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Drawing Inspiration From Celebrities with Dyslexia 

Dec 05, 2019

Here's a look at the remarkable lives of celebrities with dyslexia who not only surpassed their challenges, but went on to become trailblazers in their chosen field.

Academic success of Dyslexics

Dyslexia is a learning disability that makes it difficult to read, spell, and comprehend written text. Without a proper diagnosis, those with the condition are often assumed to be unintelligent or uninterested. But this cannot be farther from the truth. 

Dyslexia does not reflect the intellect or the talent of a person. In fact, there are several famous people who have excelled in their respective careers by conquering the condition. Some of them even credit dyslexia with having put them on the path towards success. Here are some of the celebrities who did not let dyslexia become a stumbling block to their success:  Steven Spielberg  It can be hard to believe that an accomplished director of his stature had a learning disability, and reading challenges.The Oscar winning filmmaker who reignited our interest in dinosaurs with his 'Jurassic Park’ movies, was not diagnosed with dyslexia until he was in his sixties. He claims that the diagnosis helped him make sense of the struggles he had while reading scripts. However, he feels that although it took longer for him to read a script, the extra time helped him identify interesting parts of the text. Richard Branson This multi-dimensional founder of Virgin Group, had a tough time with standardized tests during his school years. He has been open about his dyslexia, and credits the condition for his venture into entrepreneurship. Conferred with several prestigious awards, he is also a noted philanthropist and is known for his humanitarian endeavours. His glorious achievements are proof that the challenges associated with dyslexia can be easily overcome by perseverance and hard work. Tom Cruise This Hollywood A-lister, who has acted in such hit movies as Mission Impossible and Jerry Maguire was diagnosed with dyslexia when he was seven. He struggled to hide his condition throughout his school years, fearing ridicule from his peers. He was worried that his reading challenges could affect his chances of getting  movie roles. However, he learnt to focus on reading and developed his comprehension by getting the right kind of support. He took every step to ensure that dyslexia did not not hold him back from achieving superstardom. Whoopi Goldberg Who can forget the riveting performance of this gifted actress in the Spielberg directorial 'The color Purple', or her Oscar-winning acting in the 1990 movie 'Ghost'? The talented actress, however, was labelled slow and stupid at school due to her dyslexia. Thanks to her mother who constantly supported her by reading to her, Whoopi was able to retain her love for books. She is now a strong advocate for raising dyslexia awareness, and is involved with several programs that help children with learning disabilities. Anderson Cooper It might be surprising to know that this  hard-hitting journalist who regularly reads the prompter to deliver news headlines, was diagnosed with Dyslexia as a child. He is grateful to his school for recognizing his reading challenges, and for encouraging him to get help. This enabled him to seek intervention which subsequently led him to do well in academics. Jim Carrey Did you know that this comedic genius who wowed us in rib tickling entertainers such as 'Dumb and Dumber' and 'Bruce Almighty' did not do well at school? It took an insightful teacher at his school to look beyond his disruptive antics and identify his incredible talent. This reinforcement helped him hone his skills instead of languishing with low self-esteem due to his dyslexia and poor academic performance. These celebrity stories reiterate the need for early intervention and support systems, so that children with dyslexia are not left to believe that they are any less than their peers. They also serve as shining examples for those with learning disabilities, demonstrating  that no challenge is too difficult to overcome with determination and positive attitude.       Did you find these stories of celebrities with dyslexia fascinating? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.  
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Understanding the Debate Behind the Diagnosis of Social Communication Disorder

Social communication disorder(SCD) was included in the DSM-5, the latest version of the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ in 2013. Earlier, the disorder was not a separate diagnostic category, and fell under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). There has been support and skepticism for SCD meriting its own diagnosis among clinicians and experts. Read on to understand the different viewpoints regarding SCD diagnosis.

What is Social Communication Disorder?SCD description

People with SCD have difficulties with the effective use of verbal and non-verbal language to communicate socially. They have trouble understanding the inherent rules of social communication such as waiting for one’s turn in a conversation. They may also not be able to interpret the signals and read the behaviours of others.  Here are some of the aspects of communication, people with SCD struggle with: Pragmatics: Social pragmatics is understanding language with respect to the context instead of taking it in the literal sense. It involves not just the words a person speaks, but the gestures and the tone of voice in which they are spoken. For example, when a person says, “She hung in there till the end”, people with SCD might take the phrase ‘hung in there’ literally, instead of understanding it as ‘She didn’t give up even when things got difficult’. Social Cognition: Social cognition is the ability to be aware of one’s own feelings and motives along with the emotional state of others. Those with SCD may seem to lack empathy because they may be inept at understanding how others are feeling. They may also not know how to respond appropriately in social situations, and take the perspective of others. Social Interaction: Social interaction is governed by unwritten rules that dictate human behavioural patterns. It is abstract as to how we figure out these norms and conventions that we follow while communicating with fellow humans. People with SCD can be blatantly unaware of these subtle rules. Hence, they can appear to be rude or indifferent when they don’t follow the guidelines of social interaction, and interrupt or monopolize a conversation.

The Stance Against SCD as a Diagnostic Category

Some clinicians have reservations about SCD as a separate diagnosis. They are not convinced that there is enough evidence out there to substantiate this designation. According to  them, considerations like culture, personality, language proficiency, and several other factors influence social communication. Diagnosing a person with SCD without taking such factors into account could prove detrimental to them in the long run. SCD can have co-occurring conditions including developmental, intellectual and learning disabilities, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), aphasia, and dementia. So, clinicians feel that meticulous care must be taken to rule out other conditions before diagnosing a person with SCD. They also contend that people receiving SCD diagnosis are often left in a quandary, because there are not many resources available that can support them.

The Argument for a Distinct Diagnosis

The primary symptoms of SCD are social disengagement, and difficulties picking up non-verbal cues in social interactions. Since a lot of the symptoms of SCD overlap with those of ASD, the chances of a misdiagnosis are high.  However, SCD does not include restricted interests and repetitive behaviors, which are typical ASD behaviours. So, labelling a person with SCD as having autism, can result in them receiving suboptimal therapy. Experts in favour of a distinct diagnosis for SCD assert that it will help researchers dig deeper to better understand the condition. Consequently, focussed therapy plans can be formulated to enable people with SCD to overcome their social challenges and become successful in their lives.  
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9 Essential Life Skills for Special Needs Children

You might not realize how many skills you employ regularly as you go through your daily lives.This could be because you may not have broken a sweat learning how to do simple everyday tasks such as eating, dressing yourself, or maintaining your personal hygiene. But for children with special needs, these life skills may be harder to master due to their cognitive or developmental disabilities. So, their education should include instructions targeted at teaching valuable life skills for special needs children. Here’s a list of daily living skills that people with special needs will require support with learning: 1.Personal carebalanced food Teach students with special needs about the importance of balanced diet, exercise, good dietary habits, and proper nutrition. Focus on developing personal hygiene habits and provide required support  to ensure they practice them regularly.  Talk to them about how to get healthcare and deal with their illnesses such as fever, allergies, and the common cold. Train them to get dressed and make themselves look presentable. money2.Essential Math​ Teach children to count money, make correct change, tell time, and make a personal budget. They can be taught how to safeguard their money, and to take responsible financial decisions. Encourage them to learn to manage their finances and monitor their spending. Talk to them about good spending habits and about the importance of savings. Teach them how to manage a bank account and keep track of their transactions, and to pay taxes and all their bills on time. 3.Household Skillsshopping People with special needs can be trained to have practical living skills such as maintaining the safety of a house. They can also learn how to get their house repaired, and to service the heating/cooling systems, and other appliances, if and when necessary. Discuss with them about how to rent or lease a house, and renew or cancel the corresponding agreements. Cleaning the house and shopping for groceries are some of the things they can be taught to do. They can also learn how to store food properly, and check the expiration date of meat, canned food, and other edible items.   agreement4.Essential Reading Since the internet has become an indispensable part of our lives, people with special needs can be taught how to use search engines to look up information. They can also be trained to read maps and signs, so that they can travel within the community by themselves. They can also learn to read and understand important documents.   5.Leisure and Recreationmusic Every individual should be encouraged to pursue their passions and develop their talents. Even as you teach them important job skills, you can also guide them to participate in social events. Whether they like music or movies, they can learn how to get access to their favorite form of entertainment. They can also be taught about how to plan and enjoy vacations.   community6.Community Living Focus on giving them an education that imparts knowledge of citizens' rights, the law, and how to abide by it. Teach them how to report a crime, get emergency care for themselves or those around them, and get legal aid. They can be taught how to be a responsible citizen and follow the rules. Encourage them to observe political developments and exercise their right to vote.   7.Safetysafety sign Teach them about safety signs and their meanings. They should be aware of fire and other safety hazards, and ways to get themselves to safety in case of an accident. In the event of building evacuation, they should be aware of the exit pathways.   self confidence8.Self-Awareness and Self-Confidence Children with special needs should be able to identify their emotional, physical, and psychological needs. Encourage them to acknowledge and receive praise and criticism. Focus on developing their sense of self-esteem.  9.Occupation Skillsjob Schools should prepare them to look for  job opportunities and recognize the requirements of each job. They can be taught about the need for financial independence and the value of having an occupation.  Teach them about expectations in a work environment and how to adapt to work demands. They can also be taught how to be professional at the workplace. They can be coached to follow directions and how to work as a team. They must be ready to accept supervision and be aware of safety procedures.Teach them about the importance of attendance and maintaining performance standards. Pre vocational training should be part of their curriculum and opportunities must be created for simulating work experiences in the school. They should also receive vocational training and on-the-job training depending on their specific abilities. Parents of children with special needs dedicate a huge amount of their time and energy doing their best for the children. But the most precious gift they can give their children, and themselves, is their children’s self-dependence. So, they must actively supplement the skills training received from school. They should consistently motivate their children to do everyday activities with little or no assistance. Such an approach will impress the merits of being independent upon them.   Do you have any ideas about useful life skills for special needs children? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.
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Encouraging Autonomy in AAC Communication

We often believe that by handing an AAC system to a child, we have empowered them with communication. But communication is complex and has myriad purposes. Our end goal for the child should be that they go beyond using scripted language in their AAC communication devices and develop communication autonomy.

What is Communication Autonomy?Autonomous communication

Communication autonomy for AAC users means the ability to express themselves freely. It also means that the user gets to dictate when and what they choose to communicate. An AAC user should have the liberty to initiate communication or respond on their own accord. There is a tendency to confuse communication autonomy with ideas that do not denote autonomy. Having clarity about what communication autonomy is not,will help in understanding this concept better.
  • It Need Not be Independent Communication
A user with motor disabilities may require assistance for communication using the AAC system. But that does not mean that they are not capable of autonomous communication. Communication autonomy is more about an individual’s thoughts and the free will to express them. The user should be able to establish this autonomy in spite of their dependence on others for navigating or manipulating an AAC device.
  • It Need Not be Sophisticated
Communication autonomy does not have to involve structured language with syntax and  grammatical accuracy. The AAC user can use simple language, and even be single word communicators. If they wanted to talk about a tiger during lunchtime because the colour of the chips reminded them of their favourite animal, they should be able to do so. From random observations to opinions and comments, their communication can be as frivolous or significant as they intend it to be.
  • It Need Not be About Choice-making 
Choice making is indeed an important attribute we should aim for. But that may not be the communicative function that means the most to the child. Talking about the fascinating new game they played at school or letting the parent know that they miss their friend might be their priority. And the ability to say these things that are at the top of their minds, the things they cannot wait to share, is the autonomy that we should aspire to achieve for them.

Factors Affecting Communication Autonomy

Accessibility  You may not carry the AAC system while going to the park, because you think the child is going to be running around anyway. But what if they wanted to tell you about the butterfly they saw by the swing, and the vibrant colours that caught their attention. Shouldn’t the child always have the means to express their delight, distress, and all the emotions that lie in between?  This is why accessibility is vital. Encourage multimodal communication and use a combination of high tech apps with low tech strategies to ensure that child has access to a communication tool at all times. Vocabulary Each child is different and has varied interests and passions. Their vocabulary in the AAC system should be extensive and include words related to their specific interests and surroundings. A neurotypical child would choose any word they want to speak from their verbal repertoire. Similarly, AAC users should be given the opportunity to choose from a huge repository of words that matches their vocabulary so that their expression does not get restricted.  Communication Partner A communication partner must be willing to listen and must be open to all forms of communication. They should presume that the child is trying to communicate something meaningful and attempt to figure out the intent. Knowing that their ideas are valued will encourage the child to express themselves with confidence. The communication partner’s inclination to listen to what they have to say also boosts their self-worth, and gives them the reinforcement to form opinions and convey them without hesitation. AAC Proficiency For a child with communication challenges, the AAC system is their voice. So, the child must be taught how to use the AAC system using Aided Language Stimulation, also known as modelling. It might take an AAC beginner a while to master the device. Parents and teachers must be patient and model consistently until the child gets a grasp of the AAC system and its features. Their proficiency can be a major factor in how effective and diverse their communication is.  Neurotypical children develop their language skills by listening to words spoken around them all the time. These utterances are not planned and happen naturally. We must strive to create a similar immersive environment for AAC users too. While modelling language, we must make sure they the child is exposed to as many instances of modelling as possible. While creating modelling opportunities can be a good approach, we must also focus on unplanned communication. All the AAC communication partners should be in sync, and prioritize communication autonomy for the child. This ensures that their spontaneity and creativity is not inhibited. This in turn will lead to the child’s communication being as rich and dynamic as their potent minds.  
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Avaz Flash Sale For ‘International Day of Persons with Disabilities’

December 3 is observed as International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the world over. A society flourishes when they embrace people of all abilities. And we are proud to do our bit to advocate for disability inclusion through our work. International Day of persons with disabilities At Avaz, we know that AAC is a potent tool that gives people with developmental disabilities the confidence to voice their minds. So, we’d like to show our commitment to their inclusivity by offering a huge 50% discount on all our products, only on December 3, 2019 and December 4, 2019.  We are slashing our prices to honour what December 3 stands for.  So that no person with disabilities is held back from achieving excellence!  The Date:  Dec. 3, 2019 and Dec. 4, 2019 The Discount:   50% off on:
  • All Avaz AAC products 
  • Avaz Freespeech
  • MDA Avaz Reader for Dyslexia. 
Note: On Dec 4, 2019, all the discounted prices are applicable only if you make the purchase through the website. Help us Spread the Word Share this news with loved ones who have been waiting to buy one of our products. Tell that teacher friend of yours who has been eyeing our products for her school. Queries? Our Support team is here to assist! Reach us 24×7 at support@avazapp.com [ninja_tables id="2354"]    
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Understanding Different Types of Dyslexia

Child with reading challenges due to DyslexiaDyslexia encompasses a wide range of reading challenges. Though it is not officially divided into any categories, classification may help in understanding the nature of an individual’s reading challenge. This, in turn, can help them receive targeted support. A person with Dyslexia can have more than one reading difficulty and hence can have symptoms associated with more than one type of Dyslexia. Please note that dyslexia types are a convenient way to understand the varied reading and learning challenges faced by an individual. This should not be considered a definitive classification. Here are the common types of Dyslexia that you can come across in discussions:
  • Phonological Dyslexia

This may be the most prevalent dyslexia type. People with phonological Dyslexia have trouble with phonemic awareness, which is the breaking down of language into its individual sounds. They may also struggle to connect the sounds to written symbols. Language is composed of commons sounds that get used repeatedly to form words.  People with phonological dyslexia have trouble identifying the sounds corresponding to syllables that make up a word. But they may have no difficulty in producing speech by processing the sounds of language. Learning to read involves sounding out individual or a group of letters. So, sounds play a major role in decoding words. People with phonological Dyslexia can find reading in a language such as English an ordeal because the same letter or group of letters can be sounded in different ways. For example, the ‘c’ in car,’ k’ in king. ‘ck’ in pick, ‘ch’ in chrome, ‘q’ in question, ‘cc’ in occur, ‘cq’ in acquire - all of them make the /k/ sound but look very different!
  • Surface Dyslexia

People with this type of Dyslexia have trouble recognizing common words by sight. They may take longer to process language but they might have no difficulty with sounding out new words. So, they may sound out a word to identify a common word instead of being able to recognize them immediately. Words that are spelled differently than they are pronounced can be especially difficult to process. This may be because people with Surface Dyslexia can have trouble remembering what words look like. This can lead to comprehension difficulties and needing more time for reading. Those with surface Dyslexia can also have phonological dyslexia. This maybe because an inability to associate sounds to syllables of words can interfere with the learning of sight words. For instance, words like  drought, cough, psychic, colonel etc can be challenging. Surface Dyslexia may be also called Visual Dyslexia because it involves has a lot to do with the visual processing of words. Since the symptoms might suggest vision problems, doctors must also rule out this possibility while making the diagnosis.
  • Rapid Naming Deficit

Several people with dyslexia have difficulty rapidly naming things such as numbers, letters and colors when they see them. They may be unable to recognize letters and numbers instantly. It may take them longer to process information and name things in succession.
  • Double Deficit Dyslexia

An individual  struggling with two aspects of reading is said to have double deficit Dyslexia. Phonological and Rapid Naming Deficit are the common types that occur together. This means that people with double deficit Dyslexia  have trouble recognizing sounds in words and have difficulty with naming letters and numbers rapidly.

Addressing the Different Reading Challenges

Teachers and parents can provide tailor-made solutions once they understand the specific combination of reading challenges faced by an individual. They can use apps such as MDA Avaz Reader which can help with phonological awareness, which is the ability to recognize and manipulate sounds in a word. The app can also help with reading comprehension by providing hints for conceptual understanding. People with Dyslexia can be demotivated by their challenges and may find reading unenjoyable. Learning solutions that let them focus on a single sentence can make reading stress-free. This can be particularly useful for those who can find viewing the entire page intimidating. Children with different types of Dyslexia can underperform in schools due to their reading difficulties. Their challenges can be a roadblock to their academic progress if the do not receive adequate support. Early intervention and focussed educational approaches can enable the children to read better and allow them to reach their full potential.  
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5 Ways to Make Thanksgiving a Fun Experience for Children with Special Needs

Thanksgiving mealThanksgiving is a time when families get together and express their gratitude for life’s many blessings. While it is a favorite holiday for many, the hectic activities surrounding the day can be stressful for children with special needs. However, with a little planning, you can make Thanksgiving an enjoyable holiday for all children. 

Serve Them the Meal They Love

Several families have family traditions such as a feast that includes turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes. Your child’s not a fan of turkey and cornbread? Include their favourite Mac and Cheese in the menu. This way, you can ensure that your child truly enjoys the Thanksgiving dinner.  Accommodate your child’s specific dietary needs in your holiday planning. Make a shopping list ahead of time and remember to include your child’s favourite drink and dessert in the menu too. Some children with special needs may not do well with change in routines. In such cases, discuss the menu with your child in advance so that they know what to expect during dinner. 

Give Them a Task To Do

You can include your child in the holiday planning by assigning them a task. If your child loves baking, put them in charge of cookie cutting. Take your child to the grocery store and ask them to look for the items in your shopping list. You can also ask them to help you with the decorations.  Ask your child how they’d like to help. Give them a few options so that they can pick a job they are comfortable doing. Entrusting them with a responsibility gives them a sense of pride when they complete the task.

Talk to Them About Gratitude

Sit together as a family and take turns talking about what you are grateful for. If your child is uncomfortable participating while the guests are present, plan this activity for after the guests leave. Encourage your child to share the things they are thankful for. If your child has trouble coming up with a verbal response, you can ask them to write or type out Thank You notes instead. Some children with special needs can respond better to visual representation. Show them pictures of vacations and  fun events that they enjoyed. You can also add these images to your child’s AAC app and talk about them. This can help them recall fond memories of those events and motivate them to express their gratitude.

Identify a Safe Space

Whether you are hosting the dinner or celebrating Thanksgiving at a friend’s home, it is important that you find a safe space for your child. Unfamiliar people and boisterous conversations can overwhelm children with special needs. If they feel distressed and  experience a sensory overload, whisk them away to the safe space you had already identified.  If the loud music gets too much for them, give them a pair of noise-cancelling headphones that can help in calming them. Carry their favourite toy or book and keep it handy. Reading their favourite story or playing with a familiar toy can distract them and help them relax. If the child insists on leaving, oblige and take them away from the place immediately.

Have a Socializing Plan in Place

Social gatherings can cause anxiety in children with special needs. Enlist the help of a family member who the child feels at ease with, like their grandparent or aunt. So, when you are busy entertaining the guests, the family member can make sure that your child is relaxed.  Talk to your child about the guests you are expecting. Thanksgiving can be a time to teach them social etiquette. You can discuss with your child about greeting the guests. You can also load phrases in the aac app that the child can use to welcome the guests, so that they do not have to worry about remembering what to say. Even a well thought-out plan can go out for a toss, especially when the Thanksgiving party has people of all ages in the mix. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan! Have snacks and surprise goodies that can brighten up your child’s mood. Remember to follow their lead during the party, and make sure they are comfortable at all times. By following these simple tips, you can make Thanksgiving a holiday to remember for you and your family.   A heartfelt thanks for your continuous support. Team Avaz wishes you a Happy Thanksgiving and all the joy and abundance the holiday season brings.  
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A Comprehensive Look at Echolalia Definition, Types, and Purposes

Echolalia is common among people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Emerging studies have questioned the long-held belief that echolalia maybe a behaviour with no purpose. Read on to learn about echolalia definition, the different types and the corresponding speech patterns.

Echolalia in Autism

An individual with echolalia repeats or imitates words or phrases they hear. Verbal repetition is seen in all young children as they begin to communicate. In fact, it is a vital part of their language learning and development. But, as they grow older, children generally start expressing their own thoughts through their words, in addition to verbal imitation. Children with ASD, on the other hand, tend to have echolalia longer than typical children. Echolalia used to be dismissed as a behaviour with no communicative intent. But, recent studies have shown that it may be a part of the child’s attempt to have a meaningful exchange. A growing number of  experts reiterate the need to understand a child’s echolalia. They believe that parents, teachers, therapists and other caregivers should attempt to figure out what the child is trying to communicate through verbal repetition.

What is Echolalia 

Children with ASD can learn language as phrases or a string of words, and associate them with situations.  They may do so without understanding the meaning of individual words. This may lead them to utter phrases that might seem out of place. But on careful observation, you may be able to understand the communicative intent behind their  random utterances. For example, the child may say, “Is this your sister?”, while meaning to say “This is my sister.”  Similarly, the child may utter phrases from movies or TV shows they have been watching. For instance the child may say, “Okay,bye” when they did not get to play with their favourite toy. This might seem irrelevant to those who are unfamiliar with the TV show or movie. But that may be the child’s way of expressing their disappointment, because a  character in a movie they watched used the exact phrase to convey their disappointment. Repeating words right after hearing them is known as immediate echolalia. Repeating words at a later time is known as delayed echolalia. Delayed echolalia may be harder to comprehend by others, because people might not be able to make the connection to the phrases, words, or sentences uttered, due to the delay.

Interactive Echolalia and Non-interactive Echolalia

Echolalia can be an indicator of a person’s comprehension and thought process. Delayed echolalia is categorised into interactive echolalia and non-interactive echolalia. Interactive echolalia, also called functional echolalia, is an effort to communicate with another individual. Non-interactive echolalia maybe for personal use and generally lacks communicative intent.  You may be unable to ascertain if the echolalia is interactive or non interactive unless you are familiar with the individual. Since echolalia may involve information referenced from the individual’s personal life, a stranger might not be able to deduce the connection and identify interactive echolalia.

Purposes of Interactive Echolalia

Here are some of the ways and purposes for which  interactive echolalia may manifest. This may help you identify similar cues in your child, or those you work with. Requesting The child may say “Would you like a sandwich?” around lunchtime. It might look like the child is just repeating what they heard earlier. But that may be the child’s way of requesting a sandwich. Initiating Interaction The child may say, “Ahh..This chair is just right” if they wanted someone to read them the story of ‘Goldilock and the three bears’. Showing Approval or Disapproval The child may say, “Don’t you want to play now?” instead of saying, “I don’t want to play now’. Similarly, if the child is asked, “Did you like the movie?”, they may repeat the question to say that they liked the movie. Giving information:  A child may sing, ‘Hush little baby’ to say that they want to go to sleep. A parent may be able to make the connection because they sing it to the child while putting them to bed. Seeking Attention The child might repeat any gibberish or phrases that drew the attention of their parents or teachers earlier, to get their attention again.

