bathroom. No one can say that it’s too hard to carry around on the playground. She always, always has her voice. We never miss an opportunity to model. She never misses an opportunity to say what’s on her mind. Gab N Go looks like a small thing, a small decision when compared to decisions about apps and vocabulary. But Gab N Go is the reason why she owns her voice. Gab N Go is the reason she can tell us to hurry up, that she hates a song, or that she needs french fries right now. Gab N Go is one of the most important pieces of her communication set-up, and I recommend everyone check them out.