There are now three of us at school who are iPod Touch addicts when it comes to frantically searching for an app that will help free us at least to some extent from the mountain of little picture cards, strips, and communication boards strewn all over our house and car. It’s either that or you never seem to have the ones you need with you in a particular situation. There are numerous great iPod/Phone/Pad apps out there now for picture communication, and my two iPod friends have indeed found a couple they really like. I was certainly impressed with them, too. There’s a lot of creative work going on out there in app developer land.
But here at Chez Flashlight, we have what at first seems like a minor issue, but in the realm of iPod and iPhone communication apps it quickly becomes a much more daunting one. Because the J-Man likes written words and can read many of them, he does remarkably well with pictures as long as they are labeled, and usually the bigger the label the better. We’ve even worked him toward schedule strips with small picture icons and larger written-out words. (See below.) Our more traditional looking picture squares get larger and larger word labels as time goes on. The problem? The iPod and iPhone apps we found so far focus on the picture and much less on the word label.
[Examples of picture strip-based schedules. Follow it like a list. Compare with his aging food choice card below and notice that the pictures above are now just icons with large word labels (or large words with little icon labels). Obviously we now have a zillion disorganized strips that seem to multiply like rabbits in the house.]
[J-Man’s food choice card that he’s been using forever.]
For the most part, this has been a good ‘problem’ to have. We are all convinced, however, that he has hyperlexia. Hyperlexia is where a child has reading abilities beyond or well beyond age level and often a strong fascination with letters and numbers, but it’s often accompanied by significant difficulties understanding speech. Indications also are that while being able to read at a high level, the child may not actually comprehend much of what he/she is reading. It’s thought that a noticeable percentage of autistic children are hyperlexic, and there’s a theory that children with hyperlexia are usually on the spectrum somewhere. There are cases when, for example, you ask the J-Man to point to a ‘butterfly’ in a book that he points to the word and not the picture. This can make teaching what the word means and how to generalize it more challenging, but we can work with that. The good news is that we believe we can leverage his reading strengths to help him compensate for his verbal communication challenges.
The issue is that so many picture communication tools for his age assume that there’s not much in the way of reading skills there yet, or at least that those skills are secondary to picture recognition. And really, this isn’t unreasonable. The assumption – I think – behind most of the current iPod/iPhone/iPad apps is that the child is picture-visual rather than word-visual (written words are still visual), will become more and more verbal, and between that and pictures will be able to communicate their needs. The problem is, what do you do when the child over time still only minimally talks or doesn’t talk at all, their needs become more and more complex, and you just don’t have enough pictures to capture it all?
Maybe it’s just me and my limited abilities to grasp what to do here, but as the things he wants to communicate become more abstract and nuanced, pictures alone just have a very hard time overcoming a communication barrier with a more verbal world or at least with parents who are struggling to learn a language that best suits him. I know it’s possible to develop a picture-based, visual language, but we have to be able to understand what a visual means to him and he has to be able to get his point across. We have to find someplace to meet in there at least until we build a foundation to work from.
Obviously, this is a complex issue that we can’t do more than scratch the surface of in one post. The main reason I bring this up is that I want to find an app that meets his needs, and I haven’t found it yet. Apps are so expensive, few of them have trial versions, and $35-$200 is a lot to pay just to try something out. There are some very cleverly done apps out there that I’ve tried, and I’ve dabbled with a lot of them, but all of them I’ve looked at focus mostly on pictures and put text as secondary. An app that put pictures and text on more equal footing might get us somewhere. Maybe something like that would address the needs of kids like our J-Man who are either more interested in words for visuals or are just at a level developmentally where they are ready for reading.
The leading contender I’ve found is Proloquo2Go. It’s the only one I’ve seen so far that appears to allow for both picture and text-based communication in such a way that both can be prominent and we can leverage his reading skills. The problem? It’s $190 and has no trial version. That’s a lot of money for something I’m not sure about, but the video tutorials are compelling and its extensibility and customization options put it well above anything I’ve tried so far. In the past, I’ve considered Proloquo2Go more of an app for older kids and adults, but I’m beginning to see the possibilities for our now five-year-old.
Anyone have any suggestions about iPod apps? If you are an app developer and think your app either addresses the above already or you’re working on an app that might, drop me a line.