Purposes of Non-interactive Echolalia

Non-interactive echolalia may not have a communicative intent. But it is important to the child in their process of making sense of the world around them. Here are some ways in which children may use this. Non-focussed The child sings a song or repeats dialogues from a movie they watched earlier. These utterances are generally not intended for communication and maybe for self-stimulation.  Situation association The child’s utterances might be because an object, event, or a person caught their attention. For example, when they see an apple in the local supermarket, they may sing a song from the apple juice TV commercial. Rehearsal The child may repeatedly whisper a phrase to themselves before uttering the same in a normal voice. This may be a way of preparing themselves for the upcoming interaction. Self-direction The child may instruct themselves as they perform an activity. For example, if the child wants to put away the toys, they might say, “Pick up the truck, then pick up the car, put them in the toy box.” Labelling The child may point out to random objects or actions and label them repeatedly. For example, the child may notice a fruit and repeatedly say, “Fruits. Fruits are healthy.” The child may do so without intending to request a fruit. This may be the child’s way of using words to learn language.

Echolalia Intervention

The child's use of echolalia may be because they do not know the correct response. Training them to say, “I don’t know” can help in them using the phrase when they do not know the answer to a question. Another approach is to teach them the appropriate response. For example, you can ask, “How are you doing?", and say, “I’m fine.” immediately. This will help the child understand the correct response to the question.  AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) solutions such as AAC apps can be useful in augmenting the language of verbal communicators and help mitigate echolalia. The app can  help them break down phrases into meaningful words and enable them to develop language that reflects their thoughts. AAC strategies can also help them learn new words and understand their meaning. With consistent AAC use, children can learn to use language for autonomous communication instead of giving scripted responses. Children who repeat words without understanding their meaning can go on to alter the same phrases, indicating comprehension. They may also use more flexible language, suggesting independent thought. Though the child may occasionally use echolalia for self-stimulation when distressed or exhausted, they will begin to use phrases and sentences appropriately as they begin to understand language better. Echolalia must therefore be looked at as a positive step in language development, rather than a purposeless habit.       Hope you find this post on echolalia definition and purposes useful. Please share your ideas on echolalia in autism in the comment section below.
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AAC and Smart Assistants: A Productive Partnership

When the whole world gets to use smart technology to simplify their lives, why should AAC users be left out? Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant, AAC’s friendship with smart assistants is rewarding and is here to stay.  It’s not breaking news that smart technology has become a part of the everyday lives of several families across the globe. We’ve seen viral videos of children asking Alexa for help with their homework, and toddlers having serious exchanges with Google Home.  This trend is proving to be fantastic for AAC users!  Smart technology is an exciting way for AAC users to use their AAC devices.It is indeed heartwarming to see that AAC users are increasingly embracing smart technology and joining in on the fun. 

How About a Little Banter?

There is no denying that there can be a learning curve for AAC and some beginners may be uninterested in exploring the app or device at the start of the journey. Parents can also struggle to get their children to use AAC. Forcing the child will only end up being counter-productive as the child will look at it more as a chore. Children who learnt to use AAC can also discontinue using it due to several factors such as unavailability of the device in classrooms, or simply because they lose interest over time. Smart assistants, thankfully, have enough pizzazz to fascinate them. The ability of AAC apps to speak to Alexa or Google Assistant gives them the impetus to reach for their AAC device. They too want to interact with this digital ally in the living room that everyone their age seems to be connecting with. Asking Alexa for a joke, or Google Home for a riddle are all fun activities for  children. The bonus for parents is that these are also opportunities for the AAC users to use and learn language. 

A Good Communication Partner?

It is an undeniable fact that a good communication partner can motivate the AAC user to continue using AAC. The communication partner needs to be patient and should not make the user feel pressured to communicate. The availability of the communication partner is also a major factor. Parents and caregivers have the best intentions but they are only human. They may not be able to devote time for modelling AAC as much as they’d like, while juggling multiple responsibilities.  Smart assistants cannot substitute the human experience. Nor can they read non-verbal cues or gain the understanding the parent has of their child. However, they oblige and respond to an AAC user’s request at all times. This 24/7 availability of digital assistants is definitely a motivator for AAC use despite their other shortcomings as communication partners.

The Gateway to a Wealth of Information

The internet is a treasure trove of information and smart assistants can give AAC users access to abundant information. It helps to have an unpretentious know-it-all at home, right? Parents having a tough time answering the questions of children curious about why the sky is blue, and why leaves fall in autumn, can redirect the children to the digital assistants. This can help the child acquire knowledge about a variety of subjects, with just a few taps on the AAC device.  Parents can incorporate smart assistants into the child’s learning strategy if they prefer listening to information, than reading it. They can also load questions and phrases in the child’s system related to the child’s favourite topic. For example, if the child is interested in space, parents can add relevant questions into the child’s system and let the child use AAC to get answers from the smart assistants.

Independence and Control

Smart technology is not only fun and games. From controlling the temperature in your home to checking mails, there is a lot more you can do if you have the compatible devices. Smart appliances such as air conditioners, water purifiers, and heating systems have redefined comfort and convenience for everyone. For AAC users, however, independence is probably the primary benefit. The ability to control their surroundings without help from others can be truly liberating.  AAC users can also request news headlines, play music, set alarms and make calls using smart assistants. The element of self-dependence in the use of smart assistants can also boost their self-esteem. Digital assistants can also help in receiving emergency care and medical attention. Parents must create a separate folder for emergency use so that the user can call a professional or a caregiver in times of distress. They should also explain to the child how to navigate to the folder and go over probable scenarios when they may need it. As smart as they are,  digital assistants are nowhere near being perfect. They may have trouble comprehending different accents and phonologies of natural speech, and the results can be often hilarious or exasperating, depending on your request. The same can be true for voice output from AAC apps. So, it is better that parents guide young AAC users as they interact with the smart assistants. Minor glitches aside, this coalition between AAC and smart technology spells success for AAC users by broadening the scope of accessibility.
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Assistive Technology for Autism: AAC as a communication solution 

AAC and AutismPeople with Autism can have difficulties with speech, language, and communication. Read on to learn how assistive technology for autism such as AAC can help in addressing some of the challenges faced by those with ASD.

AAC and Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Autism refers to a range of conditions including Asperger’s Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).  Social, behavioural, and communication challenges are common amongst those with ASD. The extent of these challenges can vary from person to person depending on the specific condition and the severity of symptoms. While some people on the spectrum may have exceptional abilities and speak well, others may have limited speech and language abilities. A lack of speech, or deficit in language does not necessarily mean that the person has low intellect. So, it is important that people with ASD receive appropriate communication interventions such as AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication). Such interventions also give them the best possible chance at gaining literacy and social communication skills.

Why is Communication Intervention Important?

Communication is the bedrock of social interactions. So, for those with ASD, communication deficits can compound their troubles with making conversations in social situations. Communication also helps children with ASD connect to their parents, siblings, and teachers. It allows adults on the spectrum to foster significant relationships and participate actively in society.  According to experts, perceived problem behaviours in those with ASD may also be a way of communicating. When there is a lack of proper communication outlet, people with ASD may resort to disruptive behaviours to convey their irritability or disagreement. Providing them with an effective communication strategy such as AAC can help manage their emotions better. As is evident, enhancing communication skills enables people with ASD to deal with their other difficulties such as social and behavioural challenges.

Gives Them Control

There has been increasing autism awareness and acceptance over the years. But there is still a long way to go in terms of fully comprehending the disorder and its broad range of characteristics. With people on the spectrum, the emphasis sadly tends to be on controlling their atypical behaviours rather than giving them a sense of control Without communication interventions, non-verbal and minimally verbal children on the spectrum have no way to clearly express their opinions, preferences, misgivings, and grievances. Their ideas are taken for granted and choices are made for them. With AAC, they can learn to manipulate their surroundings and be an active participant in decision-making.

Promotes Self-Advocacy

Self-advocacy is essentially “speaking for yourself”. Parents must encourage self-advocacy in their children with autism because it can positively impact their self-esteem. It lets the child know that their ideas are valued and gives them the confidence to voice their opinions in social settings.  Since people on the spectrum can require the support of others, including parents, carers, and professionals, their independence can be undermined. So, parents must listen to the children and respect their right to disagree, refuse, or challenge their choices. The children should have easy access to icons in the AAC system through which they can say Yes or No, and express their approval or disapproval. Moreover, children must be encouraged to discuss, negotiate and present their ideas emphatically.  Self-advocacy also deters abuse and mistreatment of people with disabilities. Adults with ASD can use AAC to report their dissatisfaction with the care they receive. Consequently, it allows them to dictate the standard of support they get  instead of settling for suboptimal care. Self-advocacy also helps reframe the public opinion of people with ASD and gives them the power to control the narrative. 

Ways AAC Systems can Help Children with ASD

Providing symbol-based AAC to children with ASD can help them develop their vocabulary. This is because they respond better to visual information. AAC apps that allow symbol-based and text-based communication can help expand their language abilities when they are ready for it. AAC systems can also help with a child’s comprehension of language. Since children with ASD can also have intellectual disabilities, they can take longer to process language and understand words. Besides, they may not be able to understand non-verbal communication.  Communication with AAC is typically slower than speech. Therefore, it gives the child more time to understand and respond to the information. The access to  visual representation of the information allows them to construct appropriate responses at their own pace. This helps in stress-free communication for both them and their communication partners.  Several people with autism lead successful lives by learning to manage their symptoms. AAC is an important intervention strategy that ensures that they are not defined or limited by their communication deficits. Besides, early access to AAC gives them the tools to combat their challenges and lets them focus on their individual strengths and talents.         What are your thoughts on assistive technology for autism?  Please share your ideas about AAC and autism in the comment section below.        
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Family Caregiver Support: The Role of AAC in Narrowing the Communication Gap

Elderly person and caregiver Caregivers are the unsung heroes who spend their time and energy making life easier for those they look after. Caring for a person with complex communication needs requires a lot of dedication and patience. In many cases, family members act as caregivers and tend to ignore their own emotions and needs for the sake of their loved ones. So, It is important that we prioritize caregiver support and rally around them as a society by providing them with the necessary resources. Most discussions on assistive technology (AT) revolve around how it can help people with disabilities. In this post, we’d like to shift the focus to how AT including AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) can lighten the load of caregiver responsibilities. Evidence suggests that AAC helps caregivers by giving them a better understanding of the needs of people with communication difficulties.

Prevents Caregiver Burnout

Caregivers can get overwhelmed by the demands of providing long-term care. They can experience burnout which is a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. It is, therefore, important to ensure that the family member often gets to take a break from caregiver duties, and indulges in self-care. In the absence of AAC, people with communication challenges may be understood only by a few.  This results in them developing a heavy reliance on the primary caregiver as they may be the sole provider of physical and emotional support. This constant dependence can put enormous strain on the caregiver.  AAC helps with comprehension and expands the possibilities of interaction with a wider range of communication partners. It also enables those with communication challenges to develop independence while they foster and maintain a variety of relationships. This allows the caregiver to enlist the help of other family members or friends who can share their responsibilities.

Enables Better Connection Caregiver and elderly person

Children taking care of elderly parents who have lost communication abilities later in life due to stroke or other conditions, can struggle to cope with the decline in the quality of their interactions. The same applies for spouses of older people with communication challenges. AAC can help them have meaningful exchanges which make caregiver duties less stressful and more rewarding. AAC promotes mutuality which is defined as the maintenance of a positive relationship between the caregiver and the care-receiver. Love, shared pleasurable activities, shared values, and reciprocity are the four factors that affect mutuality. Mutuality is said to reduce role strain of the caregiver and enhance the quality of care they provide. With AAC, people with communication challenges can be part of family activities and actively participate in conversations. They can share their stories and talk about common interests. This reciprocal nature of the relationship can reduce fatigue caused by caregiver duties.

Facilitates Caregiver Preparedness 

The support required for people with complex communication needs may vary over the course of time. Preparedness is defined as the perceived knowledge about the different dimensions of caregiver responsibilities such as providing physical care and emotional support, and the readiness to deal with impending changes.  When there is a lack of communication, caregivers have a hard time monitoring the health of those who receive care. They can find it difficult to assess medication side-effects and evaluate the extent of support needed. With AAC, people with complex communication needs can report their discomfort or the improvement in their symptoms more clearly. This enables the caregiver to make the necessary changes in the medical care or arrange for additional support systems if required. 

Helps in Making Optimal Choices 

It can be stressful to care for a loved one who is in need of continuous support. Communication difficulties add to the problem because people with communication challenges can get frustrated when they don’t have a say or are being misunderstood while decisions or choices are being made for them. This can cause anxiety and may also increase the workload of the caregiver.  Without proper communication, the caregiver feels a lack of control. They may feel guilty about not being able to understand the needs and wants of their loved ones. This unrealistic demand they put on themselves can ultimately wear them down. AAC enables people with speech and language difficulties to communicate their preferences and opinions clearly. This helps take the guesswork out of the equation. Consequently, it reduces the burden on the caregiver by freeing them from the responsibility of making everyday choices on behalf of their loved one. Family caregivers, also known as informal caregivers provide care that can match professional care provided by hospitals and nurses. However, a lack of expert guidance and knowledge can affect their care giving skills. Therefore, they must be equipped with relevant information, tools like AAC, and a reliable support system that they can fall back on at all times.    What are your ideas about caregiver duties and responsibilities? Do you think being part of caregiver support groups can help? Please share you opinions in the comment section below.
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AAC Apps for Adults with Acquired Communication Disorders

A brain injury or neurological disorder can rob an adult of vital communication skills. Read on to find out how acquired communication disorders can cause speech, language, and communication impairments and how AAC apps for adults can help.

What are Acquired Communication Disorders?Adult in need of AAC

Adults with normal speech, communication, and cognition skills can lose some or all of their abilities due to a severe illness or an accident. Some of the common causes of acquired communication disorder are:
  • Traumatic brain injury due to falls, motor accidents, or assaults
  • Dementia
  • Motor neurone disease
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Stroke
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Other neurological conditions

Skills Affected by Communication Disorder in Adults

There are several components of communication such as speech, receptive and expressive language, and cognition that can get affected by communication disorders. Family members may have a hard time understanding the difficulties their loved ones face while communicating. All this may also cause them to withdraw from socializing or avoiding social contact altogether. They may undergo changes in personality due to the emotional trauma resulting from the physical deficits. Learning about the exact nature of communication impairment can help in arranging targeted treatment and therapy.

Common Types of Communication Disorders in Adults

Here are the common types of communication disorders adults can acquire over their lifetime:
  • Aphasia A loss of the ability to produce or comprehend language. Stroke in the left side of the brain is a common cause of the disability. Adults with Aphasia may have trouble with reading, writing, using numbers, drawing, sign language, using gestures, and expressing their thoughts using the right words.
  • Dysarthria A speech disorder resulting from damage to parts of the brain controlling muscle movement. Adults with the disability can have slowness, weakness or poor coordination of speech. The severity of the disability and extent of speech impairment may vary from person to person. Speech may seem mumbled in adults with mild dysarthria while it may be more slurred and unintelligible in others.
  • Apraxia of Speech An oral motor disorder where the individual is unable to make the necessary motor plans involving voice, lips, and tongue to produce speech.
  • Cognitive-Communication skills Communication disorders that affect attention, judgement, memory, perception, reasoning, and other cognitive abilities. Trauma due to falls, automobile accidents or a stroke in the right side of the brain can cause these communication deficits.

Why Use AAC

Adults interacting with each other

A tragic accident or a chronic neurological condition can cause significant life changes. Communication disorders create additional distress in adults who can become withdrawn due to their diminishing abilities. This adds to the agony of family members and caregivers grappling with the disability of their loved ones. AAC(Augmentative and Alternative Communication)  devices for adults prevents them from being alienated.  AAC also lets them be an active participant in making decisions related to their healthcare. Caregivers too can better understand the needs of those they are looking after. This not only allows them to provide the best care possible, but also prevents caregiver role strain.

What AAC system to use

Adults with communication deficits may or may not have accompanying physical or cognitive impairments. So, SLPs need to evaluate each individual to decide which AAC will be the right fit for them. As with all augmentative communication solutions, there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. Here are a few factors to consider while choosing an AAC system:
  • Motor Skills Patients affected by stroke and certain neurological disorders may have physical impairments in addition to communication challenges. So, the choice of AAC devices for adults should depend on whether they will be able to navigate the system without difficulty. For ambulatory patients, a portable and reliable system such as a robust AAC app whose features support specific motor issues might be the best option. For those who may have trouble swiping the screen, or touching and selecting smaller buttons, it is important to choose apps where icon sizes, speed, navigation options, and screen parameters can be customized easily.
  • Communication Abilities and Preferences Since communication disorders can affect cognition, visual supports may be more helpful for certain adults. Low tech AAC such as picture cards can help them with remembering things and initiating conversations. If they prefer high tech solutions such as an AAC app, it is advisable to choose one that supports multiple modes such as symbol-based and text-based communication. This is important because symptoms can worsen over time with in case of degenerative diseases. So, it is wise to choose an AAC solution that can adapt to the user’s changing needs.
  • Ease of Learning The cognitive abilities of an individual determines the system they are capable of learning to use. Ease of learning is an important feature to look for because it can influence the continuous use of AAC by a user. Complicated design can discourage the user and can result in a lack of motivation to use AAC for communication.
  • Accessibility It is crucial to ensure that AAC is available at all times to anyone who needs it. Users who are dependent on high tech systems can be left with no means of effective communication if the AAC device runs out of charge or is not functional. So, they must be encouraged to use multiple strategies such as sign language if the individual is capable of it, or low tech AAC such as symbol charts, along with their AAC apps.
Adults with acquired communication disorders can struggle to come to terms with their loss of abilities. AAC apps for adults, like Avaz, can help them receive the emotional and social support they need to cope with the disability. It also enables them to have meaningful interactions and to maintain a positive relationship with friends and families.
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Teletherapy: A smart way to facilitate speech therapy for adults and children

People with complex communication needs require appropriate intervention programs to overcome their challenges. Speech therapy for adults and children is considered an effective solution. Is teletherapy equally beneficial? Read on to find out more.

What is Teletherapy?

Speech teletherapy or telepractice is the online delivery of therapy services implemented by taking advantage of state-of-the-art telecommunication technologies. It was duly approved by American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) in 2005. Since then, it has been growing in popularity in the U.S and has emerged as a  game changer in the field of speech and language pathology. Teletherapy breaks down distance barriers and opens up access to the best experts, defying all geographic limitations. It is very similar to traditional speech therapy except that the sessions happen virtually. Teletherapy can be used for consultation, assessment or evaluation, intervention, and regular follow-up of the client. 

Why Opt for Teletherapy?

There is a  staggering shortage of speech and language pathologists in several parts of the world. This results in the denial of much required speech therapy services in those regions. It is particularly devastating to see how the lack of access to early intervention programs affects several young children across the globe. Teletherapy is a viable alternative to traditional therapy because access to SLPs is not limited by geographic distance. This means that schools and families in districts where the SLP shortage is acute, can avail of therapy services from experts based in other districts. Moreover, it can also serve as a means for people in rural and remote areas to avail of expert help and guidance. 

Advantages of Teletherapy

Here are some of the benefits of teletherapy:
  • Cost-effective : Since there are no transportation expenses involved, teletherapy costs less when compared to traditional therapy sessions. 
  • Time-saving : Since you can attend the therapy sessions without leaving your home, it saves time that would have otherwise been spent on commuting.
  • Flexibility : There are several experts licensed in telepractice speech therapy who offer their services at different time zones and schedules. So, parents and caregivers can fix appointments based on their convenience and availability.
  • Convenience : For those with motor disabilities, travelling to a therapist’s office can be an inconvenience. People on the autism spectrum can also feel anxious about unfamiliar places and can find the SLP’s office uncomfortable. Teletherapy enables such clients to connect with the therapist from the comfort of their homes, with their parents or caregivers by their side.
  • Wider Choice of Experts : Schools and families in small towns and villages can get the services of the most renowned and accomplished SLPs. They are no longer forced to rely on the services of the local professionals who may not have the necessary credentials.

Avaz and Remote Therapy

Avaz recognizes the need for employing modern technologies to ensure access of speech therapy to everyone. Avaz Live is a feature of Avaz AAC app that families and schools can use to seek remote therapy services from experts. There is no additional equipment that you need to buy other than the iPad or the Android tablet that you generally use. Besides, you don’t need to browse for, purchase, install, or update additional software for video conferencing. Avaz Live is, therefore, a seamless solution for Teletherapy. The connection is completely secure because the parent has to explicitly grant access for the SLP to get control of the user’s screen. This ensures confidentiality which is of paramount importance. With Avaz Live, remote therapy is not restricted to discussions alone. The SLP can take over Avaz user’s screen and tweak the settings. This allows them to evaluate how well the user has been using the AAC sytem, and to make necessary suggestions. Moreover, the SLP can also assess the progress made by the Avaz user and recommend steps for further development. 

How to use Avaz Live for Remote Therapy?

Here are a few screenshots that give you step by step instructions on how to use Avaz Live: [gallery size="full" ids="2687,2688"] [gallery size="full" ids="2693,2727"] [gallery size="large" ids="2696,2700"]       Do you think Speech teletherapy or telepractice speech therapy is a good idea? Do you agree that it can make speech therapy for adults and children easily accessible?  Please share your opinions in the comment section below.
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Why Communication is Key to a Meaningful Existence?

Every person who breathes must communicate. It’s not only a primal need, it’s every person’s right. Read on to find out why communication is key to living a purposeful life. Imagine a world where we didn’t communicate with each other. If that idea seems far fetched, just imagine not communicating with anyone for a whole week. Do you think we will have the same control over our life and surroundings as we had earlier? What impact would it have on our relationships? It doesn’t take much pondering to figure out that communication plays a pivotal role in shaping our lives.  Now, think about people with communication deficits due to conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy, or neurological conditions. Their impairments can limit their experiences and inhibit them from reaching their full potential. Thankfully, AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) does a stellar job of equipping people that have speech and language difficulties with vital communication skills that can substantially improve their quality of life.

Understanding Communication

Communicative functions, also called purposes of communication can be classified into the following 
  • Regulation
A person uses regulation to take control of their environment. They are also attempting to control the communication partner’s behaviour to have their needs met. This includes seeking attention, wanting an object, getting help etc. 
  • Social Interaction
In the case of social interaction, communication is for establishing, maintaining, or discontinuing a connection. So, it goes beyond the needs of the communicator. The primary goal of the communication is to have a social exchange with the partner. Examples include greeting and calling by name or gestures, waving, smiling etc. 
  • Shared Attention
Shared attention is used to draw the attention of the partner to an object or event. The individual wants to express their thoughts and observations about the object or event. Examples include commenting on the physical state of an object such as broken, cold, hot, etc. or reporting information about an object or event.

Conditions that affect communication

Communication disorders can affect articulation, fluency, voice, or language of an individual. Some of the common causes of communication problems are
  • Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down’s Syndrome , PDD-NOS
  • Voice problems such as Dysphonia 
  • Speech problems like stuttering
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Learning disabilities
  • Brain injury
  • Stroke
  • Hearing impairments

Solutions and strategies

People with complex communication needs use several strategies to make themselves understood. Some of the common solutions used are 
  • No Tech AAC such as Sign language
  • Low tech AAC including pen and paper, dry-erase boards picture boards or mini cards, communication charts
  • Mid Tech AAC devices with a limited set of pre-recorded phrases with corresponding buttons
  • High Tech AAC including Speech generating devices and AAC apps.
Body language, gestures, and facial expressions can also be used along with language to communicate. A raised eyebrow can indicate wonderment while an eyeroll can express disagreement or exasperation. The choice of communication mode, however, can depend on the extent and nature of disability, the communication partner, and the setting.  For example, sign language is a quick way of communication but may not be an effective solution for people with motor disabilities. Symbol-based low tech AAC is easy to access but the lack of audio output deprives the user of the ability to have a voice. Mid tech AAC is inexpensive but the limited vocabulary can restrict conversations. High tech AAC such as an AAC app with voice output  is a powerful communication solution. Moreover, it has robust language options that expand the possibilities of communication and promote literacy. All things considered, multimodal communication which involves a combination of different strategies may be an optimal solution to ensure access to alternative and augmentative communication tools at all times.

Why Comprehension is Key to Communication?

Communication is only productive if your message is conveyed effectively to the communication partner.  Sign language can be very helpful but it is not understood by everyone. Gestures and body language too may be understood by caregivers and parents, but can be misinterpreted by those not familiar with the communicator.  This is exactly why AAC is recommended to people with communication deficits even if they are minimally verbal. Augmentative tools such as an AAC device can supplement a person’s natural speech and improve their comprehension. Comprehension is important because it broadens the scope of societal participation. It also helps in having earnest social interactions which can be the foundation for building meaningful relationships and a rewarding life.   Do you agree that communication is key to leading fulfilling lives? Please share your ideas on communicative functions in the comment section below.
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AAC Apps: Tips to Choose the Best One for Your Child 

Children exposed to more language experiences during early childhood have been found to develop better vocabulary and processing skills. This reiterates the significance of early intervention. AAC apps are excellent early intervention tools for facilitating communication in young children with complex communication needs. Once you have decided to use high-tech AAC for your child,  comes the task of choosing the best communication app. Every app might look the same at first glance. But, on further investigation, you may notice key differences in the features. To help you make an educated choice, we’ve compiled a few points to consider before purchasing a communication app- 

 Is Learning How to Use the App Easy?

