21 Days of AAC - Week 1
Recently, Dana Nieder at Uncommon Sense posted a 21 days of AAC modelling challenge. (Actually a reboot of a challenge she's done before.) Then the Speak for Yourself blog posted a version of the challenge for adult AAC users to try for themselves.
I don't really fit into either box. I'm an adult who doesn't actually need AAC, and I don't have an AAC user in my life. I'm learning AAC so I can model for someone who doesn't actually exist yet - I want my future child to be exposed to AAC from birth. If xe has no speech issues, it'll be useful for awhile when xe is still too young to communicate easily. If xe inherits autism from me, though, xe could have trouble communicating through speech, and I want xim to learn AAC before I can tell if xe needs it. I also think AAC could help with learning to read, based on Maya's reading lessons, and I've been pondering throwing in AAC modelling as an adjunct to learning to read (especially sight words).
But anyway, I liked the structure of the adult AAC challenge, and decided to do it myself. I'll be posting updates once a week for my progress on this.
Task 1 - Use AAC in a place you've never used it before.
Used AAC for first time to talk to stranger, no speech. Tried to purchase a snack at a store I'd never been to, but my card didn't work so I gave up. Fairly minor use, but still a challenge. Only said one thing: "I would like to buy this" and managed the rest nonverbally because I felt too embarrassed to search for words in front of her. I think she thought I was Deaf because she enunciated very clearly and waited for me to look at her before speaking. Also seemed to give more detailed instructions on how to use ATM device than she would have if I was speaking. My heart was pounding, I felt scared and excited, and had a weird feeling like my words were stuck in my throat. I also felt like I was channelling Emmett from Switched at Birth, the way he acts with hearing people who can't sign.
Task 2 - Listen to music and say the first few words with my AAC device
This one was fairly easy. My auditory processing issues were a bigger hindrance than my AAC skills to this. I didn't really notice before how much I miss lyrics if I'm not reading them or listening to the same song over and over. I added two words - ignore and spit.
Task 3 - Use AAC to talk to someone who has never seen me use my device
I was wracking my brain to think of what to do, in part because I basically already did this for task 1. As I was trying to decide if I should go buy stuff from another store, the phone rang with a number I didn't recognize. I answered and said “hello” with the device, and they hung up on me. It feels too easy to leave it at just that, but I'll take it.
Task 4 - Tell someone something they don't know about me using my device.
I was wracking my brain all task thinking of what to say. The biggest problem is that I tend to be super honest, so it's hard to think of something I could tell my family that they don't know, and I wasn't expecting to see anyone else. I was about to give up and go on to the next task, but then an autistic acquaintance came over uninvited and I realized that I hadn't explained my AAC device to her. I used my device to say “I am learning to use this board so I can teach my child when I have one” with the device, and she didn't bat an eye. I explained more with my voice, and she compared it to using educational apps like the ones on LeapFrog. (I worked in task #3 here, too.)
Task 5 - Open a book to a random page and say a random sentence with my AAC device
Opened up Going Solo While Raising Children With Disabilities. Said “When my son was born, I decided to get off the road to get some balance, and I gave up a lucrative weekly income”. Added “income” and “lucrative”.
Task 6 - Summarize a movie with AAC
Watched Heavy Horsepower on Netflix and said with my device: “The movie was about big strong working horses. The man had two young horses who needed to learn to work, so he brought them to a man who teaches horses. While they were learning he went to different places to see how the horses there worked. At the end his horses knew how to work and he knew what to do to make them work.”
Task 7 - Ask someone to tell me about their day, then teach them how to say it on my device
Tried this with my Mom, but she adamantly refused to let me teach her how to say “not too bad” on the device. She kept saying she was too tired, and I was getting frustrated - it's only three words! Is that really so hard? My Dad intervened and asked me to teach him instead, so I did that, but I still feel upset that Mom refused. Ended up having a meltdown about it, but then Mom convinced me that she doesn't mean 'no’ forever, and encouraged me to ask again another time.
Task 8 - Take pictures of three signs and say them with device
A street sign, a stop sign and a sign for the name of an apartment building. I hadn't ever said 'third’ before on the device, but turns out I do have that word. Only one I didn't have is a building name that isn't worth adding.
Task 9 - Think of something I'd like someone to do to make it easier for me to use my device
Watched nature documentary and added “chimpanzee”, “teen” and “elite”.
Thoughts so far:
I started off with a very tough task for me. I'm actually kind of shy (despite being an active-but-odd autistic chatterbox) and using AAC in front of a stranger was very challenging for me. However, in some ways the other interactive tasks were even harder. With a stranger, I felt no need to explain myself. With my parents, the fear of rejection is very tough. And with someone who's never seen me use the device, I chose someone who knows me and knows I can talk, so I felt compelled to explain why I was using an AAC device with them.
I also feel very mixed feelings about the acquaintance I mentioned. She is very accepting of strange behavior, probably because she's quite strange herself. She's also somewhat of a mentor to me in autism, because she's an older autistic woman. However, she's not very good at noticing boundaries and I'm not good at setting boundaries clearly enough for her, so sometimes I end up wanting to avoid her so I don't get pulled into an interaction I can't deal with. In particular, she often shows up at our house unannounced at 10-11pm, wanting to chat, and that's too late at night for me. She also calls a lot, and unexpected phone calls stress me out a bit. I know I need to figure out a way to improve my communication with her. I'm just not sure how.
I was also surprised by the depth of my desire for someone to share the AAC device with. For most of my interests, I'm happy to just be able to chatter at them about it. But I've been really wanting someone in my family to actually use AAC with me. I'll have to do more thinking to really unpack why.