This week’s blog hop topic is about technology across the curriculum. I have to say this one is near and dear to my heart as I am a bit of a gadget addict. However, I have also seen the independence it has allowed students with disabilities. There are a gazillion different apps and tools that I could talk about but I wanted to share an app that we have used as a family.
My son with Down Syndrome struggles with language. The hypotonia affects his speech intelligibility and he also sometimes has a hard time expressing his wants and needs. He is now 11, and has made a lot of progress, but there were some years in there that just… wow…. it was frustrating for everyone. I read an article from another Mom one time that described the low muscle tone and the temper tantrum (that is typically a result of a communication challenge) from her child with Down Syndrome. She compared the dead weight of the child along with the tantrum to something like carrying around a 40 pound disagreeable fish. I literally laughed out loud because it’s so true. When he was little and tantruming, usually in a public place, I would try to pick him up and remove him from the situation. You would think that low muscle tone would actually make carrying a 40 pound child easier. Oh, no. It’s like almost slippery because they are flailing around and angry and you are trying to hold onto him/ her and in my case, I had a baby and probably groceries around to manage as well. When we realized that his tantrums were usually because he wanted to tell us something and just couldn’t quite get the words out, we were on a mission to get that communication problem solved, at any expense!
As for expense, Oh. MY. GOSH. We tried to get him to qualify for an AAC device, or augmented assistive communication device, through the school. The AAC team decided that he did not qualify for anything that high tech (which we disagreed with, but let it go for various reasons.) So we went to the University of Kansas Speech and Language department for a second opinion. There, of course, he qualified for an AAC. Hands down, he was the “perfect candidate.” We thought we had our answers on a silver platter.
Those answers were on an $8,000 silver platter. Yes, you read that right, $8,000. (3 zeros!) That was excruciating! Do we pay $8,000 to avoid temper tantrums that, honestly, most kids have, ours were just magnified in frequency and extra challenging because of the lack of communication. So we tried to submit it to our insurance company, which should have paid, but didn’t because we happened to have an “exclusion” on our policy on any form of AAC device. I was livid! How is that not discriminatory against people with disabilities? Think about all the people that would benefit from such a device? Stroke victims whose speech intelligibility, but not their cognition, was affected by the stroke, people with Traumatic Brain Injury, etc. could all benefit from being able to communicate with the people around you. I felt like the insurance company was saying “we’ll make you physically comfortable with assistive devices like wheelchairs, we’ll pay for drugs, painkillers, we’ll even pay for Viagra, but if you are somehow unable to communicate because of a health issue, well then, you are out of luck. You will be emotionally miserable forever.” Ironically, they also paid for mental health services and medications. Can you even imagine how depressing it would be to have great things to share with the world and be completely unable to communicate the simplest of ideas? Not too long after that I heard that there was a group of parents that were filing a lawsuit against the insurance company because of this. Evidently there were parents of kids in similar situations as me. One was a pediatrician and the other an attorney. Both were angry, frustrated parents who knew exactly what “disagreeable fish” was all about. We no longer have that health insurance plan, but I don’t think that exclusionary policy is still there.
iPads came out around the time this all happened. The company that made that AAC that the team at KU decided was appropriate for Trenton then came out with an iPad app with essentially ALL of the same tools on it. The app (at the time) cost $180. $180 is a lot of money for an iPad app, but when you were processing the idea of $8,000 device, $180 sounded DIRT CHEAP.
So, what was so great about this AAC device?
First, it uses picture icons to share wants and needs with others. The voice that comes out of the device can be customized to adult, child, female, male, and even a few specialty ones. The vocabulary that is available is customizable from basic, intermediate and advanced to accommodate for different levels of language development in the user, so a young child and an adult could use the same app if it is set up differently. I’ll share a few screenshots of what the device looks like. (These are from my iPhone 6, but it works on iPads, iPods, and I saw they also have added Apple Watch capability. I don’t know about Android devices, because I’m an Apple girl!)
This is the “home” screen. The boxes with black outlines are folders and inside them you will find words and icons to build phrases and sentences to share with others. Here are some other examples:
Can you imagine being a small child with a tummy ache and your Mom is making you pick out shoes, which you hate doing anyway? Then, you can’t even tell her you have a tummy ache, so you tantrum, which is the only way you know how to tell her you want OUT of that situation. Then she is mad at you for not picking out shoes, she carries you out to the car and then she is crying because of the embarrassing situation, but you only know you made Mom mad, then you made Mom cry and your tummy hurts. Not that I’ve ever been in that situation…..
Now imagine knowing you have an upcoming birthday party, but you don’t know how long you have to wait. Is it 5 days or 5 minutes???
Being able to ask questions and communicate your feelings is a natural human need. It’s not a want, it’s not a luxury. It is truly a need.
This particular app has offered so many people this ability that previously would not have been able to communicate. There are other ways to use it as well, but I’ll save that for another day!
If you know anyone who struggles with communication, I would highly recommend asking about some sort of technology to enhance their freedom and independence. This is not a sponsored post- it is only meant to share how much technology can change the life of someone who otherwise would not have a voice.
This post is part of the “Sharing Is Caring Elite Teacher Blogger Cooperative.” Check out other posts from these great authors!