See if the app has built-in tutorials aimed at teaching parents how to use AAC. This is an important feature because parent / communication partner education is vital to ensure the effective use of AAC. Parents / caregivers of children with special needs can have their hands full with their responsibilities. A well-planned tutorial can provide guidance and increase comfort levels with app use. The parent’s comfort in using the app can, in turn, encourage the child  to use it consistently.

Does it Have a Low Tech Version?

Many parents can overlook the importance of this feature. However, using low-tech solutions along with a high-tech one can make sure that the child has access to AAC at all times.  For example, if your child likes playing basketball, carrying an iPad or an Android tablet while playing the sport is not feasible. So, you can give them picture cards for requesting help going to the bathroom or to communicate that they need a break. Choose apps that have a print feature with which you can take a printout of your child’s customized vocabulary instantaneously from the app and create these cards. 

Does it make Communication Effortless? 

Visit the app maker’s website and learn about whether there was any research involved during their development process. Here are a few things to look for:
  • Core Words:
Core vocabulary in any language is the small set of words that is used for about 80% of communication. Since core words are the most commonly used, the child can easily form sentences and convey their messages once they are familiar with them. Check whether the app has easy access to core vocabulary because it can determine the speed of communication.
  • Keyboard Mode:
When getting started with AAC, some children can communicate only through pictures, while others may be comfortable with typing. So, it is preferable to have an app that has both a picture and a keyboard mode. Because this will help the child communicating through pictures make a smooth transition to typing words. Using images without captions, and then gradually changing the settings to display only text can help in the child making the transition. You can also choose to include pictures in the text mode until the child gets comfortable with using only text. Make sure the app allows you to easily toggle between picture and keyboard mode. 
  • Prediction:
The phrase-level prediction feature allows the user to convey their messages quicker. Prediction can be chosen for the current word, the next word, or both. You can also choose to change the delay of prediction according to your requirements. Phonetic match is a very useful feature that ignores spelling errors and predicts words based on the phonetic sound. So, as the child types ‘cuki’, the words ‘cookies’, ‘cucumber, and ‘cook’ will be predicted. [caption id="attachment_2559" align="aligncenter" width="570"]Phonetic match in Avaz AAC app Phonetic match in Avaz app[/caption]

How Easy is it to Customize and Personalize?

Customization is important and can influence how comfortable the user is with the app. Each child has words that they need to use frequently, and those words should be easy to navigate to.  You should also be able to personalize the app by adding your own images or voice for icons. Getting relevant images from the web and adding multiple words or images at one go can also make personalization easier. 

Does it Support the Child’s Progress?

Many children who start out with pictures soon get comfortable with the keyboard mode. Single-word communicators can expand their vocabulary and increase their sentence length. The app should, therefore, allow the child to grow and develop their communication skills.  Make sure that the child’s communication is not limited to only requests. The app must allow a wide range of communication pragmatics including commenting, protesting, expressing opinions, agreeing or disagreeing, and sharing their feelings. [caption id="attachment_2569" align="aligncenter" width="595"]Remote therapy session using Avaz Live Remote therapy session using Avaz Live[/caption] There are several other features such as Remote Therapy and Analytics that can help monitor your child’s usage. So do take those into consideration as well. Above all else, make sure you consult a Speech and Language Pathologist for a feature match before choosing an app. A well-built app can become your child’s best ally in their communication efforts. So, take your time to analyze the different AAC apps to pick the best app for your child.  
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Useful Tips for Raising a Child with Autism – Part II

Parental support is very important for the development of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Most parents are constantly on the lookout for any resource that can help with raising a child with autism. It might be surprising to know what a world of difference parents can make for their children when they are armed with the right information.  child with autism Here are 9 simple ideas on how to help children with ASD flourish

1.Be specific and concise with directions

For children with difficulty understanding language, instructions in simple terms are easier to follow. Direct and concise messages are hence more effective. Showing them a picture or a visual demonstration of the behavior you want to see, can also be helpful. For example, if your child is throwing food at the table, saying, “Be good at the table.” or ”Would you stop with that?” would be vague. Instead, saying, “Please eat your food.” would give them a clearer sense of direction.  Concise instructions specify what is expected of them and what behaviour will not be accepted.

2.The ’First/then’ method

The ‘First/then’ method is used to present what’s needed to be done now (first) and what’s needed to be done next (then). You can do this in the form of writing, pictures or even an app. The idea is to use their favourite activity or toy to motivate them to complete the activity they are not so keen on doing. You can say, “First finish your homework, then we’ll go to the park.” This simple phrase helps provide structure in their minds. It also encourages them to follow the directions at hand.

3.Sticking to a schedule

Children with an autism diagnosis usually prefer following a schedule. So, plan a daily schedule of routine tasks. You can also prepare a schedule or to-do-list on an AAC app such as Avaz. Incorporating pictures of the task can add an element of fun to it. In case of unavoidable changes, have a backup plan. For instance, if you got stuck in traffic for longer than expected, use the child’s favourite activity, story, or toy to redirect their attention.

4.Pay attention to sensory experiences

Many children with ASD have strong reactions to sensory experiences. They can be fascinated or be overwhelmed by certain noises, visuals, textures, etc. Pay attention to what triggers a negative reaction and what evokes a positive reaction. For instance, using noise-cancelling headphones in a noisy classroom can help prevent your child from feeling overwhelmed. 

5.Creating safe spaces at home

Create safe spaces at home where your child can feel relaxed, secure and calm during a meltdown. A safe space is vital to their mental health. Don’t force entry into the safe space. Give the child the choice to enter the space. Make sure that the safe space does not have anything that can cause a sensory overload.

6.Provide choices

Providing children with choices gives them a sense of control over their world. However, limit the choices to three or four options depending on the child's abilities. Keep in mind that too many choices can overwhelm the child.  Examples of choices are: What would you like to eat? Ice cream , pizza, or something else? Presenting ‘something else’ as a choice is important because it does not restrict the child to choose only among the options you have picked for them. For children with language difficulties, show images of the options on an AAC app such as Avaz to help them make choices with the tap of a button.

7.Consistency is  Key 

Children with ASD experience difficulty applying what they have learnt in one setting, to another one. For instance, your child may be learning sign language at school but may not use it at home. Creating consistency in your child’s environment helps reinforce learning. Caregivers can try incorporating exercises and simple techniques used by the speech therapist at home. Using AAC apps to extend speech therapy at home is a great way to hone their communication skills.

8.Join an autism support group

Joining a support group for those with ASD is a great way to meet other families who share similar challenges. Parents can share information, stories, advice and lean on each other for emotional support. Just being around others who share similar experiences can help parents feel that they are not alone in their struggles and foster a sense of community.

9.Prioritize self-care

As a parent of a child with ASD, your day can be stressful. Most children with autism are sensitive to their parents’ anxieties, which intensifies their own reactions. Caregivers shouldn’t feel guilty about taking time from their hectic schedule to focus on themselves. Pursuing old hobbies, meditating, catching up with old friends, reading a novel etc. can be a great way to rejuvenate. Lastly, remember that it’s alright to ask for help, because a bit of support from those who care can go a long way in making your life easier Every child experiences different symptoms of varying severity, and there is no single rulebook for raising a child with autism. Hence, it’s important to take the time to understand each child and their specific needs to help them overcome their challenges.   Help a friend or family member diagnosed with autism get started on their journey by sharing this article with them! And if you have a tip that could help others, don't hesitate to share in the comments down below!   
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Useful Parenting Tips for Autism – Part I

Your child’s autism diagnosis may leave you feeling overwhelmed. It is natural to worry about what the future holds for your child. But, it may be reassuring to know that there is help out there.  While everyone on the spectrum has unique symptoms, with the help of the right resources and support, your child can live life to their full potential. Here are a few parenting tips for autism to help you get started on your journey:

1.Educate yourself about Autism Spectrum Disorder

Learning more about Autism Spectrum Disorder will make you better equipped at making informed decisions. There are several excellent online resources and books on autism that can help you with this. Ask questions and exercise discretion while making therapy decisions. Observe your child and try to understand what triggers certain behaviour. This can prevent your child from being put in uncomfortable situations.

2.Pay attention to non-verbal cues

Your child may not speak, but they are still communicating with you through non-verbal cues. Pay attention to your child’s facial expressions, gestures, and noises. They can communicate their hunger, fatigue, or other needs through these non-verbal cues. Similarly, you can also convey your message to your child using your tone of voice, by touch, body language and by the way you look at your child.  Child with AAC app Children with autism may have their own way of communicating their frustration and needs. You may be clueless about how to deal with their meltdowns in the beginning. Try figuring out the reason behind their tantrums. Provide AAC to them as early as possible. Research suggests that AAC helps children express their wants and needs and enables them to communicate better. 

3.Use timers to decrease transitional tantrums

How often has your child thrown a tantrum, refusing to leave their favourite park? Some children have trouble leaving preferred places or activities. Given their aversion to sudden changes, this is especially true for children with autism. Using a timer on your phone to set warnings before a change can help your child prepare for the transition. For example, setting a 5-minute warning to leave the playground or a 2-minute warning before a bath. This gives your child a sense of control. This way, they have time to prepare for the change and transitions can be made much easier.

 4.Early intervention 

Children who receive relevant education at key developmental stages are more likely to gain essential social skills. Research proves that with adequate support, they learn to interact better with others in society. For children with speech impairments, using AAC apps such as Avaz can help develop communication and social skills. Their ability to communicate helps reduce frustrations that result from an inability to express themselves.

 5.Focus on strengths

Despite their challenges, some children on the autism spectrum may have extraordinary capabilities.  Some have detailed long-term memory and strong visual and auditory learning capabilities. Others excel in Maths, music, and arts. Focus on your child’s unique skills because it can provide them with a sense of achievement. This lets the child know that they have valuable skills and contributes to their self-worth.  By shifting the focus on the child’s talents rather than the disorder, you are sending a strong message to the child that you trust in their abilities. This encourages them to  invest their time and energy in their hobbies and passions. Acquiring and honing these skills not only keeps them engaged but also boosts their self-esteem.

 6.Make time for fun

The frequent visits to the doctor and long sessions at the therapist’s can stress your child. Remember that your child needs time for fun and leisure just like any other child. Look for activities your child enjoys such as swimming, music, animal therapy, etc. Set up playdates with other children where you can monitor them.  You can also use Avaz in fun activities such as storytelling during bonding sessions with your child.  Add images related to the story in advance and ask questions related to the pictures during narration. 

 7.Positive reinforcements

Positive reinforcement is widely used for behavioural interventions. It is done by rewarding your child when they learn a new skill or when they behave well . However, it is important to be very specific about what behaviour you are praising your child for. Instead of punishing undesired behavior, the focus should be on recognizing  and appreciating their good behaviour. The positive reinforcer need not be a toy or candy. You may find that children respond well to positive attention and verbal praise. Choose the reinforcer according to what has motivated the child in the past.  Children with autism can have behavioural problems. By being observant and persistent, you can help them face their challenges. As parents, you play a major role in the lives of your children, So, being in the know of useful strategies and interventions can enable your children manage their difficulties better.    Help a friend or family member diagnosed with autism get started on their journey by sharing this article with them! And if you have any parenting tips for autism that could help others, don't hesitate to share in the comments down below!   
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High Tech and Low Tech AAC: How to Effectively use both

With high tech AAC devices, the possibilities are  truly endless when it comes to providing a voice to those with communication deficits. It makes you wonder if low tech AAC is still relevant and useful for children with communication challenges. 

AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) helps people with speech and language difficulties communicate with others.  Phenomenal technological developments in recent years have broken several barriers and revolutionized the way high-tech AAC is being used. Low-Tech AAC might not be as flamboyant as its high tech counterparts. But it can still serve as a beneficial tool that aids your child’s communication. And the interesting fact is that you can use a combination of high tech and low-tech AAC to enhance your child’s communication skills. Read on to find out how.

What is Low Tech AAC?

Low-Tech AAC comprises of tools and strategies that do not involve electronics and do not require batteries. Examples of Low-tech AAC are PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System), symbol charts, communication boards, communication books, etc. comparison of High tech Low-tech AAC The user selects letters, words, or phrases from the communication charts to convey their message. Users can use a body part such as their finger or toe, a head pointer, eye gaze,  mouth stick, light pointer or a hand-held pointer for the selection. People with severe motor and communication impairments may require assistance for using the picture boards or alphabet charts. Partner-assisted scanning is a method where a communication partner scans or presents the messages, letters, or pictures sequentially and the user makes their choice by answering Yes/No questions or with facial expressions.

Low-Tech Vs High-Tech AAC

High-tech AAC comprises of  tools and strategies that use electricity, electronics, and batteries.  High-tech systems might have a clear edge over low-tech AAC when it comes to the extent of communicative functions they are capable of providing. But low-tech AAC can come in handy in certain physical environments and situations.

Why Accessibility is Key?

Although Low Tech AAC has fewer advantages over high-tech AAC, accessibility is a major attribute that makes you reach for low-tech AAC in certain settings. And accessibility is vital. People with communication deficits may be dependent on AAC to have their needs met. Stripping them off their ability to express their wants and ideas can make them feel powerless. So, it is important to make sure that they have a way to communicate in all environments, at all times.

Why a Multi-Pronged Approach Might be the Right Formula

Communication is complex and we constantly use several modes of communication to get our message across to others. We use facial expressions, gestures, and body language in addition to our speech to communicate. Similarly, people with communication challenges could potentially use multimodal communication to convey their messages. Low-tech AAC, including laminated communication charts, is useful in demanding environments like pools and beaches.You can also use low tech AAC as a backup communication mode in case the high tech AAC devices run out of charge or are not functional. Take a printout of your child’s vocabulary and keep it in your bag or car. You can easily print the child’s customized vocabulary from a high-tech AAC system such as an AAC app. Avaz AAC for instance, has a handy feature where you can print out a child’s personal vocabulary from the app itself.  By using a combination of low-tech and high-tech AAC, people with communication difficulties can have the best of both worlds. Taking away their means to communicate can leave people feeling helpless and frustrated. So, users must be encouraged to choose multiple modes of communication that enable them to communicate across all environments. Low-tech AAC, therefore, can play a pivotal role in aiding communication in people with communication deficits.  
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How to Plan a Stress-Free Halloween for Children with Special Needs?

It is that magical time of the year when you get to see the unlikely sight of Harry Potter hanging out with the Avengers and ghouls, all in the spirit of Halloween. What can be more fun for kids than getting free candy and toys for dressing up as their favourite characters? But for children with special needs, Halloween can be a stressful time.  There has been increasing autism acceptance, and awareness about other disabilities in our society. So, with a little planning, you can make sure that your child too can join in on the fun this Halloween.  Here are a few ideas to make sure that Halloween is an enjoyable experience for children with special needs and their parents-

Adaptive Costumes

[caption id="attachment_2489" align="aligncenter" width="471"]Adaptive Halloween Costumes Adaptive Costumes launched by U.S retailer Target[/caption] Choosing a Halloween costume can be tricky for children with special needs. Regular costumes might not be wheelchair friendly and few children can also have sensitivity to certain fabrics. So, parents usually go for DIY (Do-It-Yourself) costumes to accommodate the child's individual needs. But in recent times, we see that retailers are waking up to the idea of inclusivity.  There are a lot more adaptive costumes available on the market now. These costumes are tagless and have flat seams. Some costumes include wheel chair covers that match the theme of the costume. Adaptive costumes ensure that your child does not have to compromise on style for their convenience. Children with special needs can choose to dress up as a pirate, a Disney princess, or their favourite superhero and show off their costumes just like other children.

Halloween Social Story

[caption id="attachment_2502" align="aligncenter" width="502"]Halloween Social Story Halloween Social Story created on Avaz AAC app[/caption] Any change from their set routines can unsettle children with special needs, especially those on the autism spectrum. Creating a Halloween social story is a technique that can prepare them for the big day.  Here is a sample of a Halloween social story we created for you. Feel free to tweak this story or make up your own to suit your child’s needs. You can make the story as simple or as elaborate as you deem fit for your child. You can also use this folder while taking the child trick-or-treating. Icons to be Added
  • On Halloween Night
  • Wear Costume
  • Go Trick or Treating
  • Knock on the Door
  • Say Trick or Treat
  • Say Thank You
  • Go to more Houses
  • Come Home and Eat One Treat
Read the story several times before the big night. Read the story along as you go trick or treating. You can carry the AAC device and show the story to your child if the child responds well to visual representations. If carrying the device is not feasible, print the pdf version of the story from your AAC app such as Avaz AAC app and take it with you. 

Halloween Treat Bucket

[caption id="attachment_2490" align="aligncenter" width="247"]Blue Halloween Treat Bucket for Stress-Free Halloween Blue Halloween Treat Bucket[/caption] There has been overwhelming support for a parent from the U.S who has recently proposed that children with special needs carry a blue treat bucket to signify that they have disabilities. Although the idea has its fair share of critics, this emphasizes the need for greater awareness about making Halloween more inclusive. Children with special needs may have different needs  including intellectual, language, or physical ones. When every child is expected say ‘Trick or Treat’ out loud, it can lead to many awkward moments for  children with complex communication needs and their parents. Children who are non-verbal or minimally verbal may find it nerve-wracking when there is a pause and delay before they get the candy. The blue bucket idea is useful because it denotes to those giving out the treats that the child has special support needs. You can also choose to hand out notes with a brief explanation of your child’s disability. 

Notes for Those Handing out Treats

Some might prefer staying home and handing out candy to the trick or treaters. Here are a few things to keep in mind if a child with special needs knocks on your door:
  • Do not focus on the child’s disability. You may have the best intentions, but making it about their disability can make the child feel uncomfortable.
  • Always, always  say something nice about the child’s costume. Halloween costumes are a big deal for every child. Especially for children with special needs, wearing a new costume can be overwhelming. So, make sure to appreciate their effort.
  • Some children with special needs can take longer to speak their words. If you see them using an AAC app, wait patiently while they type. 
  • Some children may be non-verbal and may not be able to say ‘trick or treat’. So, it is better to hand out treats or toys to them without waiting.
  • Do not expect eye contact as children on the autism spectrum might avoid making eye contact.
  • If you have a trick planned to spook the children, please refrain from doing so unless you're sure that the child at the door will be okay with that.
  • If you have scary music or lighting in your house that seems to trigger anxiety in a child, please put the child at ease by turning them off. 
By following these simple tips, you can make sure that Halloween is a memorable experience for all children. To learn more tips for fun-filled Halloween memories with your children, click here.  
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How to Make Diwali Enjoyable for Children with Special Needs

The aroma of delectable sweets in the air, and the decorative earthen lamps illuminating the streets buzzing with last-minute shoppers announce to us that Diwali is near. Children generally wait with anticipation for the auspicious day and all its festivities. The bright lights, loud noises of fireworks, and new clothes, however, can induce anxiety in children with special needs, especially those on the autism spectrum. But with a little planning, you can make the festival of lights a joyous occasion for all children.  Here are a few tips to make Diwali a fun experience for children with special needs-

Explaining the Essence of Diwali

Regardless of which part of the world you are celebrating Diwali in, we can all agree that the festival is essentially about the victory of good over evil. So, Diwali can be an excellent  opportunity for you to talk about the story of the Ramayana. You could also have a discussion around the concept of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, if suitable for the child’s level of understanding. Talk to your child about how goodness or good behaviour is celebrated while bad behaviour is punished.  Children with special needs may have varying comprehension capabilities. For those who are into mythological stories, you can read a children’s book about the festival. If your child understands pictures better, you can create folders in the AAC app with relevant images. Customizing folders and adding images from the web can be done effortlessly in Avaz AAC app.

Diwali Social Story

[caption id="attachment_2497" align="aligncenter" width="481"]Diwali Social Story Diwali Social Story on Avaz AAC app[/caption] Creating a social story can help prepare your child for all challenges that Diwali day throws at them. Planning ahead enables them to be ready for the day when it arrives. It also helps them relax and enjoy the day more. The challenges of each child with special needs are unique. And so are the Diwali traditions in each household. So, there cannot be one story that works for all children.   However, here is an example of a Diwali social story that you can customize according to your child’s abilities- Icons to be Added
  • On Diwali Day
In some parts of India, people follow certain customs on Diwali eve and the day after Diwali. In such cases, create separate stories for each day.
  • Wake up at 7 AM
Some children can get anxious if  woken up earlier than usual. So, talk to them beforehand in case you plan to wake them up early.
  • Wear New Clothes 
If the child can choose their clothes, plan your shopping trip to accommodate their preferences. If you are familiar with the local garment business owner, try to arrange a shopping visit early in the day. Most people are understanding and will be willing  to help.  Once the clothes have been picked, get the child familiar with the colours and textures of the fabric. You can include a picture of the chosen clothes in the AAC app, so that the child is clear that they’ll be wearing the same on Diwali day.
  • Have Breakfast
If your Diwali menu includes foods that are not part of your child’s regular diet, talk to the child about the special dish that they will get to taste. If your child is averse to trying new dishes, you can provide them their regular breakfast instead.
  • Guests Arrive
If you are expecting guests, prepare your child ahead of time. If the guests include people the child is not familiar with, talk to them about each person that they are likely to meet. You can also show them pictures of each individual guest on the AAC app.  If the child gets anxious during social meetings, take the child to a safe space to help them relax. Make sure that you identify a safe space and discuss with the child about it. Read here for more on safe spaces and how to prepare your child for fireworks and other challenges related to Diwali.
  • Wish Everyone Happy Diwali 
Create a folder with which the child can wish the guests a happy Diwali. Make sure the folder is easily accessible and that the child knows how to navigate to it.
  • Fireworks 
Some children with special needs may be comfortable with certain fireworks. But sudden bursts of light and loud noise can agitate many children on the autism spectrum. If you have concerns that your child might not enjoy fireworks, talk to the child about noises that they can expect to hear.  For some, Diwali involves travelling to their hometown and celebrating the holiday with loved ones. In such cases, include folders about the journey to prepare the child for it. You can also create additional folders for snack time or temple visits according to your agenda for the Diwali day.  Remember to go over the story several times to prepare the child for the special day.

Sharing Diwali Anecdotes 

Conversation is an important form of communication. In fact, experts suggest that when you share things about yourself, it encourages the child to express their views and opinions. So, have a conversation with your child reminiscing about how you celebrated Diwali as a child.  You can talk about the Diwali traditions that you followed or the aspect of the holiday you like the most. Talk to them about your favourite Diwali snack. You can also show them corresponding pictures on the AAC app. Diwali is all about getting rid of darkness by spreading the light of happiness and hope. Follow these simple ideas to make sure that your child’s face lights up with joy on Diwali day. Wishing you and your family a Happy, Inclusive Diwali and all the prosperity the festive day brings!!!
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AAC Communication Device: Importance of A Communication Partner

You analysed all the AAC apps in the market and have introduced the best app to your child. You're thrilled that they are using the app to communicate with you. You are looking forward to your child developing communication skills by exploring the app. But did you know that learning how to be a good communication partner is as important as your child learning to use the AAC Communication device?

Communication is essentially an exchange of information. Its efficacy depends on the communication skills of all parties that are part of the interaction. Your ability to be a good communication partner can substantially influence your interaction with an AAC user. Therefore, it is important that people who regularly interact with children using AAC apps focus on acquiring skills that enable them to communicate efficiently. Here are a few strategies you can practice to become a more effective communication partner -

Modelling

Modelling is an important aspect of communication through AAC. Model consistently to show the child how the AAC system can be used. Creating opportunities to model motivates the children to learn how to use the AAC devices.  Focus on modelling the keywords or core words when you are getting started.  Once the child gets familiar with AAC, you can expand their vocabulary by modelling more words. Ignore the grammatical errors as long as they don’t affect the meaning of the messages. You can correct the grammar when the children are ready for it. Avaz has an useful feature wherein you can print your child's vocabulary from the app. That way, you can easily continue modelling in settings where you cannot carry the device. 

Making Conversations 

When the child is just getting started with the AAC system, you may ask simple questions to encourage the child to use the AAC system. However, communication is complex and involves more than asking Yes/No questions. Make sure your conversation with the child includes making observations and expressing opinions. By asking only questions, you are controlling the conversation. This leads to the child having no say on the topic chosen and they end up having to  take a backseat in the conversation. The child is merely responding and does not have the opportunity to initiate conversations.  Talk about topics that may interest the child. Their favourite TV shows or books, perhaps. Use AAC devices to describe how your day at work was, or talk about what you are planning to make for dinner. Discussing everyday things such as food and clothes with the child enables the child to talk about their preferences. Talking to your child about diverse scenarios also paves the path for them to use language for real communication. This increases the chance of them having meaningful conversations and fostering significant relationships.

