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Seuss, Shortcuts, And Smiles

As told by Beth Speaker-Christensen, Speech-Language Pathologist

As a LAMP®-certified provider and lifelong lover of all that is Minspeak®, Unity®, etc., I know the value of utilizing visual learning to improve spontaneous, generative communication. A few years ago, I met Cindy when she was looking to find a system to help her then 27-year-old son, Ron, communicate his needs.

When I met Ron, he was polite, funny, happy, and loved. He repeated many single words, could read, and loved completing his "jobs" list and checking tasks off the paper each day. However, he didn’t expand on what was wrong when he yelled “HELP.” Maybe his shirt was inside out or the treadmill wouldn't turn on. There were a wide variety of problems Ron could be referring to. That’s when the questions began: “Is it this?” “No.” “Is it that?” “No.” He knew exactly what it was, but it took a detective to find the problem.

Getting started with AAC

Cindy, like many other parents, worried about how her sons (Ron and his brother, Nathan, who also has autism) will express what they need when she and her husband are gone. I began visiting Ron weekly to teach him LAMP Words for Life®. We’d work our way through pages of his favorite books: anything Dr. Seuss, Little Critter, and personalized books with his name in them. We’d find icons that are part of LAMP already, but if the words in the books weren’t available icons and we wanted them, we’d program them. For other words like “Fiffer-feffer-feff” from Dr. Seuss, we’d spell them. 

Initially, Ron would say "all done" when he got frustrated after a few pages of reading. We’d honor his request and move on to the next “job” on his list. After about 18 months, Ron has found ALL of the words in his books, and we read them to the end. What I love most is seeing Ron learn that he can use “CAN WE” as a phrase instead of “CAN” and “WE” as separate words. He uses “I WANT,” “ARE WE GOING,” “WE MUST” and many more shortcuts. We even expanded our efforts to include finding words, phrases, and sentences for when something is wrong. 

LAMP Words for Life is the perfect match for Ron

This kind of progress shows that LAMP was created for Ron. It’s a perfect match. He remembers everything – verbs, adjectives, demonstratives, plurals, determiners, adverbs, all of it! Ron not only comes to the table to spend time with me each week with a smile on his face, but he appears proud to read these books and he laughs as we read. And speaking of laughing, when we can’t find a word we think should be in the device, we often throw our fists up to the sky and say, “Halloran!” It’s our humorous nod to the LAMP developers, John and Cindy Halloran. We simply add the words as needed and keep going.  

The sky's the limit with AAC vocabulary

It has been less than two years and Ron knows the entire device. His use of language is expanding with every visit. With his knowledge of where vocabulary is located, he can comment on anything, at any place, anytime. The sky's the limit! What’s more, Cindy (Ron’s Mom) used to say Ron wouldn't use LAMP with her, but that is changing too. They find ways to use the device together during the week – discussing what events they have to look forward to, deciding what to have for dinner, or talking about likes and dislikes.

It’s been a fun and empowering journey with Ron and I’ve never worked with someone who learned so much of LAMP Words for Life so quickly. My younger clients are learning, but Ron is a superstar. We have matched his smarts and his thoughts with a way to express himself. Still, this is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s one word at a time, using words over and over until each word becomes yours. Words are a great thing to collect. That said, I’m confident Ron will be able to express himself to more communication partners in the future (wherever he may be) and his mother can have peace of mind knowing he'll be ok.