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Monday, April 29, 2013

TapToTalk's ATIA 2013 Session

Lenny Greenberg, CTO of Assistyx, makers of TapToTalk, gave a great presentation at the 2013 ATIA (Assistive Technology Industry Association) conference in Orlando. 

Here is a summary of Lenny's key points:
  • Our update to the 1992 Communication Bill of Rights: Every child who needs AAC has the right to have AAC that is affordable, portable, socially acceptable and customizable.
  • AAC apps are not Swiss army knives, they are not all-in-one solutions. They are simple and specialized, and you need to select the right app for each person.
  • The "new" AAC devices are affordable devices many families already own. They are internet ready, socially acceptable, and kids know how to use them and want to use them.
  • TapToTalk's collaborative, cloud-based model for AAC development lets anyone design AAC albums anytime, anywhere, and then deliver them online to a host of devices (or only one) that may be located anywhere.
  • Other advantages: all content is secure and backed up automatically; forgotten, lost or broken devices are quickly replaced and content instantly restored; and vendor support can be provided remotely.
  • You customize your AAC albums with TapToTalk Designer.
  • You play your customized albums use free apps on iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Android devices, Kindle Fire, Nook Color and HD, Microsoft Surface and other Windows 8/RT devices, Nabi Tablet, Nintendos, Smartboards, PCs, Macs and more.
For a copy of the entire presentation, please use this link

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Non-Verbal Autism Services--What Happens When You Turn 21?

This is the fourth in a series of posts about non-verbal autism, in honor of Autism Awareness Month.

If you are someone with non-verbal autism, your speech therapy needs do not magically disappear when you turn 21. But who provides services when you "age-out" of school? How are they paid for?

"National, state and local policy makers have been working hard to meet the needs of the growing numbers of young children identified as having an ASD," says Paul Shattuck, assistant professor at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, in an article in the April ASHA Leader. "However, there has been no effort of a corresponding magnitude to plan for ensuring continuity of supports and services as these children age into adulthood."

Shattuck found that "speech-language treatment in high school was provided at the highest rate of all reported services, but fell to the lowest rate of all services after leaving high school. Medical, mental health and case management services fluctuated as well, but not nearly as widely as speech-language treatment."

It turns out that there there is no consistency among the states for services for autistic adults. The article discusses the programs available in some states. Parents, caregivers and clinicians may need to check Medicaid, private insurance carriers, and/or state health and rehabilitation departments to determine how to get and pay for these vital services.

Here is the full ASHA Leader article.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Speech vs. Communication

This is the third in a series of posts about non-verbal autism, in honor of Autism Awareness Month.

"I want to help my child communicate."

"I want to help my child speak (or speak more fluently)."

That's what we often hear from parents of non-verbal children.

These two goals are certainly related, but they are not the same.

In our last post, we happily reported on a study that concluded that most non-verbal autistic children ultimately become verbal. That's great news. But it also concluded that over half did not become fluent, and about a third never became verbal.

We believe that the primary goal for a non-verbal child should be communication, verbal or otherwise. This may be using a communication  (AAC) app like TapToTalk, a system like PECS, sign language, or a combination of methods. Unlock the mind of your child with the ability to communicate. That's a life-long gift. If speech follows, great. But it may not.

Many of these kids need to have what TapToTalk Mom Fay Bareham calls a "Helen Keller moment," when they realize they can get their needs met by communicating better:

"My son is 11 years old. He has had various speech devices over the years but they have been bulky and hard to carry so it was not something he was interested in. His iPod looks just like his dad's phone. He can clip it on his belt just like Dad. It's cool to him. One day he had what my friend called a 'Helen Keller moment' where he suddenly realized that he was 'talking' due to TapToTalk and the iPod. For the first time he feels as if he has a voice of his own. Now he won't let it out of his sight. TapToTalk has made for several moments of HAPPY tears for us."

There is a myth that using a communication aid discourages oral speech. That has been disproved again and again. The opposite is true. Communicating in any fashion encourages speech development.

Jack Kieffer discovered this rather dramatically with his friend Kevin:

"Kevin is not very verbal, and it's extremely rare to hear him say an entire sentence. When he opened TapToTalk, he first tapped the Toilet icon, which says, 'I have to go to the bathroom' out loud. After the application said this phrase, Kevin repeated it. We all looked at him in excited disbelief--he's not one of the kids who frequently repeats instructions from people or conversations that he overhears, he sticks to basic words and strings a couple of them together. Of course, Kevin went back and journeyed into the 'food' section and proceeded to make the application say, 'I want to eat a (insert food here)' and repeated the phrase."

