We were able to get our hands on an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device called "VMax" which is made by Dynavox.
Essentially it is a touch screen computer with software that helps the user to communicate by constructing phrases or sentences that can be "spoken" by the machine's voice. For children that can't read, words and ideas are represented by symbols and pictures. We started using a modified version of Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) when she was 20 months old. PECS are little cards that use symbols and line drawings that children can use to communicate.
The hard part about this was Della's inability to grasp the meanings behind line drawings. She didn't understand that the drawing represented a concept. So we started with photographs and went from there. Needless to say, it has been a looooooooong process as she is 3 and a half now.
I have been dying to let Della try one of these AAC devices and we were able to sit down with one for about 10 minutes yesterday. Della spent the first 5 playing with it. We started with 6 buttons on the screen two of which were blank. I was worried that it would be too many options since she has a hard time with more than 2 PECS cards. We showed her the button with a line drawing of a graham cracker and that when she pushed the button the device said "cracker." Della knows exactly what that means and she signed "want." After pushing the button with her hand-over-hand and giving her a cracker each time we watched to see if she could do it on her own. The feminine slightly robotic voice I heard was music to my ears. "Cracker." "Cracker." "Cracker." It was so awesome. Just to be sure that she wasn't just pushing the same area of the screen out of habit we rearranged the buttons. "Cracker." "Cracker." "Cracker." Della was talking! It was so awesome. I know I already said that, but seriously, it was.
So...how do we get one of our own. Well, they don't come cheap, that's for sure. The base model costs about $8,000 and is another $300 for the software. Hmmmm...that's a lot of money. The company has a lot of funding options from grants, school districts, insurance companies, and private donations. But it takes a long time to go through the process. A really long time. Now that I had a taste of Della's "talking", I could see endless possibilities to curb Della's increasing and escalating tantrums. Her frustration level would all but disappear if she could communicate with us. She could tell us if she is sick or hungry or tired. She could let us know that a certain place was too noisy or cold or scary. That she wanted a yellow balloon and not a green one. That she loves us.
We couldn't wait.
So we checked up on some suggestions from friends and found a solution, if only temporary. Della is about to be cooler than the rest of our family because she will be the proud owner of an iPad.
The iPad offers a really neat application called Proloquo2Go. The finished product should look like this...
So we have the base model coming in the mail. Apparently most Apple stores don't keep the that model in stock. They acted like we walked into a car dealership and asked for a model with no radio or air conditioning. Yeah, they make them, but they don't keep them on hand because who wouldn't want all the bells and whistles?
So we'll keep you posted on Della's "talk box". Meanwhile, here is a sample of two children using an AAC to speak.