Obtaining an assistive communication device for your nonverbal child is very exciting. You feel like finally, your baby can communicate with the world.
But it doesn't happen overnight. It takes time for you and your child to learn how to use the device software and integrate it into your life. Because Proloquo2Go (P2G) and other systems are still relatively new, your child's special ed teacher and possibly even your school district's speech therapy team might not be well educated on how to teach your child to use it.
We've been blessed with an excellent private speech therapy clinic, school district technology specialists, a supportive teacher and aides, and a supportive ABA team that have worked together to help Tosh and me learn how to use P2G both inside and outside the classroom.
I'm no speech therapist, but I'd like to share what has worked for us.
First, it's important to customize the software for your child to match their skill level and program words that are meaningful to them. There are professionals who specialize in testing children with special needs to determine which devices are best for them and can provide initial training. Oftentimes, this is covered by insurance but you may need a referral from your speech therapist and/or primary care physician.
If your speech therapist or other therapy or education providers don't provide training or recommendations to specialists, click here for instructions on how to use the app. You can also search "Proloquo2Go" on YouTube to find videos posted by AssistiveWare, maker of the app, as well as videos parents have made.
1. Begin with food
The first buttons most families start customizing P2G is food. They use the app as a menu, prompting the child to tell mom or dad what they want for dinner, and progress to ordering for themselves in a restaurant. You can begin by allowing your child to just select a food, and once that has been mastered, show them where the "I" and "want" buttons are located. Show them how to say "I want pizza" and help them form the sentence each time they request food until they get into the habit of doing it automatically.
2. Beyond a menu
Once they have mastered food, it's time to move on to toys, places, friends and relatives. Customize these categories by adding your child's favorite things. This will expand your child's use of "I want" and improve their ability to navigate through the app. You can also add use of a new action verb like "go" or "play."
Add pictures as you have time. We have photos of all of his friends and relatives in the "people" file, but for privacy's sake, I'm showing our least customized screen here.
I knew we were onto something when Tosh found the "Target" button on his own and declared one afternoon, "I want go Target." Oh yes, sweet boy. I will gladly take you to Target for some bonding time.
The introduction of feelings is an opportunity to add another verb to your child's vocabulary, but tread lightly here. The first order of business is to get your child comfortable expressing their feelings verbally.
When someone is upset, autism or not, they are usually not very receptive to a grammar lesson. However, if your child is expressing that they feel happy, that may be a good opportunity to help them say "I feel happy" instead of just "happy" or "I want happy."
Tosh is still working on using the verb feel, and most often uses this screen to say "I want sorry sad" after he's been aggressive. He's very sensitive to the feelings of others and gets anxious if he hurts me, an aide or a therapist. This helps him move past the incident and discuss a better behavior choice next time.
If your child is in a special ed classroom, they are probably used to using a schedule with PECS. Tosh has been doing this for so long, he is comforted by knowing what he will be doing in a day, and in what order. Each morning we use P2G to review his daily schedule. As shown above, today he goes to school, then I pick him up at lunch time and we eat take out in the park. Then, we go to his private speech therapy clinic and then to ABA.
If we are counting down to a special event like a vacation, holiday or eagerly anticipated play date, we make use of the days of the week buttons as well. This requires a very long sequence of his schedule that can include today, tomorrow, Thursday, Friday and then Saturday, when the big day occurs. However, if your child is like many autistic children, they are obsessed with calendars and special events, so automating this process might save you a ton of time. Here's how to do it.
Once you "say" a sequence of events by selecting each button and then tapping the top section to say the entire sentence or sequence, P2G stores it in the "Recents" section. Teaching your child to access this feature will allow them to hear the sequence over and over (and over and over) again at their convenience. If your child has ever driven you mad by asking to review their schedule or calendar 100 times in a day, this feature will be a lifesaver.
It also allows you to see how much P2G is being used in the classroom and various therapies. If necessary, you can use this feature to keep your educators and therapy providers honest regarding how well they are supporting your child's use of an assistive device.
To access "Recents", select the four panel button at bottom left. That will bring up the "Tools Popup" screen. Select "Recents," which is the button with the clock icon.
On this screen you will find a history of everything your child has "said" with the device. It's important to note that to record a history, after you or your child selects all the buttons to form a sentence or sequence, they/you must tape the top section to "say" the entire sentence. If you don't complete this final step, it won't be recorded in the history.
Tosh uses this function quite a bit to save time so he doesn't have to hunt for each button again when he wants to repeat himself.
Let's quickly return to the Tools Popup screen. Notice the "Search" button with the magnifying glass icon. If you tap that, it brings up a keyboard into which you can type any button you can't find on your own. The software then shows you where the button is located, and you can select and move it somewhere more convenient if you'd like.
5. Reading and spelling
By the time you've implemented all of the P2G uses above, your child has probably already navigated through the entire app and is more familiar with all of the words than you or any of his teachers, aides or therapists. That means it's time to start using it as an academic learning tool.
This week, I'm creating a school page for Tosh, where his aide can program buttons with weekly sight words and words he is learning in reading comprehension. She has also taught Tosh how to access the keyboard function so he can use it to spell words. Here's how to find that.
You can access the keyboard by tapping on the keyboard icon on the bottom bar from any screen. A basic keyboard will appear. Tosh's aide also uses this to help decipher what he is trying to say if he can't find the appropriate button. Despite being nonverbal, he's pretty good at sounding out words - something we didn't realize until his aide began using the keyboard function.
(Yes, his aide is amazing, isn't she?)
Tosh is also learning how to write on paper, but let's be realistic: when was the last time you used a pencil? I think it's very important kids learn using digital tools, and thankfully, his teacher and aide agree.
If your child uses P2G, please share some ways you have implemented use of the device in the comments below. Other parents new to assistive devices will be very appreciative!
Heather Anderson is a natural health educator, writer, blissfully happy autism mom, fintech marketer and lover of life in Southern California.
Please join me on this autism journey. Let’s create a positive, supportive community in which we can learn, grow and prosper. Where the focus isn’t just on your autistic child, but on your own personal growth as well.