One of our goals for Joey is to speak in multi-word phrases. All children begin with single words, and then overtime develop two to three word phrases, before moving on to full sentences. Of course, all children are immersed in examples of how we use multi-word phrases and sentences throughout the day. Although Joey hears oral examples of how to put words together into sentences, it is rare he is able to watch people model using multi-word phrases on a device. Those of us who use the device with him take time to model these phrases, but there is no way to compare our modeling to the total immersion of a typically developing child.
Lately, Joey has been showing more strategic control over his use of multiword phrases. Before, he would put a series of words together to communicate his message, but it took a patient communication partner to pair the message together to understand what he meant. It was often a mix of nouns and verbs – main ideas – that did not necessarily seem connected without context.
Modeling, instruction, and scaffolding has let Joey move from saying “Goldfish grasshopper seagull sad” to phrases like “It is shark”, “Oh no, crash silly”, “I want marker” “Grasshopper is down,” “ladybug is on”, and “silly bear”.
The Words for Life Unit system, that Joey uses, makes it easy for its users to put together mutli-word phrases with pre-set phrases like “I want” “I wish” I know” and “I see.” It has similar phrases for each of the pronouns. For awhile, Joey and I have been working on using these phrases, and he continues to insist on selecting “I wish” instead of “I want”. As his ability to put together phrases increases, he’s been selecting the “I wish” icon, then the “want” icon on his main screen, followed by whatever he wants. This makes sentences like “I wish want month” or “I look look shark.”
I was confused by this for a bit, and tried to make Joey understand that it just doesn’t sound right to say “I wish want shark”. Finally, I realized that he is not accepting the two-word phrase. He knows his second word will be “want” or “look” so that is his second icon selection. Essentially, he is trying to say “I want shark”, but since I’ve been prompting him to select an icon other than simple the I icon, he’s selecting one and then continuing on with the word he wants.
Now that I understand where he is coming from with these phrases I can adapt my prompting to meet his needs. I’ll either prompt to just select the I icon, or do more explaining around the buttons with two word phrases. Or, even better – I’ll stay out of his way since my prompting probably created the confusion to begin with.
I appreciate Joey’s patience with us as we learn the ins and outs of helping a child learn to communicate with a device. The more we understand how development with a device works, the more we will be able to make this a smoother process for other speakers. Until then, thanks for being patient with me, Joey, and persisting with what you know you want to say. We’ll figure it out together.