Friday, October 24, 2008

Grab Bag

Maggie is continuing to work on her communication. She relies on her communication device, a DV4 from Dynavox. It is a voice output device; a computer-generated voice speaks the words or sentences that Maggie chooses. This machine is sweet and has more functions than a trigonometry text. It can function as an MP3 player, show pictures, make storybooks and much more. That means it is far more advanced than I am.

The technology in this area is moving so fast. Maggie’s DV4 is so 2006, it is not funny. In fact, this particular model has already been discontinued because we are on to bigger and better things. Of course, from a technology standpoint I am stuck in about 1985, so this is more than I can ever hope to learn. I’m not sure whether or how far above Maggie’s head this device is; but, because she relies on me to do the programming at home, she is forced to stay at my level.

Right now Maggie makes sentences, tells jokes, and conveys her “news.” I program in her news from home that she shares at school and the teacher programs in her news from school. Maggie navigates to her news page and keeps each side informed about the other. Her teacher is very good about including the things an 8th grade girl wants to share. I hear all about the girls who come into Maggie’s classroom and what they are into. (FYI, Jordan, Sierra and Kathleen are agog about the new High School Musical movie opening today!)

Like everyone, Maggie is working on mastering her skill at one level so she can move to the next. Jokes? Not a problem. News? Piece of cake. Sentences? Work in progress. She can do it and does it all the time, but it is very complicated. She has to scroll through numerous choices to select the noun. That means she has to first choose if it is a person, place or thing, then find it, then select it. Then she navigates to the verb page, chooses the right tense (hopefully) and then navigates to the Object page to find what she wants to say. This might mean scrolling though several pages. Now she is adding “please” a lot, which is another step.

Sentences like “mom, come here”, and “Dad, let’s read a story” are easy for her because she is conveying something she wants and has done them so many times. When she is building her own new sentence, it’s a different story.

Click, click click, “MOM”

Click click click click click, “IS”

And the anticipation builds; what will she say? If she knows we’re waiting, she’ll just laugh and make us wait longer. There are many possibilities, happy, sad, sick, smart, good, magical, stinky, mean, angry, big, etc. When she wants something, it’s always a wonderful description. When she is angry or feels neglected, she will pick something not as nice. When she is showing off, she just waits and waits. I say….”Be nice” and she laughs harder and chooses “stinky” or something similar.

Click click click, “HAPPY.”

We always respond to these sentences. Either “thank you,” or “Yes, you’re right, I am smart, brilliant, in fact.” Or, “Hey, watch yourself sister.” Communication is a two way street. The best way to make her use that dynavox in a realistic way is to show her she is communicating.
Sometimes you’ll hear something like “Mom is Tuesday.” Or, “Dad am magical”. Therefore, it is a work in progress.

The teacher has a new incentive program for Maggie. When she completes a perfect sentence she gets a sticker, and for every 10 stickers she gets to go to the grab bag and choose any gift she wants. He sets the standard for how complicated the sentences are. For example, if Maggie communicates her needs to the clerk at the local store and says thank you appropriately, she gets a sticker. Now she is working on including “and” in her sentences. So “Mom is smart and angry.” Or, “Dad is good and big” get her rewards.

She’s hit the grab bag a couple of times already. It truly is a grab bag. I have no idea where the items come from. One day last week she received a toy set of baking tools. She loves that! Yesterday she came home with a set of artificial finger nails! Ha! Just what a 14-year-old girl with limited motor coordination needs. It would take at least a week to get those on her and then she would poke her eyes out.

Maggie knew right away that was not something she wanted. Apparently, she made a sour face when she pulled it out of the bag. She decided last night that she wants to give that to one of her girlfriends.

Today she starts her quest for the grab bag all over. I think her first sentence might be, “Get some better stuff!” Perhaps mom needs to donate items for the bag.

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