Giving Them Time

A child new to AAC can take time to respond using AAC apps. Therefore, it is important to be patient. Don’t get discouraged by their lack of response. Some AAC users may take longer to process your input. If you asked a question or made a comment, pause before proceeding with the next input. Typing messages using AAC devices takes time. Communication partners must be instructed to wait for the AAC user’s response.This includes siblings and peers at school.  Rushing them to respond immediately or moving on without waiting for their response can be counterproductive. 

Prompting 

Prompting  is a way of urging children to use AAC apps for communication. While prompting can motivate the child to interact using AAC, it is also important to be prudent about the number of prompts used. Keep in mind that too much prompting can make the child rely heavily on you for communication. There are three types of prompts, namely, verbal, gestural, and physical prompts. Different children may respond to different prompts. So try a mix of these and choose prompts that work best for your child. It is also important to be mindful of the amount of information given through a prompt. Use more prompts while introducing new concepts or features of the AAC system. Engage fewer prompts once the child has enough understanding of the concept / feature.

Planning Your Response

Respond to the intent of the child by acknowledging the communication. The quality of your response can affect the quality of communication. Therefore, think of appropriate responses when your child interacts with you through AAC device. If the child says, ‘no cookie”, to indicate that there are no cookies at home, do not just say Yes. Instead, you can respond by saying that you have plans to go to the store to buy cookies. Screenshot of AAC deviceWhen the child speaks a word through their AAC system, you can try to further build their language skills. For example, if the child types “banana” on the AAC communication device , ask “Do you want a banana?” by modelling the words ‘want’ and ‘banana’. You can also rephrase the child’s message to let the child learn the different ways to convey a message.  Be it at home or at school, every communication partner of an AAC user has a major role to play. The more mindful the partners are in their thought and practice, the greater the ease of the children with the AAC devices. Even when you do not fully comprehend a child’s message, assume that the child had said something meaningful, and respond accordingly. This can instil  confidence in the child, and encourage them to consistently use AAC for their social interactions. 
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Rett Syndrome Facts: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Here are a few important Rett Syndrome facts including causes, symptoms and Treatments. Read on to find out why the disorder mostly affects females and how AAC can help people with Rett Syndrome overcome communication challenges.

What is Rett Syndrome?

Rett Syndrome (RTT) is a rare neurodevelopmental disorder. For infants with Rett syndrome, the development is normal until the age of  6 to 18 months.The infants then go through developmental regression and lose their acquired abilities. Communication difficulties are common in people with RTT. However, with adequate support and intervention using Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC), people with Rett Syndrome can manage their symptoms and learn to communicate better.

What are the Causes of Rett Syndrome?

The most common cause of RTT is a mutation in the methyl CpG binding protein 2 (MECP2) gene. The MECP2 gene plays a major role in the synthesis of Methylcytosine binding protein 2 (MeCP2). The brain needs MECP2 protein for its development. Moreover, the MECP2 protein also controls gene expression of other genes, regulating their protein production. It is important to keep in mind that all individuals with MECP2 mutation do not necessarily have Rett Syndrome. Scientists are investigating other causes of Rett Syndrome. They have observed mutations in the CDKL5 andFOXG1 genes in people with atypical or congenital Rett syndrome. They are also considering partial gene deletion as a possible cause of RTT. Given that it is a genetic disorder, attempts are being made to identify other genes that may be responsible for RTT.

Why does Rett Syndrome mostly affect females?

Rett Syndrome is often misdiagnosed or undiagnosed. So, researchers do not have the exact numbers of those affected. However, according to estimates, Rett Syndrome affects approximately 1 in 10,000 females worldwide. RTT is seen in males, but very rarely. Understanding the Rett Syndrome facts and genetic links will shed light on why the majority of those affected by RTT are females. The MECP2 gene mutation, the primary cause of RTT is found on a person’s X chromosome. Females have two X chromosomes, although only one is active. So, the severity of symptoms in females with Rett syndrome is largely dependent on the percentage of the cells that have an X chromosome with the normal MECP2 gene turned off. Males, on the other hand, have one X and one Y chromosome. So, if their X chromosome has the defective MECP2 gene, they do not have a back-up X chromosome. This means that although RTT is rare in males, symptoms in males may be more severe than in females if it occurs.

Is Rett Syndrome hereditary?

Despite being a genetic disorder, Rett Syndrome is not hereditary. In about 99% of the diagnosed RTT cases, scientists have found the mutation to be a random occurrence. The percentage of those with RTT inheriting the mutated gene is less than 1%. There are females in families of individuals with RTT who are asymptomatic carriers. They have the MECP2 gene mutation but do not have clinical symptoms of the disorder.

How to Diagnose Rett Syndrome?

The diagnosis of RTT involves close monitoring of developmental milestones. Decreased head growth can be a red flag, although it may be a sign of other disorders too. Taking a blood test can identify the MECP2 gene mutation. However, gene mutation alone is not enough for an RTT diagnosis. Doctors must rule out the presence of Traumatic Brain Injury, Neurometabolic disease, or infections before confirming RTT diagnosis. Here are the Rett Syndrome facts regarding the most common diagnostic criteria
  • Loss or impairment of fine motor skills
  • Loss or decrease of verbal speech
  • Gait Abnormalities such as toe-walking
  • Repetitive hand movements including wringing, rubbing or clapping

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Rett Syndrome?

Hypotonia or loss of muscle tone is generally the first sign of Rett Syndrome. There is a range of symptoms, the severity of which can vary from person to person. There are four stages of Rett Syndrome and the symptoms present themselves differently in each stage.

Stage I

Stage I generally begins between 6 and 18 months of age. A gradual slowing of development is noticed. This stage is called early onset and the following symptoms may be present but not be quite apparent.
  • Less eye contact
  • delays in sitting or crawling.
  • Hand-wringing
  • Decreasing head growth

Stage II

Stage II typically begins between ages 1 and 4. This stage is called the rapid destructive stage. Common symptoms during this stage are
  • Repetitive hand movements such as wringing, clapping, or tapping
  • Breathing irregularities
  • Autistic-like symptoms such as lack of social interaction and communication deficits
  • Unsteady walking
  • Slowed head growth which is noticeable

Stage III

Stage III typically begins between ages 2 and 10. This stage is called the plateau or pseudo-stationary stage. Most prominent symptoms are
  • Apraxia
  • motor problems
  • seizures
  • This stage may also see improvement in behavior and communication

Stage IV

Stage IV can last for several years. This stage is called the late motor deterioration stage, Prominent symptoms include
  • Reduced mobility
  • Curvature of the spine
  • Muscle weakness, rigidity
  • Communication and cognition generally do not decline in stage IV.
What is the Treatment for Rett Syndrome? Currently, there is no cure for Rett Syndrome. So, treatment focuses on providing symptomatic relief and includes
  • Occupational therapy, speech therapy, and physical therapy
  • Management of gastrointestinal issues
  • Evaluation of Scoliosis
  • Antipsychotic medications
  • Resources for Parents
How AAC Helps Those with Rett Syndrome AAC is a vital part of the treatment plan for RTT because it helps people with Rett Syndrome manage their communication difficulties. Low-tech AAC such as picture boards or high-tech AAC such as communication apps helps in social interactions. Using AAC apps enables those with RTT to express their opinions and gives them the power of choice-making, thus improving their quality of life.
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Getting Started with AAC Device at Home

Your SLP has recommended Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) for your child. But you are unsure of how to kickstart the AAC journey. Understanding how to use an  AAC device might seem like an uphill task at the beginning. Many parents new to AAC may feel lost. However, as avid users of AAC will tell you, with persistence, you can master vital AAC strategies in no time. Studies have suggested that providing AAC earlier during the intervention can help with the spontaneous speech abilities of children. So, avoid delay in introducing AAC to your child. To help you get a headstart in your AAC journey, here are some tried and tested practices to successfully implement AAC at home.

Child with AAC device

Setting  Expectations

Many parents may have unrealistic ideas of how AAC works and the potential timeline of results. As effective as AAC is, it is far from being a magical potion that gives instant results. Therefore, it is important to understand that you need to be patient to see success with AAC.

Choose the best AAC App

This is one of the most important steps in AAC implementation. Assess the suitability of the app according to your child’s current language, comprehension, cognitive, and physical abilities. Your child’s SLP can provide valuable inputs to help you choose the right app. Certain apps have advanced features with vocabulary that grows with your child. Easy personalization is also an important aspect to look out for. You don’t want to spend hours trying to customize the app for your child. Avaz AAC app has a remote feature  which is particularly helpful because an SLP can guide your child even if they are not physically present with the child.

Talk to the Child About How an AAC Device Can Help

Be it getting a dog for the family or buying a new car, parents typically discuss major decisions with children so they are not caught unawares. Similarly, talk to your child about what AAC is. Tell them how AAC can help with social interactions.  This will prepare the child for the introduction to the AAC system.

Embrace AAC as a Family

All children learn language from hearing people around them talk. The more they listen to words and are encouraged to speak (mistakes and all!), the more likely they are to pick up the vocabulary and other language skills. The same holds true for children with autism and other learning disabilities. Get together as a family and get educated about the AAC system. Your ease with the system and frequency of usage encourages the child to get familiar with AAC. Using AAC as a family helps the child readily express their views and ideas.

Get Help from Experts and AAC Users

Having a groundbreaking app is no use if you don't know how to use it. Parent training is important to ensure optimal use of AAC. AAC concepts and strategies may seem foreign to many parents new to AAC. SLPs can offer guidance on how to use an AAC system. Unfortunately, SLPs may not be always available. In some countries, parents may not have access to SLPs. It is to address this issue that Avaz AAC App has a training module integrated into its app. The module incorporates  best practices recommended by AAC experts and gives detailed instructions on how to use the app. If you need additional help, reach out to the community. Many AAC parents will be more than glad to be of help. Many AAC app makers are also happy to support you through the learning process.

Modelling 

Modelling is the best way to get your child to use AAC. While interacting with the child, model core words as often as possible. Core words are high-frequency words that we use in about 85% of our communication. The best AAC device is the one with apps designed to provide easy access to the core words. With consistent modelling, the child will begin to follow your lead and start using the AAC system. Continue to model even after the child gets comfortable with AAC. Adding more words regularly will strengthen the child’s vocabulary.

Create Opportunities to Use AAC

Seek out opportunities where you can use AAC. Whether it is discussing breakfast or talking about a picnic plan, there are so many instances throughout the day where you can use AAC. Using AAC in different settings lets the child know that AAC can help communication in many environments. If your child is into music, talk about the current chart-topper. Talk about the latest superhero movie coming up if your child is a comics fan. Talking about the child’s favourite topics is a great way to get your child to use the AAC system.

Ensure Consistent Availability of Device

Make sure the AAC device is charged and always available for use. Carry the device wherever you can. That way, the child’s use of AAC is not restricted to home or school. You can give them  picture boards or other forms of low-tech AAC when in places like swimming pools where high tech AAC cannot be used. Avaz AAC app has a PDF option where you can print the child’s vocabulary at the tap of a button and use it in such places. If you are thinking of purchasing an AAC app, do not hesitate. AAC is easy to use. And there is enough support available on AAC for you to get started easily and handhold you through the journey.  Empower your child by giving them the gift of communication through AAC.   Do you have any ideas about getting started with a AAC device at home? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.
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5 Things People with Autism Want You to Know

You may have read a lot about autism. You may even know a family member or friend who has autism. This can lead you to think that you know enough about people with autism. But most of the time, this knowledge may barely scratch the surface. There are many misconceptions about autism out there. Despite all the information available today, these misconceptions continue to colour people’s perceptions about autism. True, people with autism do face several challenges. But, it is important to keep in mind that they are so much more than the diagnosis and its associated struggles. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder and it includes several conditions. Autism, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger’s syndrome are all conditions that fall under ASD. Each of these conditions can cause communication deficits, behavioural difficulties, and social challenges. Given the complex nature of the disorder, the best way to understand people with autism is to listen to them. There is no one better than them to talk about autism and how it affects them. So, here are 5 things people with autism wish you knew: Communication apps for autism helping people

We Want to Communicate, Even If We May Not Be Able to Do It Well

Communication is a basic human need.  We like to make our preferences and opinions known. However, we may take longer to process information. Therefore, wait for us to respond. If we use communication apps for autism, be patient - because typing is slower than speaking. Most people with autism have communication challenges. It means that we might have to work harder at what comes naturally and effortlessly to you.  Language and speech difficulties are also common among us. Some of us cannot speak while others can speak and write so beautifully. We might also have delays in developing language skills when compared to our peers. We are not adept at understanding non-verbal cues or reading between the lines. Therefore, do not get offended if we have misunderstood you. Show interest in what we have to say because it matters to us. Please, respond to our efforts to communicate and always acknowledge. We are capable of having meaningful conversations even if we use communication apps for autism to express ourselves. So, don't limit the communication to only asking simple questions.

We Have Self-Stimulating Behaviours. So, Please Don’t Stare at Us

Everybody engages in Stimming or Self-stimulating behaviours. You may bite your nails or crack your knuckles when you are bored or anxious. But, stimming in people with autism is more obvious. You may see us flapping our hands or rocking back and forth. Please let us continue doing so unless it gets disruptive or dangerous. We may stim to reduce sensory overload or to calm ourselves. Stimming may be our way to cope with unfamiliar situations. We can stim when we get frustrated or to deal with our anxiety. Controlling our stimming behaviours is not only difficult but also can cause more distress. So, please don’t make us feel uncomfortable by expecting us to suppress our physical movements. Or conform to some misplaced social norms.

Most of Us Have Sensory Challenges. So, Please Be Considerate

Most of us have sensory challenges. That said, the stimuli we are sensitive to can vary greatly.  Some of us get irritated by loud noises, while others might be unperturbed by them. Each person with autism can have unique noises that bother them. So, avoid yelling or playing loud music around us. For some of us, the sensitivity to these noises can get better as we get older. We may be amused by bright lights but might struggle with sudden light flashes. We can also be sensitive to certain smells, tastes, and textures. Younger children with autism can experience sensory overload more often than their peers. Using sensory toys or appropriate vestibular sensory input can help in calming them.

We Do Not Lack Empathy. So, Don't Be Judgemental

This is one of the most damning misconceptions about us. We might not express our empathy the way you expect us to. That doesn’t mean we are devoid of emotion. We can have trouble deciphering body language and facial expressions. Consequently, we might not be able to read a situation as well as our peers. If we do not seem compassionate, it may be due to our cognitive challenges and communication deficits. So, please think twice before propagating the idea that we cannot be empathetic. Misinformation about the disorder can substantially affect our social interactions.

Don’t Club Us All Together. Each One of Us Has Unique Traits and Challenges

Don’t try to fit us all under one label. It may be convenient for you but it trivializes our individuality. Don’t assume that all of us have the same cognitive, motor, communication, and intellectual capabilities. Some of us are non-verbal and may use communication apps for autism to interact with others. Others can speak so eloquently and seemingly lead normal lives. There are also celebrated poets, actors, singers, musicians, and many other accomplished professionals amongst us. So, recognize that each one of us has a distinct set of abilities and impairments, just like you! If you have any ideas on this topic, please share them in the comment section below !!! We encourage healthy discussions within the community because they open the door to exchange of information and learning. 
Photo Credit: Nathan Anderson
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Cerebral Palsy: Causes, Types and Treatment

Cerebral Palsy is a brain disorder that causes motor disability. Read this post to learn about causes, diagnosis, and how assistive technology for Cerebral Palsy can help overcome difficulties with communication and movement.  

What is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a group of neurological disorders that affect movement, balance, and posture of individuals. The term ‘Cerebral’ refers to the brain and ‘Palsy’ refers to impairment of motion. CP is the most common condition causing motor impairments in children. People with Cerebral Palsy can also experience communication challenges along with difficulties in thinking, feeling, and learning.

Causes of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy is caused due to abnormal development of the brain or damage to parts of the brain. These abnormalities or damage may occur during pregnancy, childbirth, or after birth. In most cases, the children have Congenital CP, which means that the brain damage happened before or during birth. CP caused due to brain damage that happens more than 28 days after birth is called Acquired CP.

Congenital CP Risk Factors

The following risk factors are reasons that can increase the chances of CP. Presence of risk factors does not mean that a child will have CP
  • Low Birth Weight
Studies have found that the prevalence of CP was higher among infants of low birth weight compared to those of normal birth weight.
  • Premature Birth
According to researchers, babies born before the 37th week of pregnancy have a greater chance of having CP.
  • Multiple Birth Pregnancy
Multiple births such as the birth of twins or triplets can increase the chance of CP.  The increase in risk may be because children born from multiple pregnancy tend to be born early or at low birth weight.
  • Assisted Conception Methods
Studies have shown that children born after in vitro fertilization were more likely to have CP. This can be attributed to the fact that that they were more likely to be born from a multiple pregnancy or prematurely.
  • Infection During Pregnancy
Infection of the placental membranes (chorioamnionitis), blood infection in the mother or fever during labor can increase the risk of CP in children. Chickenpox, Rubella, and Cytomegalovirus are some of the viral infections linked to CP.

Acquired CP Risk Factors

The risk factors for Acquired CP are
  • Meningitis or encephalitis during infancy.
  • Brain injuries due to motor vehicle crashes or falls,
  • Cerebrovascular accidents such as stroke
  • Birth defects of the central nervous system

Diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy

Diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy generally happens during the first or second year after birth. But if the child has mild symptoms, the diagnosis can be difficult and doesn't happen until the child is older. Early diagnosis ensures that the child receives the necessary support. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the common signs of CP. Doctors generally track movement goals in a child from birth to five years. These goals include rolling over, sitting up, standing, and walking. Delay in reaching these milestones is an early sign of Cerebral Palsy. It is worth noting that many children without CP also can have some of these signs. So, it is better to consult a medical professional if you have concerns.

Types of Cerebral Palsy

The four main types of CP are
  • Spastic Cerebral Palsy
This is the most common type of CP affecting about 80% of people with CP. People with spastic CP have increased muscle tone which results in muscle stiffness. The stiffness may affect only one side of a person’s body, only the legs, or all four limbs, the trunk, and the face. People with spastic CP can have other developmental disabilities such as intellectual disability or problems with vision, hearing, or speech.
  • Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy
Difficulties with controlling the movement of hands, arms, feet, and legs are seen in people with Dyskinetic CP. Dyskinetic CP can also affect the face and tongue of the individual.
  • Ataxic Cerebral Palsy
Ataxic CP is characterized by problems with balance and coordination. People with this condition can walk unsteadily. They also can have trouble controlling their hands when reaching for something.
  • Mixed Cerebral Palsy
Spastic-dyskinetic CP is The most common type of mixed CP. Those with mixed CP have symptoms of more than one type of CP.

Cerebral Palsy Treatment

The common types of treatment for CP are
  • Physical Therapy
Physical therapy involves exercises and activities that can maintain or improve muscle strength, balance, and movement. The child learns skills such as sitting, walking, or using a wheelchair. The child also learns to do everyday activities such as dressing and going to school as part of occupational therapy.
  • Speech and Language Therapy.
The child learns to speak more clearly. The child also learns new ways to communicate, such as by using sign language or an AAC system.
  • Assistive Technology for Cerebral Palsy
These include braces, splints, wheelchairs, rolling walkers, and powered scooters, Velcro-fastened shoes, and crutches. Communication apps and devices can also help children with CP in their social interactions
  • Medication
Medications can help in relaxing stiff or overactive muscles and reduce involuntary movement.
  • Surgery
A child with severe symptoms may need surgery to lengthen stiff, tightly contracted muscles These treatments help people with CP move better, thereby improving their lives. Equipping them with an AAC system enhances their communication skills and consequently boosts their self-esteem. As Dipak Ghosh, Disability Rights Activist, has shown us, people with CP can defy all odds and live purposeful lives with a little help from assistive technology.
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Overview of the Causes, Treatment, and Signs of Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a common condition that is said to affect more than 10% of the population. Although it is not curable, with identification of signs of Dyslexia and early intervention, individuals with the condition can excel in their academic and professional pursuits. 

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that affects the reading and writing skills of individuals. People with Dyslexia struggle with spelling and fluency in reading. These difficulties, however, are not a reflection of their intellectual capabilities. Dyslexia affects only certain aspects of learning. So, children with dyslexia can perform well in school if they receive adequate and timely support. Although it is mostly noticed in children, many adults also get diagnosed with the condition. Adults with dyslexia can struggle with understanding reports and writing down messages. Lack of evidence-based intervention can lead to emotional issues and low self-esteem in both children and adults. So, it is important to provide a supportive environment for people with dyslexia so that they can lead fulfilling lives.

 What Causes Dyslexia?

Researchers are not entirely sure of exactly what causes dyslexia in adults and children. However, Dyslexia has been found to run in families. Therefore, studies are exploring the possibility of genetic links to the condition. Reading difficulties experienced with Dyslexia are also said to be linked to differences in how the brain processes the information. A rare type of Dyslexia is Acquired Dyslexia or Trauma Dyslexia where illnesses or brain injury cause learning difficulties.

What are the Symptoms and Signs of Dyslexia?

Children and adults with Dyslexia can have a range of symptoms. Even among children, the symptoms can vary according to age. Here are some of the common symptoms of Dyslexia by age

Symptoms of Dyslexia in Preschoolers

  • Delayed onset of speech.
  • Trouble remembering letters of the alphabet.
  • Difficulty identifying letters.
  • Difficulty recognizing rhyming phrases.
  • Mispronouncing familiar words.

Symptoms of Dyslexia in Children Aged 5 and 6

  • Difficulty understanding that words are broken into sounds.
  • Trouble understanding the correlation between words and sounds.
  • Finding reading laborious.
  • Difficulty with pronunciation.
  • Trouble with sounding out simple words.

Symptoms of Dyslexia in Children Aged 7 to 12

  • Slow reading.
  • Difficulty learning new vocabulary.
  • Confusing similar sounding words.
  • Mispronouncing complicated and unfamiliar words.
  • Difficulty comprehending words they read.
  • Complaining of words jumping around as they read.
  • Trouble remembering and following instructions.

 Symptoms of Dyslexia in Young Adults

  • Trouble finding the right words during conversations.
  • Making frequent spelling and grammatical errors.
  • Delay in responding to questions.
  • Not doing well on written tests in spite of being intelligent.
  • Difficulty remembering and recalling names.

Symptoms of Dyslexia in Adults

  • Difficulty with time management and organization.
  • Difficulty in reading and writing reports.
  • Trouble focussing while reading.
  • Hesitation to read out loud in front of others.
  • Experiencing visual problems with the colour of paper or fonts.
  • Lack of interest in reading.
While the above symptoms could indicate dyslexia, these are by no means a definitive diagnosis. Only a trained professional can assess and diagnose dyslexia accurately.

Dyslexia Therapy and Treatment

Treatment for Dyslexia in children mainly focuses on educational techniques that help them with their learning difficulties. Here are some strategies that help individuals with Dyslexia
  • Multisensory Instruction methods that teach children to use all of their senses while learning.
  • Special educational programs that help the children identify the sounds associated with words.
  • Reading aloud to the child to improve fluency and accuracy.
  • Using fonts, background colours and paper colours that make reading easier for people with Dyslexia.
  • Schools and offices can include accommodations such as audiobooks, additional time to finish tests or text-to-speech technology for people with Dyslexia.
  • Using Dyslexia Apps like the MDA Avaz Reader that provide research-based support and hints to enable individuals with Dyslexia to read independently.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="445"]App that helps with symptoms of Dyslexia MDA Avaz Reader for Dyslexia[/caption] Some individuals with Dyslexia can have exceptional creativity due to their ability to look at the world differently. Putting more emphasis on their slow reading or spelling errors can make them feel inferior. So, parents, teachers and caregivers must focus on the strengths of children. Access to necessary tools and resources also help people with Dyslexia manage their condition better and become successful in their lives.     Do you have any information you want to add about causes and signs of Dyslexia? Please share your ideas in the comment section below.

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What is AAC(Augmentative and Alternative Communication)? : A Detailed View

AAC Info graphicAAC has proven to have positive effects on people with communication deficits. What is AAC?  And how can it help people with communication and language difficulties? Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is a term referring to all communication other than natural speech. This includes communication methods that supplement and substitute the natural speech and language of individuals. For people with communication challenges and comprehension difficulties, AAC devices are a way to express their feelings, opinions, needs, and wants. Communication is complex in nature and involves more than one form of expression. We regularly use gestures, body language, and facial expressions, in addition to written and spoken language, to effectively convey our intent. AAC is one such mode of communication that allows people with language and speech difficulties to make themselves understood.

