iPads are the Pied Pipers of the 21st century. Kids can sniff them out from a mile away. The minute a child switches off that home button and decides they want a break from their iPad, another 10 pairs of little hands magically appear ready to click and swipe their way through your array of apps. And that is great because as I mentioned in this post about choosing Harry’s device, we wanted H’s talker to be an iPad because of it’s ‘mainstream’ accessibility and understanding by all. But that also means we have to be prepared to handle the magnetic pull of children wanting to play with Harry’s talker.
Last weekend we were out with a few friends and their kids who, whilst I wasn’t paying attention and Harry had moved away from his talker, explored Harry’s communication app. They managed to navigate through to an editing page and one of the older kids called me over as he was worried they would break something. It wasn’t a big deal as we have locks in place so it’s pretty hard for someone to unintentionally edit anything, but I told them that the iPad his Harry’s voice so it’s best for them not to touch it. I could see the look of concern on their faces like they had done something wrong and off they disappeared, away from Harry’s voice.
Hmmm the whole point of choosing an iPad, and in fact the point of any communication system regardless of the hardware, is to ensure that the AAC user is included. And yet I had unintentionally managed to achieve the complete opposite.
In a wonderful talk I went to last year (part of this AAC User Lecture Series) given by an incredibly competent 5 year old AAC user, he advised parents not to let other people touch your child’s device because it is their voice. It’s excellent advice and was an important insight for me to see the talker from Harry’s perspective. But I had taken this advice far too literally and not thought through strategies for allowing kids to see and understand Harry’s device and to also include Harry in that process.
Yesterday we had the opportunity to test out a new approach. Our new neighbour and her 4 year old son (let’s call him Tom) came over for a visit and again, when Harry had moved away from his talker, Tom came over to the talker and started to explore. His mum looked a bit worried, but instead of me telling Tom not to play with it I asked him if he wanted me to show him how it worked. He nodded eagerly. “Harry,” I said, “do you mind if I show Tom how your talker works? You can also come over and show him if you’d like to.” Harry gave me a quick nod of approval and carried on playing where he was. I started to show a very engaged Tom the talker and, with the Pied Piper in action, Harry quickly shuffled over to where we were. “You can also show Tom your talker if you’d like to Harry”, I said. Harry reached over to his talker and navigated to the ‘People’ category and said:
Tom and his mum smiled whilst Harry pointed to Tom and I was doing internal high 5’s!
Tom had been given the opportunity to better understand H’s talker that he’s naturally very curious about, H had the opportunity to show Tom himself how he uses it rather than me managing the whole situation but also, H wasn’t under any pressure to ‘perform’ on his talker. To me, this is important, as I don’t want H to feel he has to use his talker if he doesn’t have something to say. We don’t tell verbal kids to ‘say orange, say truck’, so I don’t want to tell H to ‘show us where ball is’ or demand that he uses his talker.
As advised by that clever 5 year old AAC user, I did still tell Tom that the talker is Harry’s voice and not something to play with, but only after he’d had the chance to see the talker in action and to better understand that it is Harry’s voice. His curiosity had been rewarded, not reprimanded.
Now to set up another time to catch up with the kids from last weekend to try out my new approach!