And age is not an issue. SLP Barbara Hallahan told us this:

"I have a success story with an adult who had never spoken before February of this year. She is now speaking and using TapToTalk on a smart phone. She is even learning to read and write. Key Point: The investment in TapToTalk does not shut the door on total communication. It opens it."

Perhaps this is a conversation to have with your child's speech therapist. What are the goals for the therapy? More specifically, what are the communication goals? What are the spoken language goals?

One way or another, let's give those kids a voice!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Many Non-Verbal Autistic Children Speak--Later

This is the second in a series of posts about non-verbal autism, in honor of Autism Awareness Month.

There is a persistent myth that an autistic child who does not speak by age 5 will remain non-verbal. (Technical note: "non-verbal" in this case means not speaking at all or using only single words or short phrases without verbs).

Not so, says the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (here's a link for more information). They studied a group of 535 children aged 8-17 who had been diagnosed with non-verbal autism at age 4. They found that almost 47% became fluent speakers, and 70% could speak in simple phrases. Of course, that does also mean that over half did not become fluent and nearly a third remain functionally non-verbal. Yet, this says that patience is critical.

It turns out that what is also critical is intelligence (more is better) and social impairment (less is better).

Other studies show that use of communication aids increase verbalization attempts and social interactions. Anecdotal reports suggest that AAC accelerates quantity and quality of verbalization, which leads to improved social functioning. For example, special education teacher Joanne O'Leary had this to say about using TapToTalk to improve social functioning:

I have been having so much fun designing my student's TapToTalk. Social interaction is a big part of a child's life. I have one screen of feelings. She loves to go over and tell her friends, "I like you, you're my friend" with her TapToTalk. I also have a pic of someone getting pinched and I recorded the words, "don't pinch me it hurts." On the play screen, I have a picture of a nurse and if she chooses that it goes to all the things in the dramatic play center we have set up for our doctor's office: shot, band-aid, stethoscope, etc.

TapToTalk Mom Nicole Lynn MacNeil adds,

TapToTalk is a dream come true! I am a mother of a 9-year-old boy who has ASD. He has some speech but is not that great communicating. This is going to help him so much and it won't even point him out as different because it's a game machine that every child has. Thanks so much from the bottom of my heart for finally making my child feel average!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Giving a Voice to those with Non-Verbal Autism

This is the first in a series of posts about non-verbal autism, in honor of Autism Awareness Month.

"It is estimated that as many as 25 percent of individuals living with autism spectrum disorders are non-verbal. That is, they cannot functionally communicate with others using their voice." So begins a 2009 article on the Autism Speaks website that reports on a series of meetings they hosted to focus on this issue.

The article is well worth reading. We were particularly interested in one of the studies presented that showed that non-verbal children who learned to communicate with AAC devices "showed significant improvements in their abilities to communicate in the six week intervention." 2009 was also the year we released TapToTalk, and since then, there has been an explosion of the use of AAC apps that help non-verbal children communicate. AAC devices no longer cost thousands of dollars. They are no longer big, clunky and stigmatizing. Instead, AAC is economically available on common, socially desirable handheld devices: phones, tablets, e-readers, and so forth.

Just a few years later, we know that AAC apps on handheld devices can help many non-verbal autistic children communicate. Our customers tell us that every day. Here are a few of their reports:
I recommended TapToTalk for two of the children I (work with). They were diagnosed with autism and they have speech difficulties. The results are great. Thank you for a great app! -- Amira Ohana, Behavioral Analyst

Your program is great and really helps my son who is nonverbal and autistic. -- Shawn Holderby, Parent

I recently visited my godson in Texas. He has autism...I had heard about TapToTalk, but nothing had prepared me for his unprompted communication efforts! While his mom was out doing chores, he came to me and asked for specific food choices. I never thought I'd get to experience that with him. I was so excited I wanted to take him out to a restaurant right away to buy him what he asked for...wanted to say thanks from a grateful godmom. -- Lyn Johnson, Godmother

We just recently started using TapToTalk with our 4-year-old on his iPad. It's absolutely amazing. He is autistic so it now travels back and forth with him from school. His teacher and paras have been very excited about the possibilities it holds! -- Sarah Williams Maize, Parent

I took my son to school this morning. He does not want to be there. He opens up his DS with his TapToTalk and says "I'm sad" and I said "Why?" and he touched "My mom went away." I wanted to cry, this was a first for me and him telling me his emotions. I said "I am staying for a while" and then he pushed "I'm happy." I held back my tears of joy for this is huge for my son who is completely nonverbal and autistic. -- Naomi Smith-Long, Parent
We've come such a long way since 2009 in providing a voice for non-verbal autistic children. As TapToTalk Mom Jane Sundmacher said, "If my son has to have autism, I am glad it's in this age of technology when there's TapToTalk to help him."
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