The Need for AAC

As a society, we take communication for granted. Speech and language problems can affect an individual’s quality of life because they restrict communication. The lack of an outlet for feelings and thoughts can lead to frustration, disillusionment, and behavioural problems. This, in turn, can affect the standard of support they receive from their families and caretakers. Here are some of the ways speech and language impairments affect individuals:
  • People with speech difficulties are not able to make themselves heard.
  • Mingling with friends or attending regular school becomes tough. Their inability to mix with peers leads to poor self-esteem and a life of exclusion and loneliness.
  • Their preferences are often taken for granted and intentions are second-guessed. People's expectations of them are generally lower, for no fault of theirs.
  • This leads to poor self-esteem and confidence. This further prevents the individual from leading an inclusive, fulfilling life and reaching their potential.
For non-verbal individuals, a means to communicate empowers them to lead a life of equality and dignity. AAC strategies and devices serve as an excellent tool to resolve communication issues.

Who can Benefit from AAC?

AAC can help anyone with communication deficits. The communication challenges may be present in early childhood or may have developed later in life due to neurological and other conditions. Such communication problems must be addressed immediately. Delays in intervention can cause anxiety, annoyance, and exasperation in addition to deep-rooted behaviour issues. Many  people can benefit from AAC, including (and not restricted to):
  • Children and adults with speech and intellectual disabilities - non-verbal, partially verbal and single word communicators.
  • Children and adults with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down’s Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, PDD-NOS, Aphasia, Apraxia or any other condition that affects speech.
  • Adults with speech difficulties due to Throat Cancer, Stroke, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Neurological Disorders
  • Children with delayed development indicators
  • Other genetic disorders that affect speech

How Does AAC help?

The primary function of AAC is to enable the user to be understood. For nonverbal users, it can mean a way to replace speech. For those who are minimally verbal, it is a supplemental method to improve their comprehension. AAC acts as a communication bridge. It connects users to their support system, which includes their families, friends, therapists, and Speech and Language Professionals (SLP). It helps the user foster functional relationships. It also offers them the confidence to be a valuable member of society. The broader societal benefit of enabling children with speech difficulties to "speak for themselves" is a step towards a more inclusive society. This leads to equal educational and economic opportunities for them.  The benefits of AAC include:
  • Gives the ability to communicate
  • Reduces anxiety
  • Reduces tantrums and behavior issues
  • Increases independence
  • Boosts self-confidence, self-esteem
  • Provides access to education by helping class participation and academic progress
  • Improves attention
  • Provides access to equal opportunities at education and work
  • Empowers the individual and helps achieve one’s goals
  • Improves social relationships
  • Improves overall Quality of Life by living a life with Dignity and Inclusion

Types of AAC

No conversation about AAC can be complete without a discussion about the different kinds of AAC.  AAC can be broadly categorized into aided and unaided systems- Unaided AAC No equipment is involved in unaided AAC. Communication generally happens through sign language, vocalizations, gestures, body language, and facial expressions Aided AAC Aided AAC is where the user communicates using external tools. The tools can be further classified into low-tech and high-tech AAC.
  • Low Tech AAC The use of simple tools such as a picture board or pencil and paper falls under the low-tech category. These tools do not require electric power or electronic components for their functioning. The user’s method of conveying a message through the communication boards or books largely depends on their motor skills and physical abilities. The user selects appropriate phrases, pictures, letters, words, and symbols listed on the communication boards to construct their message. The user selects using a body part, eye-gaze direction, pointer, or a head/mouth stick. In some cases, the user also communicates by answering Yes or No questions as a caretaker goes through the options on the board. [caption id="attachment_2749" align="aligncenter" width="372"]Communication Chart Communication Chart[/caption]
  • High Tech AAC High Tech AAC comprises of strategies involving the use of electronics and other technologies. This includes computers, speech-generating devices, and tablets. A communication app for iPad or Android with pictures and text is an example of high-tech AAC. [caption id="attachment_2219" align="aligncenter" width="413"]A child using High Tech AAC A child with special needs using high tech AAC[/caption]
Children in need of AAC can benefit from high-tech solutions because it might be easier for them to learn to use. Users can effortlessly make several customizations in AAC devices. This encourages consistent use, resulting in a tremendous improvement in their communication skills. Personalization of the apps where the user can add images and voices according to their preference also motivates them to use the app for their social interactions. Do you have any information to add  regarding what is AAC(Augmentative and alternative communication)? Please share your ideas in the comment section below!!
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Avaz – AAC Awareness Month Discount Extended

When you ask, we LISTEN! And now we have GREAT NEWS!!!!  Thanks to your requests, we are excited to extend our 50% discount until October 31, 2019! We at Avaz understand how important it is to have a voice. We firmly believe that cost should not come in the way of being heard.  This AAC Awareness Month, no potential user will get left behind! AAC awareness month discount All Avaz products will be available at a FLAT 50% DISCOUNT till October 31, 2019! Yes, you read that right!  Communication for all will be a reality this October!  Note: This table has been edited to display the full price instead of the discount prices that were valid till October 31, 2019. [ninja_tables id="2354"] The discount is applicable to:
  • Avaz AAC products 
  • Avaz FreeSpeech
  • MDA Avaz Reader for Dyslexia.
Help us Spread the Word Share this news with loved ones who would benefit from it the most. Queries? Our Support team is here to assist! Reach us 24×7 at support@avazapp.com Note: The discount for MDA Avaz Reader for Dyslexia is not currently available through the App Store or Play Store.  If you would like to purchase MDA Avaz Reader for Dyslexia at the discounted price, please use the payment link above.
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Rethinking the Symptoms of Autism in Girls

According to the available data, boys with autism significantly outnumber girls diagnosed with the disorder. It was earlier thought that this was due to the lower incidence of autism in girls. However, studies in recent times have suggested that the disorder may go undetected because symptoms of autism in girls may not be so apparent. This is problematic because it deprives girls of the opportunity to benefit from early intervention and support from autism therapy methods. Even worse is the fact that girls can often get misdiagnosed with other conditions. Hence they could be subject to therapy protocols that may just not work for them, leading to great frustration for the child as well as caregivers.

Why can Symptoms be Missed in Girls?

There are primarily three reasons why parents and doctors fail to notice symptoms in girls, which are:
  • Looking for telltale signs of autism by using the same diagnostic criteria as boys. However, the symptoms may present themselves differently in boys and girls.
  • Girls are brought up to be better at masking their difficulties. They can go about their lives showing little indication of their struggles in socializing.
Societal expectations of male and female behaviour are different. When judged by the same social and behavioural yardsticks as boys, girls can appear to have fewer problems than their male peers.

What are the Possible Symptoms of Autism in Girls?

There is no definitive list of symptoms that can qualify for an autism diagnosis. Some girls can exhibit typical symptoms, but with less severity. If the symptoms do not substantially affect the quality of a girl’s life, chances are that she might not have autism. It is therefore wise to carefully consider all aspects of development before making an assumption. It is always better to get an expert evaluation if you have concerns.

Some of the obvious symptoms girls can exhibit include:

  • Substantial speech and language difficulties.
  • Self-stimulating behaviours such as hand flapping, repetitive behaviours, spinning,  rocking etc.
  • Lack of adequate social communication skills.
  • Severe cognitive challenges.
Some of the more subtle signs include:
  • Obsession over a particular subject and interests limited to a few topics.
  • Atypical sensory responses to stimuli such as loud noises, bright lights, and certain textures. Keep in mind that sensory challenges can also be a sign of other disorders.
  • Unusual passivity. Girls with autism can refrain from expressing their opinions because they are uncertain about the right thing to say. While passivity may be one of the symptoms of autism, it must be noted that there are people with autism who are quite assertive.
  • Being withdrawn and unusually quiet. Many girls can be inherently shy because it is a part of their personality. Therefore, it is important to consider the extent of the child’s shyness and how much it impacts her social life. Signs of Autsm Boys vs Girls

How can the Signs of Autism Differ in Boys and Girls?

Researchers have found that while many symptoms are common between both genders, the key difference may lie in how they manifest in boys and girls. There are also certain fundamental differences in how girls carry their impairments that make them difficult to detect. Some of these are:
  • Girls can be better at responding to non-verbal cues and gaze following.
  • Girls can be capable of focussing more and are less likely to be distracted
  • Boys can struggle with social communication from a very early age. Girls, on the other hand,  tend to be more adept at dealing with social challenges during childhood. They might find it tougher to tackle social obstacles as they enter their teens.
  • Both girls and boys with autism can have obsessive tendencies. The extent of the repetitive and restricted behaviours may be lower in female children than their male counterparts. That said,  the topics of interest in the case of girls may not stand out as much as they do among boys.
  • Girls tend to display less aggressive behaviour than boys. In fact, girls with autism can be very passive. However, since society considers passivity an acceptable trait for girls, such symptoms might go unnoticed.

Why is it Important to Diagnose Early?

Early diagnosis helps girls learn the skills and coping mechanisms required to lead a fulfilling life. It also gives them the emotional support and understanding necessary from family members and friends. Getting diagnosed as a teen or adult can put them at a disadvantage because they may have to make up for the lost time. However, it may be heartening to know that several young women diagnosed later in their lives have been able to successfully deal with their social challenges by consulting experts and undergoing recommended therapies.   Do you have any ideas to share about symptoms of autism in girls? Please express your views in the comment section below. We would love to hear from you!!
Source: https://www.verywellhealth.com/differences-between-boys-and-girls-with-autism-260307
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AAC Awareness Month Discount Extended

When you ask, we LISTEN! And now we have GREAT NEWS!!!!  Thanks to your requests, we are excited to extend our 50% discount until October 31, 2019! We at Avaz understand how important it is to have a voice. We firmly believe that cost should not come in the way of being heard.  This AAC Awareness Month, no potential user will get left behind! AAC awareness month discount All Avaz products will be available at a FLAT 50% DISCOUNT till October 31, 2019! Yes, you read that right!  Communication for all will be a reality this October!  [ninja_tables id="2354"] The discount is applicable to:
  • Avaz AAC products 
  • Avaz FreeSpeech
  • MDA Avaz Reader for Dyslexia.
Help us Spread the Word Share this news with loved ones who would benefit from it the most. Queries? Our Support team is here to assist! Reach us 24×7 at support@avazapp.com Note: The discount for MDA Avaz Reader for Dyslexia is not currently available through the App Store or Play Store.  If you would like to purchase MDA Avaz Reader for Dyslexia at the discounted price, please use the payment link above.
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Supporting Special Needs Children During a School Crisis

Parents send their children to school so that they can learn and develop skills that will enable them to lead a purposeful life. They meticulously evaluate the education policy and the curriculum of the school before enrollment. However, very few parents check if the schools have emergency preparedness programs that support special needs children. Schools do their best to consider the needs of all children in their safety plans, but there is no doubt that more needs to be done. Teachers have expressed concerns about how the system is woefully underprepared for practice lockdowns and evacuation drills, especially when it comes to children with special needs. It is alarming to think about how children would stay safe during a real emergency. Fortunately, there are some steps that can be taken to ensure better preparedness for all children.

Child Assessment

Teachers must make sure that they assess each student to formulate a plan that serves their individual needs. A chart can be prepared for each student, listing  attributes that can help or hinder their safety. This will help in coming up with a plan that best suits the student’s abilities. For children who use AAC apps for communication, the safety plan can be explained through the app they use. Teachers can customize the app to familiarize children with safety routines. This will ensure they  know what to do during an emergency.   The school can distribute copies of the finalised individual plan to teachers, parents, and counsellors to keep them informed of the safety procedure to be followed. It is also important to update the plan constantly to keep up with the changing requirements of  children with special needs.

Awareness of Parents

Most parents assume that their school district has a strategy outlined to help children with disabilities during a school crisis. However, in the absence of a well-defined nationwide plan,  teachers are often left to their own devices. Parents need to talk to the schools about the drill schedules and lockdown procedures. Discussing the child’s individual needs and how they can be addressed is crucial. Once a plan has been devised, parents can talk to their children about the routines they need to follow. Reminding the kids often will enable them to follow instructions and get themselves to safety.

Navigating the Physical Environment

The school should identify shelters or hiding spots which are conducive for children with disabilities. These shelters should be able to accommodate any assistive technology or device they use, including wheelchairs and crutches. Teachers can encourage children to get to the hiding spots during practice drills by rewarding them with stickers or toys. This will ensure the compliance of the children during a crisis. In case of natural disasters, or danger from within the building, blocked hallways can pose a problem. Therefore, it is important to be aware of alternate routes to safety. Teachers and other staff must also train themselves to move furniture out of the way as these could block the path(s) to assigned shelters.

Building an Emergency Kit for Special Needs Children

Children with special needs may experience a sensory overload due to loud noise from fire alarms and shouting during lockdowns or evacuation. Having an individual emergency kit for each student helps in such cases and should be a compulsory part of the safety plan. Here are some suggestions for what such a kit for children with special needs could contain
      • Medication

        The emergency tool bag must contain nebulizers or masks for children with respiratory illnesses, medicines for children with diabetes, and medication for children prone to allergies and epilepsy.

      • Stress Busters

        The emergency kit must include a toy or a book that can comfort the child and keep them engaged during the lockdown. Music players with headphones can reduce anxiety in children with special needs. For kids with sensory needs, including sensory toys such as chewelry (chewable medical grade jewellery)  and stress balls can help them control their vocalizations.
      • Communication and AAC Apps

        For kids who use iPads or other AAC devices for communication, having such devices in the bag can help them communicate to first responders if needed.Special needs children using chewelry
      • Food and Activities

        Packing the favourite snacks and treats of the children along with colouring books and crayons can keep them occupied and calm during the lockdown.

School officials should collaborate with special educators, teachers, and parents to make sure that children with special needs are adequately supported in their emergency plans. The plans should focus on the individual physical, mental, and cognitive abilities of the children. Practicing the drills with the children as specified in the plans is essential to enable them to stay safe during a school crisis. If you have any experiences to share about the emergency preparedness plans of your kids' schools, please write about them in the comment section below. Sharing ideas and suggestions can help the community learn and be more aware of the challenges special needs children face regularly.
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Strategies for Implementing AAC in the Classroom

Kids spend a sizeable number of their waking hours at school. It is likely that they will have many more opportunities for social interactions at school than at home. So, employing efficient augmentative and alternative communication strategies can help a great deal in improving their communication skills and social development.

Introducing AAC in classrooms requires a lot of coordination because there are so many moving parts to the process. With some forethought, measures can be taken to include strategies for implementing AAC in the classroom.

Team Work, Planning & Coordination 

It takes diligent planning to introduce AAC systems in school. Making sure that all the members of the team are on the same page, goes a long way in effective implementation. Discussing the curriculum and proposed schedules can ensure that the efforts of the team are not diluted by miscommunication. Having a definitive organizational policy gives clarity on the mode of implementation and the rules if any. Setting up in-house systems for troubleshooting and technical support would be helpful for team members. Do reach out to the support team of whichever AAC system you are using to get the most out of it. Avaz AAC app, for instance, has a dedicated 24x7 support team that can enable your team to make the AAC implementation a success!

Teacher Education

Most teachers are willing to try new technologies and systems if they are convinced about that system’s effectiveness. However, enthusiasm alone will not equip them with the necessary knowledge to teach using AAC apps. It is important that teachers are adequately trained in the chosen system and the strategies for implementing AAC in the classroom. In a classroom setting, children look up to their teachers for guidance. And modelling is a key aspect of AAC learning. Hence, the teacher’s comfort with the device can greatly influence the confidence and usage patterns of the students. Familiarity with the device or AAC app can also help the teacher come up with creative ways to use the system. Since each child has his/her unique set of preferences and abilities, the teacher can play around with the features of the AAC system to best suit the needs of the child. kid using AAC app Avaz

Preparing the Child

There may be children in the classroom with prior exposure to AAC devices at home or at therapy. Such children may require minimal instruction. On the other hand, students new to AAC apps might need more preparation before they are  introduced to the system. Teachers need to talk to the students about why they will be using AAC at school and how it can help them. Since some kids may be less receptive to new ideas than others, the reassurance of the teacher can be vital in how quickly a child takes to the AAC app and system.

Talking to Parents

Having a chat with parents about AAC use in classrooms is essential because families need to be on board with the idea. Efforts must be made to educate parents about AAC apps. If there are any apprehensions, those should be addressed at the very outset. Talking with parents can also shed light on their aspirations regarding their child’s development. Teachers and SLPs must ensure that families have realistic expectations. This helps to avoid discouragement if they don’t see immediate results. It is essential that families are also trained in using an AAC app with symbols and text, helping them to actively participate in the child’s communication intervention. This will effectively supplement the therapist’s efforts at home and enable the child to get the most out of the communication system.

Assessing Potential Barriers and Solutions

The foremost goal of AAC is that the children reach out for the device every time they have anything to communicate. So, it is important to ensure easy access to the device at all times. The child should be encouraged to seek the device when they need to communicate. Fortunately, the barriers impeding the use of AAC apps in a classroom or even at home can be dealt with easily if you have a solid plan in place. For instance, if a child has trouble bringing the device to school due to physical limitations, providing a case with a strap can help in carrying the device without difficulty.

Making it Fun is One of the Vital Strategies for Implementing AAC in the Classroom

Strategies for implementing AAC in the classroom A fool-proof strategy for AAC implementation is of no use if the child is completely disinterested! Given the limited attention spans, you need to be at the top of your game to stimulate their curiosity.  Devise fun augmentative and alternative communication strategies such that the child cannot wait to use the device! Plan exciting games and activities to include the AAC system even in their leisure time. For kids inclined towards art, music, or sports, using AAC apps as part of the activities they love and enjoy can serve as a great motivator. Endowing children with the ability to freely communicate early in life can enable them to overcome their inhibitions. It also opens up possibilities of interaction with others, outside of the home and classroom. Some children may be inspired by seeing their peers using communication devices. Use of AAC apps and systems in classrooms can thus enhance the independence and boost the self-esteem of children. Do you have any other suggestions or strategies for implementing AAC in the classroom? Please share your ideas in the comment section below.
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Here’s what you need to know when interacting with an AAC user

When Anita walked up to the bakery counter, she was greeted by 20 year old James who is on the autism spectrum. James helps run the bakery with his family and he communicates with the assistance of an AAC system. To Anita, who has never interacted with a user of an AAC system before, it seemed like a daunting process. She wanted to have a chat with James but many questions were running through her mind such as,"How can I make him comfortable during the conversation?”, “What do I say?”,“Will I understand?” etc. There are many others like Anita who have similar questions when interacting with an AAC system user for the first time. While conversing with an AAC user is not very different, there are certain points you can keep in mind to ensure their comfort while having a meaningful interaction.

1. Communication requires effort, be patient while listening

Typing is slower than speaking. While a person speaks an average of 140-170 words a minute, the average person types a mere 38-40 words. Some AAC users experience mobility issues that hinder typing. Some users could take time to respond. Communication takes effort. Hence being patient and giving ample time to respond and listen is crucial in enabling them to feel understood, included and heard.

2. Communicate with the person, not the system

During interactions, make eye-contact with the AAC user instead of watching their system when the message is played. It takes time for the user to communicate their message by forming it first on the system and then activating speech. Hence AAC users use facial expressions and gestures after typing and while the final message is being played. Watching the user’s gestures and other non-verbal cues helps in understanding the conversation better and prevent misunderstandings.

3. Help manage noise

AAC users might find it difficult to communicate in a noisy environment such as a busy street, loud classroom, crowded cafe etc. Unlike human voices which can modify volume, pitch and tone for each word in a sentence; volume on an AAC system can’t fluctuate easily and might get drowned in the noise. Some users such as those on the autism spectrum, might be sensitive to loud noises. In such instances, one can aid communication by planning ahead and managing noise levels by shifting to a quieter setting. Switching to an electronic platform such as email or text messages can also be considered.

4. Take care not to dominate the conversation

A conversation is meant to be an exchange with both parties contributing. However, it can become easy to dominate the conversation as a non-user of AAC. Be patient as the user responds. Refrain from guessing words and interrupting mid-way to finish their lines. It is frustrating to be cut off mid-way when speaking and wrong guesses may make one feel misunderstood. Users on the autism spectrum may take time to respond, so avoid changing the topic without ensuring that they’ve finished conveying what they wanted. Lastly, when you don’t understand or get lost in the conversation, ask and clarify before moving ahead.

5. Don’t presume incompetence

An AAC user on the autism spectrum may take longer to process speech or may experience other challenges, but they can be more perceptive in other ways. Often users can understand what’s spoken but may have trouble expressing themselves. Engage in a sensitive manner and treat users age-appropriately by using an atypical tone of voice and not limiting conversations. Don’t assume incompetence and speak directly to the user instead of approaching their support person. Remember to ask before giving your assistance and let them tell you what may be useful.

6. Ask before touching their AAC system and respect screen-privacy

An AAC system is extremely personal to its user. Not only does it serve as a window to their communication with the rest of the world, but also is a window for the rest of the world to access their lives. It is their digital voice and contains private data such as message histories, personalized vocabulary, customized settings etcetera. Hence permission must be sought before touching or handling the user’s system. The screen privacy of the user must be respected by not looking at their screen without consent. AAC users arrange their thoughts and construct messages on their system. They don’t get to view our thought process before we communicate and neither should we. -------- Is there anything else that should be kept in mind while communicating with an AAC user? Do share your thoughts and experiences in this regard in the comments below. We look forward to hearing from you!
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Peer-Mediated Intervention to Increase Social Interaction

Social support and social interaction are among the most important factors that affect the physical health and well-being of every individual. They play a significant role right from the early stages of child development. Many individuals, especially children and adults on the spectrum, find it challenging to share their thoughts, feelings and emotions. It is primarily due to the fact that they do not understand how to express or reciprocate their thoughts. To enable social interaction in children at an early age, the peer-mediated intervention can be implemented in schools and home.
What is Peer-Mediated Intervention? Peer-mediated intervention (PMI) is an approach where peers of children needing communication and interaction interventions are trained to provide the required support and handholding. This includes tutoring in educational, behavioral and/or social interactions. They are also trained to mediate and closely observe during mediation. The peer tutors are typically the same age as the children requiring support. One such intervention involving peer tutors is Stay, Play, Talk. It is designed to increase the social interactions of preschool children. Typically developing peer tutors are taught three key skills:
  1. Stay near their partner
  2. Engage with the partner
  3. Talk with the partner by commenting on the activities and respond to their partner’s communicative efforts.
Stay, Play, Talk can be implemented with preschool children with a variety of disabilities, including autism. It enables the children on a different social learning curve than their peers, to become more interactive.
How to implement Stay, Play, Talk? As a thumb rule, ensure to select peer tutors who exhibit age-appropriate play and social skills. They should also have high levels of compliance with teacher directions. When grouping your target child with a peer tutor, consider the children’s social history and shared interests. Shared interests are a positive indicator that more interaction might occur. Peer training may require 1-2 instructors and will require multiple sessions. You might want to conduct the sessions with the target child to allow the peer tutors to practice with the child they will be working with. Teachers can use visuals associated with corresponding skills during peer training that can be referred to during sessions to remind the peer tutors what to do.
  1. Introduce each skill one at a time.
Stay: Teach children to stay near their buddy Play: Teach them to play with their buddy or engage with similar toys in proximity to their buddy. Talk: Teach children to say their buddies name, gain their attention and ask play related questions.
  1. Associate each skill with a simple visual you can refer back to when implementing.
  2. Model each skill for children and allow them to practice.
  3. Provide positive and constructive feedback for the children.
  4. Allow peer tutors and target children to practice each skill with their partners.
Stay, Play, Talk can be implemented in settings and routines across the school day. You can embed Stay, Play, Talk sessions into times during the day when children are naturally playing together. It might be easier to initially have the target child and peer tutor in a designated area, without additional pers. After children have become proficient, it may be beneficial for other children to be present. Once children are trained, you can implement a session of Stay, Play, Talk! This intervention works best when sessions are conducted regularly (daily, preferably) and when all social behaviors are reinforced.
While this has been suggested in a classroom setting, it can also be tried at homes where siblings are of similar ages. So if you are a parent looking for techniques to have siblings help out, this might be one that you can look to tweaking and trialing. Do you have any other method that you have already tried in your classroom? Let us know in the comments section below! We are always on the lookout for more useful methods that enables our community :)   REFERENCE: http://ebip.vkcsites.org/stay-play-talk-procedures/
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5 Creative Ways of Using an AAC Device

How does one use AAC apps and devices to engage children? This is one of the most frequently asked questions from parents, educators, and even therapists. On the other hand, children on the spectrum find it challenging to begin learning with a new AAC device. Children learn to speak by listening to their parents, siblings, peers, and others around them. Likewise, AAC learners also learn the most in an environment where they can see AAC devices being used during a conversation. AAC DeviceIn the long run, an AAC device serves as the voice of a child while also enabling them to learn new skills that are beneficial in the long run. So, what are some strategies to creatively use AAC devices and apps? Here are some fun-filled ways to encourage learning and improve the use of the device.

Create a Photo Album

A fun way to kick-start your AAC journey would be to create a photo album that contains photos of all your family members with their names. You can also include a family tree to explain to your child about how they are related to each person. You can also use this opportunity to share some stories about the family while talking about each person, their interests and so on.

