Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Eight Years Old

Happy birthday, dear Joy!

We just got back yesterday afternoon from our annual Memorial Day trip "up north" to the family cabins, a trip that regularly coincides with Joy's birthday.  I've just changed the "Introducing Joy" sidebar to reflect her new age.  Eight.  Hardly seems possible -- eight years old!

We celebrated with balloons and bubbles and little cupcakes in the cabin.  We'll have further celebrations at home, and shopping for a big-girl birthday bike as soon as we get our post-holiday act together to do so.

As Memorial Day trips go, this one was relatively uneventful, especially considering our track record of muddy departures and explosive avian visitations.  (Well, JoyDad did have to do some work on breaking out a beaver dam that was flooding the road.  But we'd had warning so that was expected.)

Our party was smaller than usual, just the four of us and GrampaK.  The weather was pleasant for the end of May, mostly cool with a couple of rainy bits but at least one warm-enough-to-swim afternoon.  We did our traditional walks in the woods:

and spent a lot of time on the screen porch watching the hummingbirds come to the feeder:

(When I posted this one on Facebook, I captioned it: "Secret for a long-lived relationship -- always respect your partner's side of the hummingbird feeder.")

You can tell that your daughter is growing up when she wants to drive the boat!

Not to worry, folks, it's safely docked.

One of the basic experiences of life up at the lake is the lack of running water.  We bring drinking water along, but wash water for the dishes and floor and ourselves comes from an old-fashioned pump just a little ways away from the cabin.  This weekend I had a startling realization -- though we'd been bringing Joy up to the cabin at least once a summer for her whole life, and sometimes more often than that... we'd never taken her down that short path to "help" pump water.  It's been part of Rose's experience since not long after she could walk.  But with Joy, early on I suppose it felt like too much of a hassle, and then later we just sort of had our fixed routines and always expected to come back from the pump with a full bucket in each hand, and no hand left to hang on to Joy lest she make a dash for the lake.

This vacation I finally realized what had been happening.  And Joy and I went to have fun with the pump.

So easy, to get into these ruts and hold our kiddos back.  We've got to do better than that.

We will not have another trip to the lake without a trip to the pump for Joy -- which she enjoyed to the hilt, my sweet water-loving child.  We've got to keep examining, and listening, and doing better.

Happy birthday, my sweet eight-year-old!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Joy's iPad, iPad's Joys

When I first heard what Apple had named their new tablet-technology, back when it came out a couple of years ago, I chortled along with the wags who made Kotex jokes.  What company in their right mind would give their product a name that sounded as if it belonged in the "that-time-of-the-month" aisle?

OK, fine, nobody's laughing anymore, and that includes me (except at myself for my skepticism).  Two years later I'm happy to admit: the iPad is an amazing piece of technology, and Joy is reaping the benefits in a big way.

As long-time readers of this blog know, we've been making fits-and-starts at picture-communication with Joy for quite a while.  We have lots of little laminated photos and icons that we velcro-ed on to various pages or sequences for Joy to grab and hand to us to indicate choice-making or to tell us something.  We used the same velcroed items or laminted sheets of icons in a GoTalk4 where we could record a message or word and Joy could push the right picture to make the device "say" that thing.  We even spent a couple of months of regular appointments at the Communication Aids and Systems Clinic (CASC) at the Waisman Center in Madison to see if Joy would take to a more sophisticated programmable talk-by-icon-choice computer device with a touch-screen from the Prentke Romich Company (PRC) -- I believe it was a SpringBoard Lite.  Every one of the approaches showed some promise, but had drawbacks.  The laminated photos and icons, for example, were highly desirable in and of themselves as "stimmy" objects, which interfered with what their communication-meaning was supposed to be.  The GoTalk wasn't particularly flexible compared to computer-based products, and also became an object of desire in and of itself -- she wanted to use it as a noisy-toy.  The PRC device, she wasn't showing nearly enough interest and progress to be able to justify Medicaid card-service funding (two-and-a-half thou'worth).  So we sort of went into a holding pattern for a while with the GoTalk and velcro-icons, at least at home, and things stayed that way for a while.

Fast-forward two years, and much has changed.  We've had some developmental surging, along with a new funding stream via the Children's Long-Term Support MA waiver that allowed us to purchase an iPad and apps for Joy with a significantly less stringent burden-of-proof and paperwork (and at lower cost than the SpringBoard Lite as well).

And oh, how she has taken to it!  The iPad touch-screen is somehow just the right thing at just the right time.

Our basic setup is an iPad2 (16GB with WiFi), with an AMDI iAdapter2 protective speaker box (which I'll have to review in a separate post).  The most important app is ProLoQuo2Go ($189.99), a communication program in which the user taps labelled icons to get a synthesized voice to "say" the word or phrase.  You can set the icons/words up in the categories you want, and control how many appear on the screen (hence their size as well), and take or import your own photos or select from a sizeable collection of pre-programmed icons.

What a technological leap forward!  For a brief comparison, in order to put a photo on the GoTalk, I had to:
  1. take the photo
  2. import the photo from camera to computer
  3. re-size the photo
  4. print the photo (at some cost in printer supplies)
  5. cut the photo to size physically
  6. laminate the photo (more supplies)
  7. trim again
  8. add velcro (still more supplies)
  9. record the right word in my voice, or get Rose to do it, on the GoTalk
To make an icon in ProLoQuo on the iPad, the only supplies I need are: the iPad.
  1. I tell ProLoQuo to make a new icon (easy tap-and-type process)
  2. I type in a label for it to say
  3. I indicate whether I want to use an icon from the collection, or use a photo (existing or take a new one)
  4. If I choose to take a new one, the iPad camera launches and I can snap the shot, and re-size it right there.
And voila, new photo icon created.

So now when Joy wants to watch a video, she can tell me which one by tapping a photo of the video cover. She is making real choices from a field of 25 icons/images, and has mastered the tiny 1/4-inch "Back" control icon that navigates between levels among the folders.

My beefs with ProLoQuo2Go are minor so far.  I miss the ability to record my own voice, or Rose's, and I don't always like the inflection of the synthesizer, particularly in phrases or sentences.  (At least one can override any given word's pronunciation with a new phonetic concoction of one's own -- I had to do that with the Baby Mozart video icon, for example, for which the default pronunciation sounded like "Baby Moe-ZHAR.")

The biggest challenge for Joy so far in using ProLoQuo has been less about understanding and navigating, and more about us keeping up with her.  At home we only have a few useful categories for making choices (songs, videos, LeapPad cartridges).  There are other categories for school -- occupational thereapy, classroom choices, lunch/sharing-time.  We need to give her more.

Meanwhile, though, there's no doubt that she gets it.  One day not long ago, I was puttering in the kitchen while Joy played in the living room right around snack time.  Suddenly she came running, jumping up and down expectantly.  I led her back to the living room to grab the iPad so she could tell me.  And there lay the iPad on the couch, open to the "snack" category within ProLoQuo.

She had told me.

I just hadn't been close enough to hear.


I'll have a lot more to say about the iPad and the various apps we've been using so far, because I know this is information that's important to share!  For now, I'll link to a couple of useful lists of iPad apps that are excellent starting points:

iPad Apps for Communication, Learning, & Fun (pdf) -- by Amy Nelson, Kristi Otto and Connie Biksacky, presented at an Autism Society of Greater Madison April mini-conference

iPad Apps & Resources for People with Autism: Reviews, Links, Prices (Google spreadsheet) -- by Shannon des Roches Rosa, Corina Becker, and Jordan Sadler -- a parent, an adult with autism, and an SLP -- updated frequently

Wednesday, May 2, 2012