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


Char Brandl said...

So, so, SO!!!! Happy for all of you. Keep us posted on new developments. HURRAY!!!!

Anonymous said...

So glad this is working. Minds work in so many different ways and it's wonderful you have found this way for Joy to communicate! I am still in awe of computer "magic" and loved my iPad from the start. Now, it will often remind me of your Joy. Phyllis Bixler

JoyMama said...

Quiet One -- there's several more iPad posts yet to come before long -- lots to write about.

Phyllis -- good to hear from you, and that you're enjoying your iPad too!

Barbara said...

Oh, how this pleases me!

Recommend you find @UncommonBlogger on twitter to read her blog on using an app for communication for her daughter.

JoyMama said...

Barbara - thanks for the affirmation and the recommendation!