Favorite TV Shows

Create a list of cartoons, TV shows and web series that your child likes. You can also add their favorite characters. Use these lists as part of daily conversations and as conversation starters. Extend the conversation by adding the theme song/music or record the voice of the character’s unique catchphrase from each show. This will pique their interest in further conversation. You could also talk about why your child likes that particular character and ask them how they feel when they watch the show.

Favorite Food Items

Nothing makes a person happier than a delicious meal, doesn’t it? :) Come up with a list of your child’s favorite food items and deliberately add one or two items they don’t like. You can start the conversation by choosing one item on the list and talk about how you can prepare the meal together. Add the ingredients, the taste and what your child likes or dislikes about it and so on.

Read a Book Together

For this activity, you might have to do some prework. Pick any storybook. Add a series of images related to the story in the book and arrange them in sequential order. Once you are done with the prework, sit with your child’s favorite storybook and read it out loud. As each character is introduced, show your child the list of images that were already loaded on the device. Ask them to choose the appropriate image that matches the character. Continue to build on the story in this fashion. As you build the story, you can also include words preloaded on the AAC system to teach core words and more.

Discuss Routines

Expecting the expected is something most children on the spectrum enjoy. Create a list of daily routines and talk about each activity – the timeline, things required for each activity and so on. For instance, you can set up a timeline of 15 minutes for brushing and include images of toothpaste, brush, water, and other relevant items. This is also an effective way to include a new habit in your child’s routine. Such a technique of practice will enable them to learn the process quickly.
Community learning and idea exchange is the best kind of learning and we are always looking forward to learning from you! You may already be using some creative strategies of your own with great success. Or you may use these ideas as a springboard for some incredibly creative ideas of your own. We’d love to hear about the different ways of using an AAC device and app in a more engaging manner. Share these in the comments below so that our readers from across the world may benefit from the same! Sharing is caring! Do share this blog post with those who might benefit from these ideas!
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Avaz’s Top 3 – Google Accessibility Updates 2019

Earlier this month, Google’s I/O conference brought together developers from around the globe for talks and hands-on learning with experts at Google. It also gave a first look at Google’s latest products for developers. In his keynote address, Sundar Pichai (CEO, Google) highlighted ongoing projects that would enable people with disabilities to live more independently. To this end, the tech giant is focusing on using advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and voice recognition to build increasingly accessibility oriented products and apps. This information really excited us. Here are Team Avaz’s top 3 picks from the I/O Accessibility updates.
Project Euphonia Most aspects of our lives involve communicating with others and in turn, being understood by others as well. This ends up being taken for granted by most of us.  Indeed this is something that could be extremely challenging for those with speech disabilities arising from various conditions. To support those with speech disabilities, Google is working on a fix that can train computers and mobile phones to understand them better. This project is being developed in partnership with the ALS Therapy Development Institute and the ALS Residence Initiative. One of the things being done for this is the recording of voices of people who have ALS and combining it with AI. The AI algorithms that are currently under development work only for English speakers and for challenges typically associated with ALS. However, Google hopes the research can be applied to larger groups of people with different speech impairments in the near future. Google IO Updates - Avaz Live Transcribe Live Transcribe is easily one of the best features Google is developing. This feature will enable people who are deaf to follow what is being said when someone is speaking, in real time. The app will transcribe everything it hears so that anyone hard of hearing can follow the conversation and reply. Live Transcribe will be made available in beta version soon, first on Pixel 3 and then on other devices. Live Relay Live Relay enables people who are deaf or hard of hearing to make and receive phone calls. This feature uses on-device speech recognition and text-to-speech conversion. Further, it allows the phone to listen and speak on the user’s behalf while they type. As the responses are instant and use predictive writing suggestions, the typing is fast enough to hold asynchronous phone call. It can also be used by people who may be in a meeting or can’t take a call, but are able to type instead. To read up about these updates and the others in greater detail, you can visit here. 2019 promises to be an exciting year for Google. The accessibility updates have given us a lot to innovate and build on.
What do you think of some of these updates and what do you think of the possibilities these bring? Any particular update that caught your eye? We would love to hear from you on support@avazapp.com or in the comments below! Let us work together in Making Every Voice Heard! Picture Credits – Google
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Vocabulary that Grows with Your Children

A good vocabulary helps a person to improve their writing, listening and reading skills. Avaz App offers robust vocabulary and easy techniques to improve the child's vocabulary, which proves to be a very efficient way to learn new words. To read this article in more details click the Link
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Understanding Moms – A Glance into their World

The world celebrated Mother’s Day over the last weekend. Mothers and their love praised and reminisced about. And rightfully so.mother's That said, a mother’s job is tough. Involving many a sacrifice and tireless work. And many a time, thankless. A more fitting honor for her would be to create support systems that make her job easier every day. To find out more about the kind of support a mother wishes she has, we interviewed Priya. Our regular readers might recognize Priya, an active advocate of autism and a qualified Special Educator. She is the mother of Pranav, a 14-year-old musician who is on the autism spectrum.  If u have anything to share, Drop a comment or write to us at support@avazapp.com
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Using Games to Make Learning with AAC More Fun!

When we speak to parents who use AAC with kids, the oft-repeated question they have for us is - how can we make learning with AAC more fun?Using Games to Make Learning with AAC More Fun! Indeed, the initial phases of AAC usage (or any new skill for that matter) can be a bit challenging. In such situations, we have found that many parents and caregivers have used games with great success. Games have been used to pique children’s interest in learning to use AAC. Many caregivers have also found that games aid language development in a much more efficient way.
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5 Simple and Powerful Ways to Show You Care

The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.” - David W. Orr
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Stepping Towards an Inclusive Society

An inclusive society is about the dignity and worth of every person. This is the backbone of ALL human rights. Though there have been some improvements in our society over the last few years, disabled people and their families still confront isolation and exclusion. They continue to be pushed to the fringes of society.

To overcome this incongruous situation, we as a society need to change our attitude, begin a shift in perspective even. An inclusive attitude and behavior enable us to overthrow prejudices and raze down barriers that we have created overages.


Inclusive Society – What is it?

A socially inclusive environment is a place where everyone is welcomed. It is one where one feels comfortable enough to realize their identity and express their feelings. Social inclusion assures that one’s opinions are honored, just like anyone else’s.Stepping Towards an Inclusive Society

Why is an Inclusive Society important?

Social inclusion plays a crucial role in determining the health of a person. Without inclusion, people are more prone to poor mental health, loneliness, isolation, and poor self-esteem.

Social inclusion enables a more positive and healthier human experience.  

Social inclusion enables people:

  • To feel a sense of belonging.
  • To feel worthy of their roles in the community.
  • To be an active participant of the community.
  • To have peers/companions and not feel being left out.
  • To build social relationships.

Some crucial ways to nurture a more inclusive society:

Here are some of the ways through which greater inclusivity can be brought about. If each one of us can stay aware of these steps and keep pushing for them wherever we are, an inclusive world would no longer remain just a dream.

Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities

Providing equal opportunities for people with disabilities would enable in creating a more inclusive society. However, the disability community is still discriminated against at work from being refused a job or denied a final interview. This can be overcome by training the staff and creating awareness among the employers to view the person as an asset and not a liability.

Increase Disability Representation in Political Setting

People with disabilities encounter architectural, attitudinal and technological barriers when exercising their right to vote, including, no automatic door openers, narrow doorways, and inaccessible voting machines to name a few.

We need to encourage our younger generations with disabilities to become politically involved. Political parties need to encourage persons with disabilities in their cadre and eventually give them platforms to contest in elections. All this would help to create a more inclusive political setting.

Integrate Disability History in School Curriculums

Disability history needs to be integrated within the school system so that the disability community will be fully acknowledged. With the inclusion of disability history, the community can be embraced by everyone and it enables mutual respect and empathy towards each other.

Promote Social Inclusion in Schools

As a society, we have the responsibility to promote the inclusion of our differences and it should be instilled in young minds. We should celebrate our peers for their differences and it should be taught at a young age. This will result in less discrimination and more social inclusion.

Provide College Scholarships to Athletes with Disabilities

Athletes with disabilities should be scouted and receive scholarships based on their athletic abilities. People should be acknowledged for their abilities rather than their disabilities and should be encouraged to participate in more events.

Realize that People with Disabilities are Humans

The most essential change that is needed in society is to see a person with a disability as a person and realize that their disability does not define who they are and it is only a part of their life.

People with disabilities have desires, skills, talents, heartache, and emotions, just like everyone else. This should be the basis of every person’s understanding and interaction with people with disabilities. That we all share these similarities which include people with disabilities as well.


Creating an inclusive society may not happen in a year or a decade, but it is not impossible to attain. Taking the first step and moving towards creating an inclusive society will bear fruits for the coming generations. With proper training, awareness, and acceptance, an inclusive society is certainly achievable.

Do share your thoughts on this subject with us, in the comments section below. We look forward to hearing from you :)

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Teaching Children Self-Advocacy

Quite often, young people with disabilities need additional support with things that peers their age can do by themselves. This love and support that they receive should be given in a way that empowers them to be as independent as possible. It should be the kind that reaffirms their individuality, personal dignity, and agency. And this is where the idea of self-advocacy comes in.


What is Self-advocacy?

Self-advocacy is to feel empowered to make and express one’s life decisions and choices. It also refers to an individual’s ability to effectively communicate, convey their interests, desires, needs, and rights. Self-advocacy involves making informed decisions and taking responsibility for those decisions.Teaching Children Self-Advocacy

The goal of self-advocacy is for the individual to decide what they want and then developing and carrying out a plan to get it. It also means that they can seek and get help whenever they need or want it.

Why is Self-advocacy important?

Self-advocacy skills enable children to have more control over their lives and make decisions that they desire. It empowers a child to speak up for themselves and make sure they have a choice in whatever decision they want to make. Also, research has found that there is a clear link between teaching children self-advocacy skills and their ability to be happy, well-functioning adults.

Self-advocacy plays a crucial role in the development of a child, so as caregivers it is our responsibility to enable children to self-advocate!


So, how can you help children to learn to Self-advocate?

The primary step towards encouraging self-advocacy skills would be to include the child in their  Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) process.

All students must be included in the IEP process to the best of their ability. Using simple language or pictures to help them understand their strengths and areas of need goes a long way in enabling them to be an active participant in the process.

It is never too early to include children in the meetings, even if it is just for a few minutes. Have the team members speak to or discuss with the student rather than the student.

Give children the freedom to make choices

From an early age, present your child with choices. For instance, when it is time for breakfast, you can ask them what would they like to have and give them options like oatmeal or toast. This enables them to be the decision-maker and enables them to be in control of their decisions.

Let children know that they have the right to say NO. This enables them to deny the requests that are unreasonable to them.

Teach Self-advocacy skills

It is essential for a child to know about their disability and how and when to disclose their needs to others. As a caregiver, ensure that you teach them all about their condition and how to disclose them when the need arises.

It is also imperative that they are encouraged to be part of groups and communities of neurodiverse youth. Such communities give them a chance to be themselves and exchange experiences. Being a part of such a community also helps to create a strong support system in addition to creating opportunities for healing and growth in the midst of peers.

Make use of a checklist to determine what skills a child already has and the skills they need to learn. This can help them to focus on a particular skill and develop it.

Encourage children to do activities that they can do on their own as independently as possible. This will also boost their self-confidence and enable them to be more participative in learning the activity.


It is never too late to start teaching your children about self-advocacy. Self-advocacy can enable your child to have the highest quality of life possible, even when you are not present to advocate on their behalf. One important point to be mindful about is that teaching self-advocacy takes time and the support of the community but it is achievable with constant practice and hard work.

How do you think self-advocacy can be taught? What are some of the ways in which you have promoted self-advocacy skills? We would love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and stories in the comments below.

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A Mother’s Dream for her Son’s Independence

Guest Post by Priya Sasi Murali When Pranav was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD-NOS) as an 18-month-old baby, his father and I felt lost and disheartened. But as the days passed, we were able to gather our courage. We began working through the emotional turmoil bit by bit. And it was around this time that we began our search for answers to how we could support Pranav to live his best life.

The Beginning of our Journey

Initially, we were overwhelmed by the range of therapies and interventions, especially since not many of them seemed to be scientifically proven. As my search for more proven and sophisticated approaches continued, I came across a diploma course in Special Education with a focus on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) from a reputed school. I immediately enrolled in the course. This gave me a better understanding of ASD. Learning about the various conditions, characteristics, behaviors and proven teaching methodologies for children on the spectrum helped me better formulate ways in which I could support my son. As Pranav grew older, so did my desire to empower my son. I continued to educate myself. I used to read a lot of books – from autobiographies of high functioning autistics to parent experiences, research articles, blogs, and other related writings. My thirst for knowledge and my will to empower my son led me to attend a lot of conferences. I interacted with senior professionals and experts in the field and gained many valuable insights.

My Goals

When Pranav was about 9-years old, I formulated two primary goals for us. One for Pranav and one for myself.
  • For Pranav, the goal was to make him independent, functionally and financially.
  • For me, it was to support Pranav as he worked to develop his personality and individuality.
With these goals in mind, we began working on a few areas we felt were essential to achieving them.

Functional Independence

To work towards independent living, we started with functional independence. We realized that his sensory issues are a huge hindrance for his Activities of Daily Living (ADL) independence. He was highly sensitive to some simple activities like washing his face, cutting his nails, a haircut among others. The loud sounds from a pressure cooker and blender also bothered him. We worked on normalizing these sensitive activities through constant modeling. Today Pranav has come a long way from where he started. He now helps me with chopping vegetables and watches calmly as I make chutney (a spicy Indian relish that requires the use of blender). At times he even operates the blender on his own with my presence.

Financial Independence

The next area of focus is financial independence. When Pranav was 10, I requested his school to move him to the vocational stream. I believe that this will enable Pranav to learn the skill set required for him to be financially independent. He is now getting trained in 3 or 4 vocational skills in his school and I make sure to work closely with his teachers in building those skills.

Safety

Safety is another area that is important while learning to be independent.. We started teaching him about household safety to begin with. Initially, we taught him not to touch anything that was hot. Steam was, therefore, a useful indicator for us. Pranav learned that if steam is coming out of any object/item, he should not touch it. Next, we moved to handle stoves. After a lot of hard-work and modeling, Pranav can now safely operate the stove by himself.   Road safety is something we practice regularly. I personally believe that every child should be taught road safety measures. Every day, we go for a walk for about half an hour and I never hold his hands. He walks straight on the footpath. Pranav has also learnt to cross manual signals and he is learning to cross automated signals as well. He is used to traveling in all sorts of public transport with an adult and loves it!

Working to Develop Pranav’s Personality

I want Pranav to be a self-regulated individual and to achieve this, I am teaching him to take care of his emotions. I have enabled him to understand, over time, to take NO for an answer. Especially if they involve his favorite items. This has enabled him to adjust to every situation he encounters. For instance, when our relatives visit us, he has to sleep in our room and has to give up his bed. Through regular work, we are now at a place where such requests do not trigger him. Also, as I was teaching him to identify and make do with his emotions, I realized music helped him. That it was serving as a coping mechanism for him to regulate himself. Now he goes for regular music therapy sessions in a reputed musical team which works for children with special needs.

Pranav’s Rights

As Pranav works towards leading an independent life, we are working to create an awareness in him that he should be proud of who he is. That he has a whole community of people he can take support from. And that he, unfortunately, would have to work harder than others to secure his rights. To this end, we make it a point to participate in all awareness drives and activities. We want him to bring to light with all pride and dignity that he is autistic. As a mother and as a person committed to social justice, I’m determined to enable Pranav to fight for his rights and create an inclusive society.

This is What Independence Looks Like

This year, on World Autism Acceptance Day, Pranav and I went shopping at Big Bazaar. He had his shopping list with him on Avaz. I had helped him create the list with options so that he could choose between two items of his choice. He was able to pick the items of his choice and get them billed. He also interacted with a couple of people around the store! Through the whole experience, Pranav remained calm and he thoroughly enjoyed himself. Truly, given a supportive environment and the right tools, children with autism can happily socialize and interact. Did I mention that this was his first-ever shopping experience? [embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKSJIID-scU[/embedyt] I  took immense pride in what Pranav was able to achieve that day.  It was an indication to me that we are moving in the right direction. That I am bringing up my child in a  way that empowers him. I also feel blessed and pray to God to guide me in bringing him up in a way that he empowers himself as well as his community!
Priya is a qualified Special Educator specializing in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). She lives with her family in Chennai, India. Her son Pranav is 14. He is non-verbal and has been diagnosed with a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD-NOS) which is one of the four Autism Spectrum Disorders. We are grateful to Priya for having shared her story with us. Her journey would give some of us new ideas to try with our own children while opening the eyes of some others to the possibilities. 
We would love to hear your thoughts and the kind of journey you are on personally or with someone you care for! If you or anyone in your circle is interested in sharing their story, do drop us a line! We’re listening! :) Drop a comment or write to us at support@avazapp.com
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Our Commitment to Autism Acceptance

“Awareness is easy but acceptance comes from a place of understanding.”

April has always been very close to my heart. With the entire month being observed as Autism Acceptance Month, it brings to the fore the sheer diversity and vibrancy that represents the autism community. A time to celebrate the incredible strides made by the community and their allies towards creating an equitable and just society. Not only for themselves, but also for those will come after them. 

It also brings into sharper focus some other things. For instance, the fact that the important conversations we have during this month must continue all through the year. That these must translate to commitment and action on the part of every member of society.

We, at Avaz, take this opportunity to reiterate our commitment to continuously support the autism community, as well as the larger community of people with disabilities, in all their endeavors through our work and beliefs.  autism acceptance

At the core of all our work at Avaz is the belief that whatever we create should enable equal opportunities. We commit ourselves to keep creating products that enable anyone on the autism spectrum to be able to unleash their true potential.

Through our work, we will constantly strive to help break down barriers that arise from society’s misplaced notions about disability, and what equality and accessibility really mean.

All the technology that we have been able to create has been possible only because our users and their families tell us what they want. And we have never stopped listening.

I would like to reiterate our commitment to constantly work with the autism community and the larger community of people with disabilities. And do so to create products that work with them towards realizing their dreams.

I take this opportunity to invite you to join us, partner or collaborate with us. To create solutions. To create acceptance. To create change.

The future that we envision is one of acceptance and inclusion. It is about creating a world where people with disabilities can participate in everything. Where equal opportunities are the norm.

Thank you for letting us journey with you thus far. We look forward to travel further with you in your work towards creating an accepting and inclusive society for all.

In solidarity,

Narayanan

CEO, Avaz


P.S. On account of Autism Acceptance Month, Avaz and free speech are now available at a 50% discount. Click here to know more.

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Mindfulness for Children – How to Practice it?

In our previous blog post, we spoke about Mindful Parenting – a technique that melds the practice of mindfulness with approaches to parenting. We discussed how this can enable parents to manage their stress and attend to their wards in a more effective way. If you haven’t had a chance to have a look at the various techniques of mindful parenting shared in that blog, you can take a quick peek here: Mindful Parenting.

Mindfulness is for everyone, regardless of age. Children, especially those on the autism spectrum, can immensely benefit from making the practice a part of their lives. In this week’s blog, we will be discussing mindfulness techniques that you can teach your kids. Mindfulness can enable your child to recognize their emotional responses to stimuli. Using this knowledge, they can over time, learn to respond more effectively to situations and stimuli.


How Mindfulness and Autism are Connected?

Many children on the spectrum struggle with three critical areas: motor skills, sensory regulation, and socialization. They have difficulties in gaining control over the relationship between their mind and body. This is where mindfulness can help. Mindfulness lays the foundation for the skills required for building awareness of the body. Practicing mindfulness gradually enables children to take control of their body. This, in turn, leads to better sensory regulation and a decrease in social anxiety.Mindfulness for Children

Benefits of Mindfulness – For Children

When done properly, mindfulness has several benefits over time, including:

  • A better awareness of what is happening inside them, emotionally and physically as well as the happenings around them.
  • The ability to identify and control their own emotions.
  • Tools to handle their anxiety by helping them to pause, breathe and anchor themselves to calm their mind and body.
  • Improving attentiveness while learning.

How to teach Mindfulness to Children on the Spectrum?

There are many ways by which a child can learn to be mindful. The following ideas can be used as a foundation to come up with more customized techniques that suit your child the best.

Here are some simple ways in which you can teach your child to practice mindfulness on a regular basis:

Breathing Exercises: Come up with a breathing exercise/game for your child. For instance, ask your child to cuddle their favorite toy to their tummy and see if they can make it rise slowly up and down using their breath. This enables them to easily concentrate on their breath.  

Another instance would be to use a balloon. Hand over a balloon to your child and ask them to blow it up slowly. As the balloon expands, invite them to turn their attention to the balloon. Once they are done, you can slowly release the air from the balloon and call their attention to the balloon’s contraction. This is a great way to teach children to concentrate. You can build upon this technique and come up with similar or better methods!

Bell Listening Exercise: Ring a bell. It could be a physical one or one from an app. Ask your child to close their eyes and listen to the vibration of the bell. As the sound of the bell declines, invite them to slowly shift their attention to any other sounds they hear for about a minute. This is a simple yet effective exercise that shifts your child’s attention to the present moment.

Soles of the Feet: This technique was developed by researchers to manage angst, anger, and aggression. When your child is faced with emotionally stimulating situations, you can teach them to redirect their attention and awareness to a neutral part of the body such as the soles of their feet. This technique helps calm and clear their mind during stressful and stimulating situations.

Calm-down Jars: For this activity, fill a clear jar halfway with water. Top it off with some glycerin or baby oil. Finally, add some glitter to the jar and screw the lid on tight. You can also glue the lid on to prevent spills. If you have a snow globe handy, that would work perfectly as well.

When your child is going through a stressful experience, ask them to shake up the jar and watch as the glitter settles after the swirling chaos within it. This technique allows them to relate their internal state of mind to a visual object. As the external calms down, they too will be able to calm themselves down effectively.


With regular practice, children on the spectrum can benefit greatly from mindfulness and can take control of their body and mind coordination. Also, mindfulness has several benefits and helps them to approach an unexpected or stimulating environment with a calm mindset. Mindfulness, when practiced regularly, can enable children to be more efficient in their activities.

Are you practicing any mindfulness techniques already? Share your thoughts with other readers in the comments section below. :)

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Mindful Parenting – How to Practice it?

Parenting can get pretty stressful and challenging. Yet, as many parents would vouch, it is one of the most satisfying and rewarding experiences in life!

Parenting a child with disabilities comes with its own unique set of challenges. Parents of children with autism and other related disorders have been known to experience high levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. Parental stress is a serious issue, but it is often ignored. Self-care gets neglected and parents often end up with severe burnout. This might lead to a situation where parents may no longer be in a position to provide their wards with care and support to the best of their abilities.  

Key to be able to manage this stress is, self-care. And one of the most impactful approaches to self-care is through mindfulness. In today’s blog post, we will discuss what mindfulness is, its benefits and a few simple mindfulness practices that one can integrate into their daily lives.  


Mindfulness – What is it?

Mindfulness, in simple terms, means paying attention to or being in the moment, without passing any judgment.

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

Consider a situation where your child is having a meltdown when you are at the park or in a store. The most ideal response would be to first, realize and accept your anxiety and frustration at the situation. Next, you would want to focus on how to respond to their meltdown, without letting your thoughts affect your decision-making. This is one instance of mindful parenting

Practising mindfulness, can over time, enable one to approach any issue in a calmer, more systematic manner. It can help you to deal with tough times with greater strength and resilience. The ability to cope with any given situation improves significantly.Mindful Parenting - How to Practice it?

Mindfulness also promotes the ability of greater acceptance. Practising acceptance reduces stress. It also helps in better focusing on the present rather than worrying about the distant future.

In essence, mindfulness empowers one to look at oneself and life situations with kindness, love, and forgiveness. When the same mindfulness permeates all aspects of life and becomes a part of the way one approaches parenting, it is mindful parenting.


How to Practice Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is not a destination, it is a journey. It needs to be built slowly and steadily. And it will take time. Here are some simple ways in which one can start inculcating mindfulness into their lives:

Mindful Walks:

The best place to begin mindfulness practice is by simply taking a walk! Put aside a few minutes every day to take a short walk. On the walk, will yourself to notice things around you and the act of your walk itself. While you are doing this, try to concentrate on the smallest details. Things that you would normally miss while being lost in your own thoughts.

In the beginning, it might seem rather tedious. Over time though, this will cease to seem like a task. You may even come to look forward to this walk! Slowly, try replicating the same during the routine tasks you undertake on a daily basis – be it brushing, bathing, cooking or driving.

Such conscious intake of your surroundings enables you to clear your mind of the constant swirl of thoughts and worries in there. As you master this technique, you can try observing your thoughts with similar concentration.

Bonus: This can be a great relaxation technique as well!

