Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Toca Boca Birthday Party (and Tea Party)

Toca Boca is always there for me... Just when I feel I need a nice, new, refreshing app, Toca Boca provides. I have to admit, this app is actually an older app, it's not new, but it is new to me.To be completely honest, I don't have all the older TocaBoca apps yet. I think I might even save them for another day that I need a new toy.   

Toca Boca Birthday (and similarly related, Toca Boca Tea Party) is a cheap app that allows for digital pretend play rein-acting the social gathering of a birthday party.   It's a fun way to practice the basic social skills needed at a birthday party and provides an opportunity to use language beyond "I want."  My students and myself are super motivated to "eat" the cake and "open" the present. I even have students that bring in stuffed animals to join in and partake in "cake" eating. Most look forward to "blowing" out the candles the most (and often attempt to blow even though it is a touch that puts out the flame.)

I use this topical communication board while playing with this app to elicit lots of language! You can find the actual topical communication board here on boardmakerachieve. 

For more information about the general use of the boards, visit here

In general, I point to each icon/word as I speak to model the various phrases that can be spoken while using this app. The visuals can be used to help the student understand what I am trying to say, or can be a visual support to help prime them with the vocabulary required for the activity. 

Some of the phrases I work on while using this app include: "I/you give plate," "I/you open present," "I/you give cake," "I/you eat cake," (different actions while using the app, which is why the single word utterance of "cake" from a student is not enough in this case!) "I/ you pour juice," "your/my turn."  

This month, I started using video modeling.  I took a video of me using the board to say the phrase I was targeting and then model the "reward" (which really depicts  what the message intended to do).  You can view an example of this type of video here:

Most of my students with autism are partially verbal.  For them, the visuals help them vocalize without verbal cues from me on what language to use. Some of my students verbalize as I point to the icons, thereby allowing for more independence initiating communication. Others point to the icons on their own and vocalize or try to vocalize as they do. I also have students on my caseload who use voice output devices. They might use the visuals as a guide to keep them on track as they expanded utterances while they navigate multiple times across their device.  For all of my students, the visuals add some longevity to the transient nature of verbal language. 

In the related TocaBoca Tea Party game, there are also the tea cups can be knocked over, which allows for great practice of "uh-oh," and "I help" when cleaning up the spill.

 For my students who are working on social skills, while using Toca Boca Birthday Party and TocaBoca Tea Party, we work on asking "Can I get you something?" rather than just dragging pieces of cake onto people's plate without asking.  With TocaBoca Tea Party, we also work on describing which cake or plate we want using specific language such as "I'll have the pink plate" or "can I have the cake with the strawberries on top?"  It can also be a great way to practice following directions (e.g. "put the chocolate cake with sprinkles on the blue plate.").

My students across the board have loved Toca Boca Birthday (and Tea Party). It is a refreshing new way to work on "pretend" play using a digital interface. Try them both! I find that there is a lot kids want to say while using these apps and tons of opportunity for social interaction!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Core Words Communication Board: an overveiw

These past months, I have been using Topical Communication Boards to support more independent language use with my students (be sure to check out earlier blog posts for some examples.  Here are some: 1, 2, 3) . These boards contain the specific language needed to communicate while playing with an app, book or game.  They are extremely helpful when working with AAC device users or with clients that have limited verbal output (like my students with autism who have difficulty initiating without echoing what I say). 

But, what happens when my kiddos pick a game that I don't yet have a board for? Does that mean, we just try the activity without the support?? NOT ME! I prefer to use visual supports as much as possible. Visual supports help boost confidence, set clear expectations and decrease verbal prompting.

That's why I created a Core Words communication board.  Find it on boardmakerachieve here.

If you are not sure what core words are, please be sure to check out Carole Zangari's and Robin Parker's PraacticalAAC blog  or Bruce Baker's explanation  for more information. Core words are not just "the new best thing,"  they are necessary components of every day communication. Core words make up about 75-80% of what we say each day. They are the powerful words that can be used across situations and ages.  Kids, adults, teenagers.... we all use core words. They can be used again and again and again across situations and places. Core words are highly functional: they stand in the place of more specific nouns (e.g. "it," "that," "there,") where there is no access to specific vocabulary and they represent functional actions (e.g. "do," "make," "go," "get,").

I decided to start focusing more and more on core words when making my topical communication boards. But as I did this, I found with the combination of core and "fringe" words (fringe words being the words that can be replaced with less specific words such as "that"), my core words that were repeating across boards, started to shift locations.  This made my users slightly confused and increased scanning time to find icons.

Check out these two examples:

By keeping the pronouns on the left, I shifted some available spaces and question words no longer made sense on the left hand side of the board.  While I tried to keep things the same as much as possible, each board will have a different number of verbs and nouns, making it difficult to keep things consistent. 

I decided to start keeping my most frequently used core words in the same place on each board. On top, I decided to put my less frequently used core fringe words that were specific to the activity.  (please note: my core word selection is not all inclusive, and it might still change.   I was simply limited by the 8x11 space).  

Keeping icons in consistent locations, decrease visual scanning, and increase automatic motor responses (think about how you use automatic motor responses to type on a keyboard).  Many AAC devices already use motor planning as part of its language system (e.g. LAMP, PRC, WordPower).  This past weekend, it was great hearing Patti Solomon-Rice talk about the importance of keeping icons in the same location on AAC devices.  Hearing her speak about that, validated my desire to try this new format for my topical boards.

So, when a kid asked to play angry birds the other day and I didn't have a board made, I didn't sweat it!  I used my core words sheet. Then, I quickly made the angry birds topical board after the session.  It took way less time to make a board using this new format.

Here is what I came up with (find it on boardmakerachieve here):

If you haven't read yet how I use these topical communication boards, it's pretty simple. I point to each word as I say them (making sure my client is looking at the board while I do this).  If I ask a question, I may prompt the student by immediately pointing to an icon on the board so they do not respond with echolalia.   If the person independently says something (with or without using the board), I repeat and expand by saying and pointing to each icon. Or if they are struggling to verbally find a word, I may point to the board to help them get started. 

Here are some sample phrases we might work on with this angry birds board: "you do it," " my turn," "get bird," "put it there,"  "get triangle" "it go over" "it go down."

If the student needs help learning how to use the board to vocalize, I start teaching the student by hand under hand guidance to help the student to point to each icon (only if needed).  As quickly as possible, I fade my physical prompts to gestural prompts.  I always try my best to allow the student time to respond on his own as well.  I usually find that with practice, my students start vocalizing without prompts and even without pointing to the board. In addition, they start using vocabulary that has never been used before in unique combinations. Prior to using the boards, my students may have simply used behaviors ( crying, grabbing etc.) to access a turn with a game or with the iPad.  Using the boards, most of my clients (e.g. with autism) start learning to initiate communication attempts, either by pointing or by vocalizing, while engaging in fun activities.   For my AAC users that already initiate language but are working on using novel utterances, the boards serve as a visual guide or reference to what they are searching for as they navigate the device. 

Using these boards often reduce frustration, prime the student to expected language to be used, expand utterances, and help students use language in unique word combinations not otherwise used before.  They serve as visual support to the oral language we provide and they validate icons as a communication form for my AAC users. 

Hopefully this core words sheet helps in a pinch.  It can also be modified to make new topically related boards really quickly! 

Hope you find it useful!

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