James and Kingsley’s Minspeak Story. (A father’s thoughts on his son communicating with AAC) 10/02/2013
Kingsley was diagnosed at about 9mths with severe developmental delay and dyspraxia (and much later autism) and all his milestones were severely delayed. At 3 years old he’d begun to walk with a frame but still preferred to crawl and his speech consisted of “Mama”, “Baba” and grunts, eg, “Uhh”. The AAC journey began with key word signing (he eventually learned more than 60 signs), Big Mack switches, then a low-tech communication aide with paper overlays (a ‘Communication Builder’). PECS was also tried but the more successful strategies were pointing to pictures and words on ‘homemade’ handwritten pages and cards, and an Alphabet page (which we called ‘ABC Page’). The ‘ABC Page’ was mainly used with a ‘First Letter System’, and he eventually learned to type full words and sentences on a keyboard.
We got a Springboard Lite (SBL) in about 2009, when he was about 7 years old, and this was a big step forward. He seemed to be able to use it quite easily. We still continued to use a combination of some of the non-tech strategies as well. -We also continued with some typing on the keyboard with voice output. His speech had developed a little more (and I credit this mainly to the AAC) but it was obvious he needed a more effective AAC system.
In hindsight I see that I continued to experiment with various strategies because I was too focussed on short-term solutions and wasn’t ready to take the next step. We had the SBL for about 2 years.I worked really hard programming more and more pages and links into it, trying to get more and more out of it, until it was a nightmare to navigate through! My delay moving on from the SBL was partly because of my lack of understanding and also because I couldn’t decide which system to move on to – typing only (eg Lightwriter) or Minspeak. I’d realised that Kingsley needed a ‘full-language’ system and these were the only two systems which would effectively deliver that for him. He already had significant literacy and typing skills, so it was a tough decision to make.
What helped me a lot was attending a talk by Bruce Baker (at Comtec, in Melbourne). Then I decided to trial a Minspeak device spending most of the 3 weeks just getting familiar with it myself. Kingsley only had a brief try with it. I did more related training sessions and organised a second trial. This time Kingsley had a lot of time on the Vantage Lite and quickly proved that he could learn to use Minspeak. While he learned the sequences to the Minspeak Application Program (MAP), he relied on his spelling a lot to keep the communication going. He easily switched between spelling and Minspeak. He was able to use his spelling to help him to learn the picture sequences for the words he couldn’t find in the MAP – eg, he’d spell “food” and we’d see the pictures come up on the screen (icon tutor) ‘apple’ ‘cupboard’, and then he’d be able to repeat that sequence in the MAP (we still use icon tutor for learning – it’s an excellent function!)
I decided to get the Vantage Lite, and also did the LAMP training with John Halloran in 2011, which was excellent. One of the things John said which resonated with me a lot, was something like, ‘it’s easier for kids with autism to learn to use a Minspeak device (with LAMP methods and masking if necessary, etc), than to learn to use low-tech devices or a system like PECS, so why put kids through all that extra stress and difficulty? Why not just start with the easiest and best strategy?’ This seemed to sum up my experience. Finally getting the Vantage Lite and seeing how easily Kingsley learned to use it (in comparison with the low-tech systems and with the page-based Springboard), I wondered why I didn’t get it years ago!
I think ideally, a Springboard should be used only briefly, for a sort of ‘taste test’. If a person can point to words meaningfully (on a SB Lite or any device or page), then they are already at a stage where they can learn Minspeak. Kingsley was more than ready and could have learned Minspeak years earlier. This is my main message to parents and therapists - If a child has little speech and it seems possible or likely the child will not develop full speech in years to come, then that child will continue to need AAC and will need a ‘full-language’ system – the sooner the better!
Kingsley’s Vantage Lite has allowed (and fostered) his language to develop beyond most people’s expectations. It’s an excellent device and we’ll continue to use it for years to come. His successful use of language (to interact and participate), with his Vantage Lite, has helped his speech to develop significantly too. I’d like to write a lot more about how that works, and how he uses his Vantage Lite, and the many related issues, but I’ve ended up writing about my experiences this time. Anyway, I hope this has been helpful, and I’m proud that Kingsley is a Minspeak Ambassador and I look forward to a lot more sharing (and making videos) and learning with everyone on this journey!
James Henry Proud father of Kingsley