Breathing Exercises:

Simple breathing exercises can help with developing mindfulness. The basic exercise that you can start with is just the observation of your breath. Time yourself as you do this. Start at 20 seconds and slowly move upwards. There are many guided meditation apps that you can use to support this practice. These apps will give you guidance as well as tips to improve your practice.

Mindful Bedtimes:

During bedtime, try to include an app-guided meditation a couple of times a week. Body scanning technique is a great way to start practising mindfulness. This promotes great sleep, which is an added bonus!


With everyday practice, mindfulness can immensely help parents be more effective with their children. It also enables one to look at the bigger picture and not get caught up in the smaller things.. Mindfulness has several benefits and has absolutely no side effects. It can provide parents with useful coping techniques and help one to be more efficient in their daily activities.

Do you practice mindfulness? What are the techniques you use? Share your thoughts on this subject with us, in the comments section below. We look forward to hearing from you :)

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4 Simple Ways to Teach Social Skills to Your Child

Human beings are social creatures. Social Skills, therefore, are considered to be one of the most important aspects of human life. These skills are deemed an integral part of functioning in society. One begins to pick up these skills from a very young age. This, in turn, prepares one for a lifetime of healthier interactions while enabling the capacity to make meaningful connections with others.

However, the very nature of social skills is subjective. The capacity to pick up these skills at a level that is socially acceptable varies from person to person. Given this subjectiveness, persons with disabilities may find it challenging to understand and demonstrate these skills.  

What are some of the ways in which such skills can be developed in a manner that is reaffirming? Team Avaz has been researching this and we have put together some proven ideas that you can try out for yourself.  


Modeling

The importance of modeling, in every aspect of life, is worth stressing on repeatedly. There is no doubt that it is the single most effective technique to teach any kind of skill to your child. As a caregiver, you can help model different kinds of social interactions by enacting them to or with your child. Enacting is a great way to familiarise children to a new environment and it enables them to be prepared for a new or unexpected interaction.

Pick one scenario to enact and model your child until they are able to interact with ease.

Self-Modeling

While modeling involves an active role by the caregiver, self-modeling is where the caregiver takes the back seat. One way of self-modeling would be to record the student while they perform or practice the social skill.

Begin this process by first breaking down the interaction to smaller segments. Have your child perform one piece and record it using your phone. You can also prompt or model when needed.

Finally, combine all the pieces together to create a seamless recording. Play this video back to the child. As they watch themselves performing the task from start to finish, they will understand the concept better.

The video can also be used as a tool for reiteration.  Backed with practice, this technique will support the child’s effort to generalize any social skill that they are looking to pick up.

Cartoon Strip Social Interaction

Cartoon strip conversation is a technique innovated by Carol Gray. It is a way to let children(or any learner) fill their thoughts in speech bubbles before they role-play a conversation. Cartoon Strip Social Interactions support all levels of challenge and help with improving the fluency of social skills. Research has shown that cartoon strip interaction is an effective way to enable students to improve social interaction skills.

The comic strip below can be used as a guide. There are many such resources available on the internet for free. Use one such comic and guide your child to fill in the bubbles in the boxes. For non-verbal children, you can use the same technique hand in hand with their AAC technology of choice. Prompt them to tap out responses on their AAC device.4 Simple Ways to Teach Social Skills to Your Child

With this method, you can introduce a whole range of interactions including greetings, requests, initiation of social interactions, and negotiations to your child.

For instance, you can practice Greetings like “Good Morning” or “Hi, I’m Johnny”.

Another example would be a Request like “Can you please help me?”.

Role-Playing

The practice is an essential tool for building social skills. Role-playing offers a great way for a child to practice a social skill with another person in a controlled and safe environment. By exposure to other people’s responses, the child will get to grasp the interaction from different perspectives while broadening the scope of their understanding of the skill.


The comprehension and demonstration of emotions, expressions, and interactions can seem quite daunting for a child with a disability. But patient guidance and support will enable them to develop such skills over time. Coupled with practice in a safe and affirming environment, children can acquire the skills to identify emotions as well as their causes and effects in various scenarios.  This will enable them to build healthier and more meaningful relationships with their friends and family.

What are some of the ways in which you have tried enabling social skill learning?  We invite you to share your ideas with us and our readers in the comments section below! :)


References:

https://www.thoughtco.com/cartoon-strip-social-interactions-3110699

https://www.thoughtco.com/teaching-social-skills-3110705

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Inclusive Education – How Does it Impact Our Children?

It is a known fact that children are excluded from many school settings because of disability, race, language, religion, gender, etc. But every child has the right to be educated and thrive in an environment that is inclusive irrespective of the differences. Nowadays, parents are more inclined towards inclusive education, but there isn’t much awareness of this topic.

Keeping this in mind, we are going to try and demystify inclusive education and its importance.


Inclusive Education – What is it?

Education is deemed to be inclusive when students from diverse backgrounds learn side by side in the same classroom. Students with different physical and learning abilities are placed in age-appropriate general education classrooms. They participate in field trips and after-school activities together and attend the same sports meets and plays.

It is the teachers and the school administration who recognize that children with disabilities have equal capacities to learn and perform just like their peers without disabilities. To this end, they provide adequate support, resources, and infrastructure to facilitate their education.

Inclusive Education

Why Inclusive Education is Important?

Inclusive education is about appreciating each child’s differences. It involves taking cognizance of each child’s unique set of strengths and limitations. Inclusive education enables children to understand and live in harmony in a world filled with people different from themselves. An inclusive school is the perfect training ground for real life as the dynamics of the school imparts children with life lessons, values, and morals.


Some important values that inclusive education imparts are:

Greater Sensitivity

Children who grow up in inclusive education dynamics become more sensitive by learning side-by-side with their peers with disabilities. They understand how words can affect a person. They get to practice patience and develop empathy. This also inculcates strong bonds of friendship among the children and helps them learn social skills.

Better Understanding of Strengths and Weaknesses

Children in inclusive schools learn that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. This gives all the children a chance to learn to appreciate such differences. Children with disabilities, especially, are able to develop a positive perception of themselves from the get-go. All the children in such a setting, learn the importance of collaboration to accomplish something. As children of different abilities learn and grow together, so do their values of respect and acceptance.

Learning Together

The primary aim of inclusive education is to enable children to learn and equip themselves with skill-sets that fits their interests. Such an approach benefit everyone. Children learn at their own pace and style within a nurturing and supportive environment.

Creation of an Inclusive Society

Introducing inclusive education into the classroom leads to the acceptance of children with disabilities, thereby enabling them to lead their lives in a more inclusive society. When children are exposed to inclusive education, it imparts the values, skills, and knowledge to include others who are different from them. Children start to perceive the differences in a positive way. In the long run, these future adults will be instrumental in ensuring that equal opportunities are made available to ALL.


Inclusive education is of great importance and schools should not exclude students with disabilities. Children with disabilities should be provided with quality education just like children without disabilities.

With continuous exposure, inclusive education not only enables children but also parents and teachers. Also, inclusive education meets the requirements of every child in the system thereby creating a bright future for this approach. With proper training and support, schools can implement inclusive education with ease and success.  

Share your thoughts on this subject with us, in the comments section below. We look forward to hearing from you :)

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6 Ways to Show Your Love, All Year Long!

Love & support from family and friends can make all the difference in our lives. This is especially true for those who find processing even day-to-day activities overwhelming. To care better for your loved ones with autism, we have compiled some tried and tested tips that can help you to show even more love in your caregiving role. This way, you can shower your love not only on Valentine’s Day but also all year round :)6 Ways to Show Your Love, All Year Long!

Express thoughts clearly

It is a very human tendency to drop subtle hints or convey our thoughts in a not-so-straightforward way. For people with autism, the task of reading between the lines is a challenge. So, it is always best to communicate thoughts and opinions in a clear and straightforward manner with them. Being transparent and upfront helps them stay focused on the immediate present in addition to giving them a clear idea of what was communicated.

Say NO to surprises

When a change is presented in a rational, gradual and logical manner, it is well-received by people on the spectrum. On the other hand, they would find coping with sudden changes in routine difficult. They do best when they know what to expect. Even when a “happy” surprise party is thrown, they would need time to thoroughly consider and walk through the events unfolding in front of them. A change of plans brings with it an immediate sense of uncertainty. This, in turn, could lead to confusion and discomfort. Hence make all plans keeping this in mind.

Create opportunities for activities to look forward to

The anticipation of an enjoyable experience (things they are already familiar with) keeps them going throughout the day. The thoughts of an upcoming happy time would help counterbalance anxiety and panic-driven situations. Simple things such as their favorite meal, lunch with a dear friend, or a day to sleep in and rest – looking forward to things like these keep them going. So ensure that you create such enjoyable events for your loved ones on the spectrum.

Have things in order

Having things organized in a systematic and consistent manner is essential in providing comfort. Make sure the immediate space – such as rooms, paperwork, school bag, wardrobe and such are organized in the same fashion every day. While this might be a bit tiresome for you, this also means less anxiety brought on by challenges with object permanence that your loved ones on the spectrum face. Simple things like knowing what to expect when they enter a room or when they open the dresser drawer prevents anxiety. Not having to guess and process the excess of information before, during, and after an encounter goes a long way.

Give them ample time to process

One of the most important things you can do to support your loved ones is to provide them with adequate time to process information at any given point of time. People on the spectrum need time to process their own emotions and expectations. Without the time to process the events of their life, they might not function to their fullest. So it is essential to give them ample time and space to let them understand the unfoldings of both internal and external events.

Give them unconditional love and acceptance

People on the spectrum need to be understood, accepted and loved unconditionally! When they are forced to do things they don’t want, it might lead to meltdowns. Instead, provide them with space to follow their pursuits and special interests. Let them have their “Me” time, and make sure that you do not disturb them or push them to do things that you may think is best for them.
This Valentine’s Day let us show our love and support to the adults and children with autism and make them feel loved even more! The above-mentioned ideas are just one way of doing that. We hope that you find these tips useful and implementable for your loved ones. Together, let us make sure that Everyone is being Loved & Cared for! Do you have any ideas that you have used with your loved ones? Feel free to share with us in the comments section below!
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A Self Made Woman – Ummul Khair

At 21, Ummul Khair decided that she no longer wanted to stay at home. She picked up the phone and dialed an inquiry number. But it was not an easy task to find Vidya Sagar (formerly – The Spastics Society of India). Many calls later, she boarded a train to Chennai. This is the journey that changed her life and made her the person she is today! Almost two decades later, Ummul is now the Coordinator of the Disability Legislation Unit (DLU) at Vidya Sagar. She works on advocacy for people with disabilities. A student of Sociology and a graduate from the Tamil Nadu Dr. Ambedkar Law College, Ummul now eagerly awaits her enrollment in the Bar Council. Ummul is an independent, outspoken, and knowledgeable woman who aims to make our community more accessible, one audit at a time.A Self Made Woman - Ummul Khair Team Avaz had the privilege to interview Ummul and get to know more about her, her journey and her work. So sit back and get inspired by the life of this woman of substance!
Team Avaz (TA): Who is Ummul Khair? What is she like as a person? Ummul: I have a disability. Yes! But I’m not a disabled person. I have my strengths and weakness and I would like others to accept my abilities. Accept me for who I am and accept me as a Person with Disability. I used to be an innocent child and always depended on others but now I am able to help others and that makes me happy! TA: Tell us a bit about your childhood? Can you please share some of your fondest memories? Ummul: As a child, I was always on the bed. My mother used to carry me to every place. I didn’t own a wheelchair. So, I never had the chance to leave my home on my own. My parents worried too much because of my disability and never left my side. On the bright side, I was favored by my parents more than my brother. Whatever I wished for, was immediately done! But I secretly yearned for education; to be independent and to help and care for others! I don’t remember most of my childhood, but I do know that I loved eating curd and my favorite candy, Gems. I always looked forward to playing with my cousin! TA: Starting your education at 21 needs lots of courage. Can you please tell us what motivated you? Ummul: I wanted to know what the world was like. I wanted to meet people and make friends. Since I spent my childhood inside my home, I never knew how to handle any situation nor did I know how to interact with people. I wanted to know what rights I had as a woman and as a woman with a disability. I couldn’t go to school because my parents were overprotective. It did not help that people around me believed education was of no use to me. For many years I saw my cousins reading, but never had the opportunity to read those books. I remember reading the subtitles while watching movies and soap operas. There was this particular soap where the protagonist was a woman with a disability. It portrayed her journey and how she overcomes the challenges. Watching it day after day, kindled my spirit and I wanted to become like her! I wanted to break the stereotype.

“To express my thoughts, come out of my boundaries, and break the stereotype, I wanted to pursue my education.”

TA: Talking about education, you did Sociology and now you have done Law. Who or what inspired you to choose this path? Ummul: Do you agree that Rights come by birth? I didn’t know my rights for a long time. I thought it was rude to refuse a favor(though I never asked for it). But now, I don’t accept any favor unless I have requested it. I believe in human rights and that’s what I fight for. Not just for persons with disability but for everyone! This is the reason behind me taking up Law – because no one should be denied their rights. Helen Keller has been a huge inspiration as well. Her writings have had a great influence on me. TA: What, according to you, has been the biggest challenge life has thrown at you so far? And how did you overcome it? Ummul: I used to speak only in Hindi or Urdu. Hence learning a new language, English,  and improving my proficiency in it was a challenge. Also, at times, I forget. Imagine being a forgetful lawyer! That’s my biggest challenge. (laughs) On a more serious note, accessibility is another challenge. Not only for me, but also for every person with disabilities. The attitudinal barrier is another predominant challenge that needs to be addressed immediately. When I was at Madras High Court for an access audit, the security person stopped me from entering a particular room as it was not accessible. But that was exactly the reason why I was there! People take one look at me and think that I am struggling in a wheelchair.

“People fail to see ME, as the disability is more visible to them!”

TA: You along with the Disability Rights Alliance played a primary role in making the Besant Nagar and Marina beaches in Chennai accessible for wheelchair bound folks – Can you tell us more about this effort? Ummul: Pushing a wheelchair on the sand is very hard. I used to sit near the footpath and a volunteer would have to stay back for me – every time I wanted to visit the beach! These experiences sparked the idea to work towards making beaches accessible for people with disabilities. I researched various accessibility projects around the world. Then I started writing petitions to all the concerned authorities. But it was really hard to get their attention as I was a lone student. This is when I came to know about the Disability Rights Alliance (DRA). I collaborated with them and worked with Chennai Corporation as well. After lots of research, follow-ups, and processes we were able to celebrate World Disability Day at the beach with our students. TA: What kind of changes would you like to see in our society? What is your vision of an inclusive society? Ummul: Equal opportunities for people with disabilities. Every place should be made accessible. When I was in the US representing India for a one-month student leadership program, everything was accessible to me. I was able to go wherever I wanted to and that is something we should work towards. My idea of an ideal inclusive society is where people with disabilities not only seek help but are also able to contribute to society and give back to those in need. TA: That’s really a great vision! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Before we close, is there any message you would like to share with our readers? Ummul: Most certainly!

“Don’t ignore us; talk to us and not behind us.

Remember! Everyone is interdependent and no one is completely independent.

Everyone needs support, everyone needs suggestions. So value each other.

Give us the opportunities to show what we are capable of. ”


 
Ummul signs off by telling us about her rappelling and parasailing experiences and how she loves to take risks and not give up at the face of adversaries! Team Avaz was inspired by this courageous woman who fights for human rights and for the rights of people with disabilities. More power to you Ummul! Together, let us strive to Make Every Voice Heard!
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Supporting Young Carers’ Mental Health

Siblings are critically important not only in childhood but also over the course of an individual’s lifetime. They form a child’s first peer group, enable the development of social skills and provide valuable life experiences. Siblings of children with disabilities take up the role of secondary caregivers and provide emotional support and physical care to them. Such young people who carry out or support caregiving duties are recognized as Young Carers. To raise awareness of the challenges faced by young people, Young Carers Awareness Day is observed around the world on January 31.Young Carers Awareness Day This year’s theme focuses on the Mental Health of young carers. Most young carers have more responsibilities than other young people. As a result, they experience more stress than their peers, some of which they might not be able to handle by themselves.
Here are some ideas that you can try out to ensure that young carers receive all the support they need.

HAVE AN HONEST TALK WITH YOUR CHILDREN

Communication is vital to build and develop any relationship. Therefore, the importance of communication should not be underestimated when it comes to young carers. Talk to your children about mental health and help them understand how important their mental health is. Ask them if they are feeling stressful or depressed. Discuss with them what you can do as a family to help them feel better. Tell your children that you are proud of them for taking up responsibility and supporting their sibling. Talk to them about specific incidents which made you feel this way.

BREAKS FROM RESPONSIBILITIES

Most young carers are children who grow up faster than their peers. They try and understand the hardships in life at a tender age. But these hardships should not be a reason to miss out on a happy childhood. To create a positive impact on mental health,  regular breaks should be provided. If family outings are not possible, let them have fun with their friends. Most importantly, give them breaks from responsibilities when they are tired or feeling low. Let them know that they are also children who need to enjoy being a child.

SUPPORT THEIR STUDIES

Young carers, because of their caring responsibilities, might need support in school to keep up with their peers. Talk to their teachers about the caregiving responsibilities and request them to provide extra help whenever the child needs it. As a parent, you could help your child with assignments and homework. If they had to miss school for a day, ensure that the classes are covered and the concepts are made clear.

HELP THEM SOCIALIZE

As a young carer, your child may miss out on opportunities to play and spend time with friends and classmates. This might lead to them feeling isolated, and they might find it hard to make friends. Hence it is important to find other young carers with whom your child can relate and talk to. Meeting other young carers can be an excellent way for your child to make new friends, share their experiences, rebuild their self-esteem, and have the social opportunities that children their age should have.  
This Young Carers Awareness Day, let us make sure to recognize the efforts of our young carers who help to care for their siblings and parents with disabilities. Spending a little more time with the young carers and supporting their needs would go a long way in promoting their well-being. The above-mentioned ideas might help you to strengthen the bond with your children and help you to support them in better ways. Together, let us make sure that Every Voice is being Heard! Do you have any ideas that you have used with your young carers? Let us know in the comments section below!
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Writing Code that Makes a Difference!

Making a positive difference in the society we live in is something we all aspire to in various measures. That said, we see a lot of change makers in our day-to-day life but hardly have any time to acknowledge their efforts in making this world a better place. One such group of people who toil day and night without much appreciation are the programmers or developers behind many of the apps we use all day.

January 07 and September 13 are observed as International Programmers Day in different parts of the world. We are dedicating today’s post to give a huge shout out to our amazing team of programmers, here at Avaz. 

“Being a programmer requires a lot of patience and everlasting love for coding.”, says Balaji, Senior Software Developer at Avaz.  

The Development Team or the Dev Team as we call them, are the ones responsible for making Avaz what it is. They are the ones who work with the Product Team to turn user feedback and expert recommendations into features on the Avaz app. From understanding the requirements of the users, ideation of the various elements involved, researching the best approaches, designing the components from scratch, implementing the features to testing the usability of these features and finding issues in them, the Dev Team does it all.


“I have always wanted to create a product that serves the community. And Avaz gave me the opportunity to do it.”, says Abu, Senior Software Developer at Avaz.

Creating the best possible app for the user has always been the primary goal of the Avaz Dev team. The will to serve the community and the ability to deliver the best to our customers has helped them stay motivated throughout this journey. There have been times where they have had to stay up all night or forgo vacations to ensure that some customer requirements go out urgently. But they do all this without complaining. Because as Narayanan, our CEO puts it, “There is a lot of joy in seeing something that you have coded making a huge, real-time difference to a child’s life!”

All of us here at Avaz are very proud of our Dev Team. We take this opportunity to thank each one of our developers for all the hard work and commitment they have put in over the years.  

Here’s to Abu, Balaji, Kavitha, Abdul, Narayanan and all those who worked on Avaz before them, for their unceasing efforts to Making Every Voice Heard!


PS – Any day is a good day to express your gratitude. So take this opportunity to thank those who have been supportive of your journey and remind them that they are just AWESOME for being the way they are! :)

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Here’s How Siblings Can Engage Using AAC

Siblings are our first friends, and at times, our closest friends. Researchers have found that siblings heavily influence each other and the type of person they eventually grow into. And in the lives of children with special needs, siblings have an especially important role to play.  

Involving siblings is a great way to enable children with specialized needs to experience a dynamic and supportive environment. As they build their communication, it helps the siblings to build a deeper relationship with each other. Many a time siblings of children with special needs end up feeling left out because of all the focus and energy being given to the latter. This manner of involving them can be one of the ways to enable them to overcome that feeling.  

Here are some tried and tested ways by which siblings can engage by using AAC –


Collecting Frequently-used Messages:

Ask the sibling to help you brainstorm messages that their brother or sister might want or need to communicate. This can make your work simpler as siblings are closer in age and know things about each other that adults might miss!

Recording Voice Outputs:

Recording voice messages is a fun way to engage your children. Listening to a familiar voice, makes your child want to use the AAC device more. When a sibling records a message using AAC, it develops compassion and a sense of belonging in your children.

Guiding the Siblings:

While most siblings might not love being bossed around, they can engage in games that involves giving directions. Such games teach critical thinking and encourage self-discovery. And games are great ways of coming together and having fun! By using a sequence of messages on their device that you can load beforehand, the children can take turns to play an inclusive version of games like “Simon Says” and so on.  This will give the child a sense of control while letting the siblings be actively involved in the game.

Bedtime Stories:

You can get the help of your child to record a sequence of messages and add relevant images of a bedtime story. Later, the child can “read” the story to their sibling by selecting the pictures in a sequential manner.

Lullabies:

Just like the bedtime stories, you can record some of your child’s (who uses the AAC device) favorite lullabies on the AAC device. During bedtime, the sibling can select a lullaby and sing along as the device sings the song. This is a great way to improve the bonding between the siblings.


With little preparation and support from your end, you will be amazed how incredibly passionate siblings are about helping their brother or sister to communicate more effectively. These activities will also help bring out the caregiving qualities of your children. AAC and AT are very helpful tools for increasing children’s opportunities to engage meaningfully with their brothers and sisters. And Avaz is one such tool striving towards Making Every Voice Heard!

Do share other methods you use to enable communication and bonding between siblings with the help of AAC or AT!

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2019 – A Sense of Limitless Possibilities

Each New Year brings with it immense promise. A promise of fresh ideas and a renewed energy to bring those to fruition.  And 2019 is no different. After a deeply meaningful 2018, all of us here at Team Avaz are extremely excited about the coming year. 

What are some of the things that will have the greatest meaning for our users – this is the question we asked ourselves as we planned for 2019. After much thought, here are some of the things we have decided to focus on, in this brand new year.

A sense of limitless possibilities in the New Year!

PRACTICAL INSIGHTS 

One of the biggest focus areas for us in the coming year would be to provide you with the best resources, information and research that you can use to equip yourself to become even better at what you do. Whether you are a parent, a caregiver, an educator or a therapist, we will strive to bring you the most relevant and useful content through the year. We would love to hear from you about what it is that you would like to know more about. Do tell us that in the comments section below and we will get cracking to bring you just that!

CREATING BETTER COMMUNICATION PARTNERS

Continuing in a similar breath, but with a more specific objective, this year we want to work with you to enable each one of us (ourselves included!) to become better communication partners. To do this we would need to create many communication opportunities. Additionally, use strategies that would enable those who we work with to communicate better and do so at their own pace. To this effect we are looking at –

  • Creating online and offline opportunities to interact and learn from each other.
  • Conducting workshops, training webinars and demonstrations to create greater understanding of AAC in general and Avaz in particular.  
  • Creating tried and tested pool of resources and content on effective communication partnering strategies.

We believe that such opportunities for all of us to engage and share knowledge will go a long way in making all of us better communication partners for the people we work with.

PRODUCT IMPROVEMENTS

The year gone by saw some big ticket improvements to Avaz. And this we are hoping to top that and are raring to go to make Avaz even better. We are already working on adding many new languages. In addition, expect to see some really powerful new features that a lot of you have been requesting for. And of course, we will keep working to iron out the creases and tweak the existing features to give you a better Avaz experience, every time!

Stay tuned to this space for news on updates and new features ☺

NEW PRODUCTS

At Avaz, at the core of everything we do, is the belief that technology can empower any individual with special needs. To that effect, we have been working on many new product concepts and prototypes. This year we expect to release at least two new products. We will share with you more on this soon!


In 2019 we recommit ourselves to our mission of Making Every Voice Heard.  As usual the user will be at front and center of all that we do. Avaz is here to stay and grow with you, every step of the way!

Here’s wishing you and all your loved ones a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

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The 2018 Avaz Round-Up

In our pursuit towards making every voice heard, 2018, we believe has been a milestone year. We made some big updates to existing versions of Avaz for Communication to give you a product that learns, gets better and grows, just as each of our users do. We have released some new languages in Avaz for Communication and have many more in the pipeline. We are excited about this as we believe that language should never be a barrier in communication. With every new language, we get one step closer to creating barrier-free communication for all. We love interacting with our users to understand how we can make Avaz work better for them. In this regard 2018 saw us reaching out to more parents and users through our workshops and showcases. This, especially, meant a lot to us.

