Thursday, October 9, 2014

What AAC Does for My Verbal Child

Elanor has had her talker for over a year now. For the better part of that year she could hardly make sounds, let alone words. Things are very different now but one thing is the same, her talker still helps her communicate.

We were at the doctor's office waiting to get a flu shot. Elanor, in typical 2.5-year-old fashion, was all over the place. Climbing on the backs of chairs, running back and forth across the carpet, collecting smiles from everyone she saw. (She's a pretty cute kid.) She was talking, telling me things like "Mama, I'm gonna get a shot!" Or "look at my sticker!" Or, "I run, Mama!" Then, suddenly she just stopped.

There was a door on one side of the waiting room. It must have gone to a conference room or maybe even a closet. It was a door that neither of us had ever seen before. Elanor stopped and stared at that door, moving her mouth timidly, silently. She grunted. She pointed. No words came. She looked back at me, seemingly trapped in the moment, almost ready to cry.

I picked up her talker and carefully tapped out--"I see a door, Mama."

Relief. So much relief and happiness and she pointed and said, "Mama! Mama! I see a door, Mama!"

This is one of the things that AAC still does for Elanor. As is common with children who have apraxia of speech, words get caught between her brain and her mouth. The talker frees them. She can use it to free words for herself, as she did just yesterday. She stood in front of me impatiently grunting and gesturing for a full five minutes before going to her talker and hitting "bath." Then smiling, she told me, "I want a bath!" "Bath" is a word she knows, "bath" is a word she loves. She has said it a million times before but yesterday it just got lost. Her talker helped her to retrieve it.

The other thing that AAC can still give Elanor is clarity. While she speaks in amazing, beautiful, language-rich sentences, she is very often difficult to understand. This is largely because the mistakes she makes are inconsistent. While a child with age appropriate speech (or a different disorder) may always replace an "f" sound with a "d" sound, for instance, Elanor could replace an "f" sound with any number of other sounds at any time, maybe even with two different sounds in the same word. She might even replace a vowel sound, making things even more difficult. Once again, apraxia means her brain and her mouth just don't communicate properly.

Elanor can use the talker to clarify what she is saying in many different situations. First, she uses it to teach me "Elanor Language." If she says a word and then says that same word on her talker, she is making her approximation known to me. For instance, she might say "da-dit" and then hit "chocolate" on her talker. Oh, okay, "da-dit" means chocolate. Now I know that. No big games of charades, no tears. She can be her own translator.

She can use the talker to clarify what she is saying to a stranger. She did this just this weekend at Sunday School. "I like butterflies," she said (perfectly clearly to me), but her teacher didn't understand (probably because butterflies is actually "da-dies"). Anyway, she can go to her talker and say "butterfly" and there we go. Understanding. Clarity.

There are still words that she cannot get her mouth to say. Here, too, the talker is invaluable. Popsicles, for instance, are her favorite treats, but "popsicle" is just not a word she can get her mouth around. So she always asks for popsicles on her talker, and every time she asks she repeats after the device. Every time she repeats she says the word a little better. One day she will be able to ask without the talker and that day will be infinitely sooner because the talker is available to her now.

I've been asked many times in the last few weeks if Elanor still needs her talker and, if so, for how long. This is something I've wondered myself. Even Elanor seems to think along these lines sometimes, pushing away her talker in favor of trying to say something verbally just one more time.
Then we have one of those moments where the talker makes all the difference and we step back and say, "Oh, that's why we still need it. That's what it does for us." I don't think we'll be giving it up soon.


  1. Love this! As I SLP, I am often trying to explain why a child who can say words verbally would benefit from (needs) an AAC device. Great examples and explanations. Thank you.

  2. As another SLP, I completely second exactly what the previous commenter said. Thank you.

  3. I feel confident that someday, Elanor will make it very clear she no longer needs her talker. But as long as her understanding outstrips what she can express verbally, that talker will continue to help her.

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