2004 Conference Proceedings

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BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING: COMMUNICATION THROUGH OBJECTS

Presenters
Lori Dahlquist
Adaptivation, Inc.
2225 W. 50th Street, Suite 100
Sioux Falls, SD 57105
Phone: 605-335-4445
Fax: 605-335-4446
Email: lori@adaptivation.com

All of us-not just AAC users-communicate messages and represent those messages with symbols everyday. For example, a toddler may hold up his bottle or cup to indicate he wants more juice. We see a red light while driving and know we need to stop. Without the ability to send messages via a variety of symbols, communication as we know it would be vastly different. Much of the draw to AAC lies in the wide array of symbols, other than those used in speech, that people employ to send messages. Using "tangible symbols" or objects to aid communication is just one of the many options available to AAC users. It is the option most overlooked even though it is the most concrete form of communication available.

Object symbols are generally thought of as 3 dimensional, manipulable, and are easily discriminated by physical properties such as shape and texture. The most commonly used are real objects, miniature objects, and partial objects. Real objects are identical to, similar to, or associated with their referents. For example, an identical symbol for "brush your teeth" would be a toothbrush just like the one the individual uses on a daily basis. A similar symbol might be a toothbrush of a different color or style. An associate object might be tube of toothpaste. Miniature objects are just what the name indicates-miniature versions of the real objects. Although the use of miniature objects is often more practical than the use of real objects, they must be carefully chosen to maximize effectiveness. For certain referents, partial objects may be useful symbols. For example, the top of a spray bottle might be used to represent "washing windows" rather than a full bottle of wind! ow cleaner or a roll of paper towels.

Objects are the easiest form of symbols to learn and are generally chosen specifically for each person who uses them based on that individuals experience. Adding voice output to objects can further enhance the use of objects in communication. Voice output, especially digitized speech allows for the addition of intonation and inflection, helps clarify the intended message to the listener, and helps insure consistent communication exchanges. These are all things that have been found to be of great benefit to people with autism, traumatic brain injury, as well as other disorders and to the user themselves.

This presentation will discuss how to begin incorporating objects into communication in an organized manner. It will give suggestions for determining which concepts will be represented and what objects should be used. Suggestions for where and how to find objects will also be given. A commercially available object communication system will also be shown.

Throughout the presentation technology will be shown that enhances the use of objects. Various switches and voice output devices that are "object friendly" will be demonstrated and their uses discussed. There will also be discussions about the commonly brought up disadvantages of using an object system such as representing concepts like emotions (i.e. happy, sad), portability, and the time involved to organize and maintain such a system.

Objects, whether they are real, miniature or partial, can greatly enhance communication and in some cases fill the communication void for individuals that cannot use other symbol forms. They should be given full consideration when exploring symbol options appropriate for augmentative communication. This is true whether the communication system is for a specific individual, a classroom, home, or work setting. It really is easier than you think and the resulting communication is worth the effort.


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