“Have you tried an iPad?” people used to ask me. “So-and-so did great with an iPad,” people used to tell me. With a heavy sigh, I’d explain that every time we presented an iPad to Dar, he would push it away with utter disinterest. This explanation was generally met by the same expression that my dog gives me when I’m eating and tell him there’s no food for him. Sort of a “b-b-but, are you sure?”
About six months ago, something changed. I believe it was related to Dar seeing his little 2-year-old brother use an iPad to play Dora the Explorer games. Jealousy has been a terrific motivator for Dar, and bringing Dar’s brother into his, and the, world has been maybe the best decision wifey and I ever made.
After a few fits and starts, Dar began to demonstrate that he could bring up Sesame Street videos as well as I could. That was great! A terrific step forward, proof that he could push buttons and get things he wanted. What a relief.
Then, we entered into the world so well-lampooned by (as always) South Park, when Kyle asks his mom what his brother is doing, and she chirps “He’s upstairs playing with his friends!” and Kyle walks in to see a group of 5-year-olds all staring at their individual screens. I also thought of Ron Suskind’s book about his autistic son, and how at one point Suskind worried that his child would spend the rest of his life in their basement watching videos (in the pre-tablet era; that same kid just performed with Weird Al Yankovic on Jon Stewart’s Night of Too Many Stars). We told ourselves we were just making sure that Dar saw the iPad as his friend and not only an icky learning tool. Okay, by Christmas or so that was a mission accomplished.
We looked into various applications/programs, bearing in mind Dar’s extant difficulties. 60 Minutes featured an application called proloquo2go, and this came highly recommended by commenters who may or may not have paid the $200 for it. Eventually, we settled on an application called Verbalize. It’s fairly simple: we take pictures, add a little of our own audio to each picture, and these become icons which we put into little fields for Dar. And then he has to choose from them to get what he wants. For example, if he wants “play-doh” he goes to the TOYS board and clicks “play-doh” and we hear his therapist say “I want play-doh.” His therapist and I realized that if a field had too many icons it was too many choices, but if it had too few, that was also a problem. And we worked out a few other kinks, but we’re pretty happy with this program.
Want to know what boards we’ve created?
Each BOARD is in capital letters, with the names after the colon representing the icons that go with.
ACTIONS: tickles, spin, piggyback, up, chase, break
CARTOONS: Sesame Street, Daniel Tiger, Dora the Explorer, Thomas
DRINKS: juice, water, milk
FOODS: O’s, pouch, bar, teddy grahams, goldfish, gummis, pasta, bean soup, bean salad
FURNITURE UPSTAIRS: wedge bed, dar’s bed, dar’s couch, dar’s chair, mom and dad’s bed
FURNITURE DOWNSTAIRS: blue chair, round chair, couch, brown chair
GYM TOYS: trampoline, swing, slide, zip line, carpet swing, circle swing, bucket swing, Frisbee, make a basket, bench swing, mirrors
OUTDOORS: backyard, lanai, bike, slide, balance bricks
PEOPLE: Momma, Daddy, R [his brother], S [his therapist]
TOYS: red ball, green ball, play-doh, beads, water bottle, wind-up cricket, action figure
YES/NO: yes, no
Now…how’s all this going? Uh, not perfectly. I love that when Dar sees the home screen of the iPad and I say “talk,” he presses the Verbalize icon. That’s nice. He tends to go for food icons, and one issue is that we already HAVE a fairly good laminated-paper-icon system set up in the kitchen for him.
We have to push him on yes/no, and he sometimes taps the opposite of what he’s also, at the same time, saying. We often have to redirect him to the non-food boards. And then there’s the issue that some of the things aren’t available at any given time. There’s an icon on each board (that we set up) that says “none of these” and I or his therapist will tap that so that he knows when he can’t have something…but he doesn’t like that.
Nonetheless, we’re doubling down on iPadding. We bought him a separate iPad mini, dedicated ONLY to his communication, that he can theoretically take with him everywhere. (His brother tried to poach it, but we’ve managed to keep him away so far.) The school has heard a bit about this, and they seem excited to integrate it into his programs, but we’ve pushed that to after his spring break (which begins Friday), to give him a LITTLE more time and practice using the thing. But we are relieved that he seems to have it in him to indicate things with an iPad. This COULD be the beginning of a beautiful…uh, augmented assistive communication. Or as I now try to tell Dar when he takes my hand…
Verbalize it! Doooooooon’t criticize it, yeah, yeah.