If you live in North Carolina (like we do), there’s a fantastic resource called Generations-Tadpole that a few people and a couple of therapists mentioned to me. We haven’t used it yet, but I’m sure we will.
The best way I can think of to describe them is like Netflix for assistive and augmentative technology. If you live in North Carolina, you can borrow something out of the ‘library’ for a couple of weeks, try it out, and then return it. The best news – unless I’m missing something (and I asked around and looked on their site) – is that for NC residents it doesn’t cost you a thing, not even for shipping. Of course, you actually have to return things on time.
Obviously, one of the main issues with assistive technology in general is that there’s no easy way to try it out without spending tons of money on something and likely being stuck with it if it doesn’t work for your child. This stuff is way expensive (makes me think I’m in the wrong line of work) and not something you try out on a whim usually. Our local Early Intervention office has a lending library of their own, which we’re going to try to use before our time in EI runs out soon. From what I gather, it gets a lot harder to get loaners from the preschool system just because their inventory is always checked out. At least that’s apparently the case in our county.
Our primary interest is in ‘augmentative communication’, or ways to help J-Man better communicate with us and others. They also have a bunch of other resources such as learning and literacy aids, devices to assist with daily living, loads of educational CDs and DVDs, computer software for kids, and more learning toys than you can shake a stick at. There’s a bunch of other stuff too.
After reviewing Tadpole’s inventory, I noticed one issue that our developmental therapist gave us a heads-up on – augmentative communication devices often talk for the child through pre-recorded phrases assigned to the buttons, so partially-verbal kids whose verbal skills are improving (even if very slowly) may derive little or no real benefit from these devices.
If an older child with a very limited spoken vocabulary needed to ask certain kinds of questions that they couldn’t sign or communicate non-verbally, provide certain responses to questions also not easily communicated non-verbally, or generally needed to interact in some fashion independently of someone who could ‘translate’, I could see the real value in this. If a child got lost and needed to say “My Mommy’s name is Jane. Her phone number is 555-3333,” then a programmable device like this could really help. Since some of them can also be reprogrammed or significantly customized, they are quite adaptable to different situations.
But that brings us back to the original problem. J-Man can point to a picture for a handful of things (mostly food), and often say something that approximates the name of that item while he’s touching the picture. This really helps clarify what he wants. The pictures are a stepping stone to expanded speech. They do stand in for the speech itself sometimes, but it feels like the available technology is largely on a different path right now from where we are. While it would be entertaining to get more complex things from him than ‘cup’ (just waiting for a recorded version of “Daddy, you smell like a baboon’s butt.”), it seems like digitized phrases aren’t yet a part of the path we’re on at the moment.
That said, the yes/no switches might be worth playing around with. I’m willing to play 20 Questions with him if it helps better narrow down what he wants (and assuming he gets the point of it), but I’m uncertain about how well that fits into our current plan. It’s free for us to try, so we’ll play around with their inventory to see what we see.
I think a gap in the range of these devices comes on the lower-tech end. A more portable, configurable, extensible picture system – without all the programmable recordings – would be a real benefit to us. I know a simple, small photo album works for some kids, but J-Man doesn’t seem ready to flip through something. He needs to see all of his choices at once. Given what I’ve seen, I may have to sit down and actually design one that works for him. It’ll give me an excuse to go to Lowe’s if nothing else.
If anyone knows of other lending resources, feel free to comment or e-mail us!