1999 Conference Proceedings

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"TEACH ME TO TALK" CD And "COMPANION ACTIVITIES" CD

Jo Meyer, Partner
SoftTouch
4149 Pinewood Lake Drive
Bakersfield, CA 933009

MY STORY

As a teacher for young children with mild, moderate, and severe disabilities for 24 years, I have asked every parent the ultimate question. 'What goals do you want me to work on.' Too many times the parents have looked into my eyes with such longing and said. 'I wish that my child would talk.' I then have turned to the child, and again too many times the child's eyes have looked into mine and seemed to say 'Please, understand me! Please, ""Teach Me to Talk"".' That seems like such an easy goal.

Get out the objects, get out the pictures, get out the books, engage the child in play and start the 'parallel' talk with him. While you are doing all of these start the child signing or give the child the picture exchange system. I know many of the rules and many of the strategies. Of course, these strategies worked for some of the children, albeit slow. I certainly had wished I could speed up the process.

My breakthrough came one day when a parent of a toddler asked me to make a computer program with just ONE picture on the screen for her child. To please that parent, I did just that. Then I added sound which spoke the word. The voice had a clear distinctive sound. To make sure all the syllables were heard, I slowed the word down by 15-25%. Then for the rest of the children, I added the option of many real pictures on the screen. When the child touched the picture either on the screen or on the IntelliKeys keyboard, the computer spoke the word. It was such a boring program.

To my amazement, my whole classroom of toddlers were pushing each other to be the one at the Touch Window. Within minutes, some of them were turning to me imitating the words on the screen. What I considered a 'boring' program became their favorite. I used it in my classroom for 2 1/2 years. The results were always amazing to me. All of my work with my toys, books, pictures weren't as powerful or as quick to get them started talking as this simple computer program. It had patience and could say the word the same way as many times as the child needed to hear it.

Here are a few stories.

I had a two year old, Matt, who could only use the sound 'ba' Everything he named was 'ba'. I made a program with just real pictures that had the beginning 'b'. Within 20 minutes, he was verbally differentiating a ball from a boat from a bat. His mother stood behind him with tears streaming down her cheeks. Each time he came into the classroom, he ran to the computer. He wanted to hear those words over and over. His progress continued until he spoke in sentences.

Jeremy came into my classroom 3 months shy of being 3 years old. (At three he would be tested again and be removed from the infant program. ) He had no words or utterances which had any meaning. He ran around the room, not stopping to play with the myriad of toys I provide or to play beside the cute little children in his path. His parents were exasperated.

They did not know what more they could do. But they just knew I could cure him-- in three months. I knew I couldn't. So I made NO promises. Within the first week, I tried him on the computer. At first he seemed very bored with my new found 'noun' program with real pictures. The first day he stayed at the computer 15 seconds. The second day he stayed about 30 seconds. Within 5 class periods he would stay at the computer using the noun program about 10 minutes. But there were no utterances nor any words. I looked at this darling toe headed boy, and shook my head.

The program was not working with him. About 2 weeks later, Jeremy walked up to the computer, picked up the overlay for the IntelliKeys keyboard that we had been using. He started to point to the pictures, using an approximation for 10 of the 20 pictures. My mouth dropped in amazement. It was his first word--or words-- 10 of them all at once. Immediately I went home and made 'books'with these pictures so I could teach him 'testing skills'. We needed to know how much comprehension he had. He had to learn to point to pictures and learn the words 'Show me' and 'Find the'. After all, I only had three months. The 'extension activities'were born.

I started giving my 'program' to teachers and consultants around me who had older students with disabilities who did not talk. Within weeks, these teachers would run up to me so excited to tell me their similar stories. From these experiences, it was apparent that ""Teach Me to Talk"" needed to be offered as a product of SoftTouch.

Teaching Strategies

Strategies for presenting ""Teach Me to Talk"" differ from child to child. One strategy for non talkers is to give the non talkers the 'power'. This means that some of our 'good teaching'techniques need to be shelved for the moment. Let's look at some examples. In the name of 'good teaching'I sat patiently beside the student. He pressed the dog picture 6 times. Suddenly my impatience takes over and in my most sincere teaching voice I say, 'That's right--thatÕs the dog. LetÕs find the kitty.' I have unknowingly interrupted the students learning. He may need to hear word 'dog' 53 times.

Another scenario could look like this. I sit beside the student as the 'communication partner' and allow the student to select the noun that he wants to hear as many times as he needs. When he turns to me to look, I can say 'Yes, thatÕs the 'dog'and allow him to continue taking the lead as to what he wants to do.

The CD

SoftTouch's new computer program named ""Teach Me to Talk"" paired with off computer Talk "COMPANION ACTIVITIES" are designed to bridge the gap between real objects and the two dimensional world of real pictures. This exciting program then takes those real pictures one step further as the computer morphs the real pictures into symbolic representation of Mayer/Johnson's black and white line drawings. For those children who may never be verbal, but instead use an augmentative communication device, this feature starts their journey from real objects to real pictures to black and white representation.

In addition, ""Teach Me to Talk"" uses these same 100 real pictures in stories and poems to teach language through rhyme, rhythm and repetition. The student can listen to or read their favorite poem or story. An added feature is teaching the cognitive skills of 'putting pieces together'with 100 different puzzles ( two piece, three piece, four piece, eight piece and sixteen piece puzzles).

Computer activities can be combined with off computer activities which reinforce the learning. These can be teacher made. The Talk "COMPANION ACTIVITIES" are different activities the teacher can print and use. Some will be made into games, books, or worksheets. These off computer activities which can be completed by the teacher will be demonstrated.

There are a variety of types of children with disabilities who do not talk and there are a variety of reasons why. There are many teaching strategies to use with teaching children to use language. These strategies differ with different types of students. Some of these strategies will be addressed along with the use of the computer program and the off computer activities.

Summary

SoftTouch's newest program, ""Teach Me to Talk"" is designed to start students with a language base, whether it be verbal or with a communication board. This workshop is perfect if you

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