So here’s a quick round-up of 2018 – the year that was!

Collaborations and New Products

Team Avaz has always believed in bringing together great ideas to create products that enable and empower. 2018 was deeply significant in this regard. This year saw some incredibly powerful collaborations with multiple domain experts that led to the creation and release of two amazing new products.

  • MDA Avaz Reader – The Madras Dyslexia Association is among India’s most respected and experienced organizations working with children with Dyslexia. With over 20 years of expertise in dyslexia education and support, they have created a variety of tried and tested modules to enable struggling readers to read better. To make this expertise available to more children via easily accessible technology around the world, Avaz has collaborated with MDA to create the MDA Avaz Reader app. The Reader app enables dyslexic children to read independently through methods and features that have proven to be powerful and hugely effective over the years. You can download the app here – Apple App Store & Google Play Store

 

  • Avaz Vietnamese – We partnered with Viet Dynamic Connections to release an AAC app that is customized and localized for the users of Vietnam. The app was released in less than a year of collaboration. We are very excited to have been able to expand the repertoire of languages on Avaz. You can download the app here.

 

Avaz Community

2018 saw a rise in the number of support groups being formed by parents of Avaz users. These online and offline groups are completely driven by parents who have come together to support each other and share insights, tips, and resources related to Avaz  and communication. We are grateful for these communities. They help us stay grounded and inspire us to keep improving Avaz. 

 

Workshops & Events

2018 was a year in which we conducted multiple workshops for parents, caregivers and therapists around the world. These workshops were held both in person as well as remotely in the form of webinars.

The aim of the Avaz Workshops are two-fold –

  1. To introduce the concept of AAC and how it is beneficial for children as well as complementary to work done by caregivers and therapists.
  2. To run through the various features of Avaz.

The workshops cover all aspects of AAC and Avaz. Right from setting up and customizing the Avaz app for each user to giving ideas on how AAC like Avaz can be integrated into daily life, the workshops give training and information that is informed by years of user inputs. We have been receiving feedback that these workshops have been immensely useful for the attending parents, special educators and speech therapists. They have also been very effective in addressing doubts related to various aspects of the app and its use.

If you would like to have our team conduct a workshop or webinar for your school, team or for a group of parents, do drop us a mail on support@avazapp.com :)

The year also saw Avaz participate in a number of events & showcases, some of which you can read about here  and here. We were also present at the Global Autism Convention in Bangalore, India among other really interesting events through the year.

 

App Updates

The first quarter saw us overhauling in-app support on Avaz. You can now reach out to us easily via chat while using the app itself. The Avaz Live function was made completely functional and easily accessible. Avaz Live can be used for remote therapy sessions with speech therapists. The therapist, in turn, can also use Live to operate Avaz at the user’s end to take them through use and learning activities. These two features were rolled out for Sri Lanka, Denmark, Australia, France, India & US over the year.

The Avaz App was made fully compatible with Android devices. What’s more, the App is optimized to be used on Android devices of ANY screen size. Some Android only new features are the option of sharing messages created on App with contacts on WhatsApp and the Bubble feature, with which a user can always quickly access Avaz, without having to close the app they are using.

Coming to version specific updates, Avaz Sri Lanka had a comprehensive Sri Lankan Tamil Vocabulary added to it.


As we look back on the year gone by, we cannot wait to do much more in the coming year. Thank you for supporting us and continually pushing us to bring you only the best! We look forward to having you join us as we move ever onward towards Making Every Voice Heard in 2019 and beyond!

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Tips for a More Magical Christmas!

The lights are up everywhere and the holiday cheer is all around us. Christmas is the time for friends, family, gifts, decorations, and delicacies. During this holiday season, the change in routine, new visitors, unaccustomed foods, and the decorations can prove to be a challenge for children on the spectrum. The lights, smells, and crowds could be extremely overwhelming to them. With a bit of forethought and planning, you can easily make this holiday season more enjoyable and comfortable for your child. Here are some tried and tested tips to host an autism-friendly Christmas:
  • Planning and Preparation

Understanding your child’s needs and preparing accordingly is the first step during the holiday season. Plan the events of Christmas in advance and explain the schedule to your child a few days earlier. Run them through the plan a couple of times, if necessary. You can show them photos of expected visitors. You can also create a social story that highlights the happenings of the day.
  • Autism-Friendly Decoration

Children on the spectrum have strong sensory needs. So make sure to decorate your home in a way your child finds welcoming and comforting. Decorate your home gradually rather than doing it in one go. This would make the change gradual, instead of it being a sudden surprise to your child’s senses. If possible, do involve your child in the process of decorating the house and the tree. Another thing you could do is to use gift wrap that is not too flashy or jarring on the senses. You can also wrap gifts in cellophane or any other transparent material to reduce the anxiety of not knowing what’s inside the present.
  • Be Ready with Familiar Food

A lot of children on the spectrum are very particular about their food preferences. So try preparing meals that your child is accustomed to. It is true that preparing food is one of the most stressful jobs. But cooking for an autism-friendly Christmas could be as simple as making a sandwich or home-made chicken nuggets (with some festive touches of course!) for your child. Amidst all the merrymaking, do keep an eye on the number of sugary products consumed.
  • Prepare Your Family

If your family is visiting for the holidays, give them a heads-up on what to expect, how to interact and how can they be of help in case of anxiety-related issues or possible meltdowns. Prepare your family members for strategies that can be used to minimize anxiety or behavioral incidents. For instance, if your child prefers not to be hugged, provide other suggestions for interaction that your child finds comfortable. It might also be helpful if you can ask them to remain calm and neutral when the child is experiencing an overwhelming situation.
  • Plan for a Sensory Retreat

Make sure to have an “escape” plan for your child in case they show any signs of stress or discomfort. Teach them how to access support when a situation/place becomes overwhelming. You can also designate a quiet place for meals in case they find a huge family meal triggering. If you are traveling for the holidays, carrying your child’s favorite toys, books, and noise-canceling headphones is highly recommended. So this Christmas, don’t stress! Just plan a tiny bit in advance. Make use of these strategies to make this holiday season a fun-filled, memorable one for your child. And don’t forget to give thanks to your family and friends for their support in hosting an autism-friendly Christmas. We would love to hear about your experience using some of our suggestions. How do you plan and prepare for Christmas? Do share your own strategies with us and other caregivers, in the comments below! Also, share with us your favorite memories from this holiday season!
Team Avaz sends loads of love, festive cheer and wishes your way! Wishing you and all your loved ones a Very MERRY CHRISTMAS and a Happy New Year!
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Ramp-Walking Their Way to Create Awareness on Access

“I believe that VaccesS 2018 will create a positive impact in the field of disability. Common people find their essentials anywhere, anytime. We hope that the gadgets showcased at this event for persons with disability will also be similarly available soon. Awareness & thoughts of inventing accessible and adaptive objects for people with disabilities should increase among common people.”

– Ms. Radha Ramesh, Director, Vidya Sagar.


Vidya Sagar (formerly known as The Spastics Society of India, Chennai), is an organization working with people with multiple disabilities. This organization is proactively working towards meeting the needs of the evolving disability movement through advocacy and innovative awareness programs. One such program in this direction is VaccesS, designed to create awareness on access & accessibility. VaccesS serves as a platform to connect people & organizations creating accessible designs, equipment, and assistive devices to people with special needs, NGOs, schools for people with disabilities and the like. VaccesS also successfully brought together various sections of the community, including mainstream educational institutions, corporates, builders, architects, government officials and more. Many activities and games were conducted through the course of this event. All if these were designed with the aim of enabling participants to experience “enhanced ability” in a fun, interactive fashion.  The exhibition showcased various products and equipment of day to day utility with multiple accessibility features, designed by different companies. Also featured were assistive devices and information materials on various aspects of access. 
  Team Avaz was a part of this innovative program. The opportunity was used to present the Avaz App to a diverse set of stakeholders. Many participants took pride in knowing that Avaz is an India-based organization working in the AAC & AT space. The most heartwarming highlight of the two days was the Ramp Walk featuring the students, staff and alumni of Vidya Sagar. Using the school’s wheelchair ramps to stage the show, the literal and figurative references were unmissable. Wearing shades of white, a group of 40 models walked the ramp, exuding great confidence and joy. The walk showcased  clothing with simple adaptations to make them more accessible for people with disability. Some of these adaptations included Velcro fasteners, clothing with alternative access points to suit variation in motor skills of the wearer and alterations in the way of wearing the clothes to ensure that the support belts were not visible. The clothes were trendily accessorized with scarves, stoles, and bags from Kalakkal Kadai*, an entrepreneurial venture  of the students of Vidya Sagar. The models were mighty thrilled to walk the ramp, many even counting down to its start! The joy, confidence, and pride of being a model on the ramp was evident on every face!
“It was inspiring to see the pioneering work being done to innovate, design and build devices for people across the disability spectrum to use, with active input and participation from the users. VaccesS brings together the whole community of designers and builders, researchers and practitioners as well as users and their families. It provides a vibrant platform to create awareness of both the needs of the disabled as well as the kinds of assistive devices available to enhance lives. The program is a celebration of the human spirit to rise above adversity.”

– Shankaran  Nair, Chairperson, Vidya Sagar

VaccesS  has successfully created awareness on the different forms of Access – physical access, access to communication and information, and most importantly attitudinal access. This event was a definitive step towards making the inclusion of people with disability a reality.
*Kalakkal Kadai – A shop at Vidya Sagar where all the products are made by the students as part of their training at Employment Education Centre (EEC).   We would love to hear from you if you or your organization are conducting such events. Write to us in the comments section below and we could feature your event on our blog soon!
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Dipak Ghosh – The World at His Toes

“I feel that society only gives us 30% opportunity. While we have to put 130% effort to be capable! We don’t want to take a jump ahead nor do we do we want to lag behind. What we want is to walk together with everyone in the society.” – Dipak Ghosh, Disability Rights Activist


A few weeks ago, we had a chance to present our work and attend Empower 2018 – an Assistive Technology conference in New Delhi, India. Thinkers and innovators from the  Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy (IICP), National Institute of Speech and Hearing (NISH), as well as those from various Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), among others, were present. It was a great learning experience for us, to be able to interact with brilliant minds from across the country.

The interaction and new friendship we cherish the most from Empower was the one we had (and continue to have!) with Dipak. Dipak is 33. Having completed his BCom. (Hons.) in Accountancy, he is an accomplished artist and musician. He is also among India’s foremost advocates for equal rights and opportunities for persons with disabilities.  


Dipak was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy when he was an infant. He was almost three years old when he was able to sit up. Because of CP, he has very limited use of his hands. This, however, was hardly a deterrent for Dipak. Being a creative child, he taught himself to use his legs to write, paint, play and engage in his daily routine.

(From Right) Narayanan (from Avaz) with Dipak (centre) and his caretaker Sumit – Empower 2018

As a child, Dipak was quite naughty, often getting into trouble. He passed his secondary education from the Center for Special Education – IICP. He attributes a large part of his success to the support he received during his schooling here. His school life was full of excitement and fun in the company of his friends and teachers. An academic topper, he received several medals in the sports as well. It was here that Dipak learned to draw and play musical instruments with his feet.

Dipak also began using the keyboard very efficiently with his toes. But this was getting extremely demanding and tiring for him. Hence he began searching for a simple and effective communication tool. This was when Dipak came to know about the Avaz AAC app through IICP. He was thrilled when he found Avaz easy and effective to use for his specific requirements. Dipak began using Avaz in 2013 and there has been no looking back since! You can watch a video of him using Avaz here –  

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0iIyB4ACw8[/embedyt]


Dipak’s mother is a huge influence and inspiration for him. She has always believed that there is no greater dignity than serving others. Taking a page out of his mother’s beliefs, Dipak is today a well known and respected advocate for the CP community’s rights, inclusion, and opportunities. As a public speaker and activist, he has inspired many by his example. He is currently working on a project called the Media Lab in collaboration with the National Resource Center for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (NRCAAC). This project is looking to formulate a new concept of understanding and expression of ideas, aspirations, feelings, and thoughts.

For all his accomplishments, Dipak was awarded the Surrendra Paul Memorial Award for Courage. He was declared The Most Creative Adult by the Governor of West Bengal.

Dipak is a great inspiration, not only for his community but also for each one of us. His story pushes all of us at Team Avaz onward with greater resolve towards Making Every Voice Heard!
Avaz is now available on Play store. Download Avaz for free: https://tinyurl.com/y6wodn8h In India, download Avaz for free here: https://tinyurl.com/y9fxazv8
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Avaz App – Now on Android!

AVAZ App for Communication, the award-winning, research-based Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) app is now available on the Play Store! The latest version of Avaz app works seamlessly on the Android platform. It brings you the same high quality, features rich, and world-class experience that you have come to know and love about Avaz. At present, Avaz is available on the Play Store in four country-specific vocabularies – for US, Australia, India, and Sri Lanka.
  Avaz’s latest version comes with inbuilt screen customization to fit small screens. This makes Avaz compatible with Android phones and tablets of any size! Avaz’s Android version continues to be incredibly user-friendly and customizable, with all of its powerful features intact. With continuous support from the community, we keep striving to enhance the app with new and improved features. The Android version of Avaz is the result of the feedback and requests received from the community.   The release of the Android version of  Avaz App for Communication is yet another step in our journey toward Making Every Voice Heard! We invite you to join us on this journey. Download the app here: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.avazapp.international.lite
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Host an Autism-Friendly Thanksgiving with these Ideas

Thanksgiving is a joyful time for the family with food, fun, and gratitude. However, the unusual schedules, new foods, and people-packed homes can be a little overwhelming for children on the spectrum. With some forethought and planning, it is possible to build an inclusive environment that works for everyone. Here are some practical tips for hosting an autism-friendly Thanksgiving!
  • Plan as much as Possible
Preparation and setting expectations is vital for children on the spectrum. Plan Thanksgiving a few days in advance and sit your child down to explain the schedule. Show your child  pictures of the relatives who are expected to turn up. Run them through the plan a couple of times. You can also set expectations on your child’s behavior and explain them that they would be rewarded for their good behavior.
  • Prepare Your Family
Preparing your family is as important as preparing your child for Thanksgiving. Be it visiting family and friends or your Thanksgiving hosts, do let them know in advance of your child’s needs. Help them understand sensory meltdowns. You can also educate them on what kinds of interactions work and how to appropriately respond to the child under different situations.
  • Make Sure to have Familiar Food
Children on the spectrum can be very particular about their food. Unfamiliar food items, textures, tastes or smell might put off the child. So prep meals that the child is familiar and comfortable with. You can also offer a small portion of a new dish that the child is not accustomed to. Treat the child with a generous portion of their favorite food right after!
  • Prepare for Sensory Needs
Children on the spectrum have very strong sensory needs. Noise can be overwhelming, leading to anxiety and possibly meltdowns. Carrying with you something like noise-cancelling headphones can help. Offer these to your child so that they can “turn off” the noise around them. If possible, seat your child at the end of the table. Providing this extra space could help reduce sensory overload.
  • Have an Escape Plan
Make sure that you anticipate and plan for your child, for any signs of stress or discomfort. Inform your family members in advance, so that they can also be of some help. Create a safe space to escape – a room, if possible. This will be of great help when the child has sensory overload. Have their favorite toys and activities at hand to provide familiar comfort and relief.
Play around with these tried and tested ideas to celebrate an autism-friendly Thanksgiving with your family and friends! Do share with us in the comments below, the strategies you use to make this season a happy time for your child. We hope you create lasting memories with your loved ones, with good food and music during this holiday! And don’t forget to thank your family for their support on hosting an autism-friendly Thanksgiving! :) Team Avaz sends your way immense thanks for all the love and support you have given us over the years! Wishing each one of you a very Happy Thanksgiving!
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Love Yourself – Self Care before Giving Care

Self Care Week is observed between 12th – 18th November all over the world, to raise awareness about how people can take care of their own health. Typically, caregivers of individuals with special needs put the well being of their wards before theirs. They are constantly overworked with various aspects of supporting and caregiving. Eventually, caregivers reach a point where they begin to completely ignore their own needs. Prolonged neglect of the self could lead to burn-out and a variety of mental health issues. This, in turn, impairs their ability to be an effective caregiver. Hence, Self Care, in the context of caregivers takes on a deeper meaning. Self-care is about keeping one’s own well being – be it physical, mental or emotional – also on the list of priorities.  Adding some “me time” helps you rejuvenate. Only if YOU are as well as you can be, all things considered, can you provide care to the best extent possible. This by no means indicates that you add more pressure to your time and work. At the heart of self care is kindness to the self. It is only a loving reminder that your own well being is equally important, if not more. And there are ways in which any caregiver can do this for themselves. Here are some self-care ideas that you can try out:
FIND A SUPPORT SYSTEM
  • Support Groups: Look for support groups, in-person or online. Interact with others facing similar challenges. This peer group could help you feel supported, connected, and provide relief, as you share your difficulties with those you can relate to. These groups help you realize that you are not alone. They help you build the confidence that you will find a way. Some of the parents we work with have found such groups to be extremely helpful. Find a list of such groups at the end of this post.
  • Professional Support: Therapy or counselling can help you manage your fears and anxieties. There is no shame in seeking professional help. Seek out a therapist or counsellor who can help you work through specific challenges and issues you face as a caregiver.
  • Support Closer Home: Catching up with friends and close family you enjoy spending time with is a great way to destress and show yourself some love.
DO THINGS YOU LOVE Find relaxation and pleasure in doing activities you enjoy. It can be as simple as a stroll along the beach or dining in your favorite restaurant. The more relaxed you feel, the more patient, caring and proactive you can be as a caregiver. Pick up a hobby that makes you feel happy and work on it. Consciously try carving time for it. Once a month is also great. This can help you feel connected to yourself. Care for your body, go for a run or choose a workout routine. You could also try having a wish list of activities you would like to do. Pick one when you unexpectedly find yourself having some free time! MEDITATE Mindful meditation can help you slow down and be in the present moment. Even 5 to 10 minutes of meditation a day can be a great stress reliever.  You could make use of guided meditation apps or audios designed specifically for this purpose. Try bringing your attention to something you usually do on autopilot. It can be something as simple as brushing your teeth, driving, eating, or performing your morning routine. This too is a form of meditation!
Self-care is critical for caregivers of children with special needs. Practicing self-care in small doses and as often as possible, can enable you to be a better advocate for your child. Incorporating a few of these self-care ideas in your day will help you in the long-run. How do you care for yourself? Share with us in the comment section below :)
Here are some links to groups and websites for more self-care resources: SCAN – An Indian based parents support group. Resources for SLPs and Therapists: https://blog.asha.org/2017/06/29/9-self-care-tips-for-the-time-crunched-slp/ http://speechymusings.com/2017/03/28/self-care-tips-slps/
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Highlights of AAC Awareness Month – 2018

October was observed as AAC Awareness month worldwide. Team Avaz worked through the month to spread awareness through various activities, online as well as offline. A strong and well-connected community is core to any movement, working towards awareness. To this effect, we compiled a series of AAC-related questions, asked by members of Avaz user groups, and opened it out to the Avaz community, to provide answers. This exercise provided deeply relatable and insightful responses drawn from the community’s experiences.
First-hand narratives shared by AAC app users added richness and context to our understanding of the larger picture of what it means to create awareness. Halloween and Diwali at the end of the month, helped us spotlight the unique challenges faced by children with autism during such holidays. This opportunity was used, to document several tried and tested ideas to handle the identified challenges.
Team Avaz participated in the Open Day conducted by Vidya Sagar – The Center for Special Education, Chennai. Live demonstrations of Avaz app was made to parents, caregivers, and speech therapists. In addition, a general awareness session on AAC was held and related queries were answered in this event. Our team also attended Empower 2018, an Assistive Technology conference in Delhi. Here, we got the opportunity to share our journey and experiences of building Avaz as a product, with various users and stakeholders in the Assistive Technology space. This experience, rich with interaction and exchange of ideas, helped us gauge a few things with greater clarity –
  1. Some of the gaps that exist in our own work and
  2. The long way we collectively have yet to go, in making accessibility of every kind, a reality in all aspects of life.
As we mark the end of the AAC Awareness Month 2018, we are grateful for the continued support received from the AAC & Avaz community. We rededicate ourselves to listening to the community’s needs and using insights thus gained, to constantly strive towards bettering our product offerings. We reaffirm ourselves to our mission of always creating cutting edge, quality AAC products, and solutions, to make accessibility a reality for all!
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Make this Diwali a Memorable One for your Children. Here’s How!

The festival of lights is here and it is time for celebrations with our loved ones. Sweets, decorations, gifts, diyas*, and fireworks fill this joyful festive season. However, loud noise from the fireworks is bothersome for the elderly and ailing, pets and individuals with hypersensitivity. This impact is especially pronounced in children on the autism spectrum. Sudden exposure to loud sounds can lead to a startle reflex that triggers seizures in children with multiple disabilities. For children with social anxieties, the constant stream of visitors may be another source of stress. That said, it is possible for your child to enjoy Diwali, just as much as the next person. All it takes is a tiny bit of planning. Here are some ideas for you to try out and create some sparkling Diwali memories this year!
GENERAL IDEAS Whatever be your plans for Diwali, talk to your child ahead of time about what to expect. How to Prepare:
  • Let them know that there will be loud, unfamiliar noises, lots of people, bright lights, a change in routine and so on.
  • If your child responds to visual aids, you can use photos to create a story that illustrates the activities you will be doing that day.
  • Share with your child why you are excited to celebrate Diwali. Talk about what you enjoyed doing as a child.
  • Let your child take the lead in deciding what they would like to do :)

NOISE Noise is inevitable on Diwali these days. How to Prepare:
  • In the run-up to the big day, consider watching videos of fireworks while gradually turning up the volume over time.
  • Prepare a comfort pack containing toys, books and other objects of comfort close at hand so that your child can try and focus their attention away from the noise.
  • Consider purchasing good quality ear plugs and headphones for your child. Noise-canceling headphones are the most effective because they replace irritating environmental noise by producing calming white noise.
  • Identify safe spaces that soothe or calm your child. For instance, it could be your room or theirs.
  • Plan indoor activities beforehand to engage their attention away from the noise.
On Diwali Day: If the noise is getting to them
  • Make use of headphones and earplugs.
  • Pull out the comfort pack you readied earlier to offer some relief.
  • Take your child to the safe spaces you identified earlier, to calm them down.

NEW CLOTHES For some children, new clothes during festivals could be anxiety-inducing. You can take some steps beforehand to help them manage this. How to Prepare:
  • Take your child for shopping to pick their own clothes, if that is a possibility.
  • If that’s not possible, show them the new clothes picked out for them. Let them feel the cloth, the textures in it, enjoy the colors, and get familiar with it before the festival.
On Diwali Day:
  • You could help your child wear new clothes over the clothes they already like, to increase their comfort level.

ANXIETY FROM MEETING PEOPLE Social anxiety may get compounded when there is a constant stream of Diwali guests. You may also have to go visit others’ homes. There are ways you can take the edge off this anxiety caused by this. How to Prepare:
  • Request your friends and family to visit over a couple of days, as opposed to everyone coming on the same day.
  • Similarly, you could plan your visits to others’ homes over a couple of days.
On Diwali Day:
  • Involve visiting family and friends in activities that your child enjoys so that your child too can have fun in their company.

FIREWORKS
  • Use your discretion before taking your child close to fireworks or to see them.
  • If they wish to watch fireworks in the sky, get them to wear noise-cancelling headphones before heading out.
  • Do maintain a safe distance from fireworks. The bright sparks may be triggering for some children even with noise cancelled out.
  • If your child is not keen on fireworks, you can always switch to some quiet and comfortable indoor activities which you pre-planned.

A bit of thoughtful preparation and execution will go a long way in making this Diwali special for your loved ones. What are some of the things that you do to make this holiday memorable for your child – how do you go about planning it? What activities do you look forward to enjoying with your child?  Do share with us in the comments section below :) If you found these ideas useful, do take a minute to share this blog post with others who might benefit too! On this auspicious festival of lights, may the glow of joy, prosperity, and happiness illuminate your life and your home. HAPPY DIWALI! *Diyas – earthen oil lamps
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Tips for Fun-filled Halloween Memories with your Children

Halloween is an exciting holiday for the kids. They love trying out different costumes and going trick-o’-treating in their neighborhood. Costumes, decorations, music, and candies are the highlights of this holiday! However, the same may become overwhelming, and at times challenging experience for children, who are on the autism spectrum.  Unfamiliar people, places, social interactions and even some of the costumes could cause anxiety and sensory overload for the children. But careful preparation and planning can help turn this into a memorable Halloween! Here are some ideas to help you and your child enjoy the day.
BEFORE HALLOWEEN:
  • Create a visual story of what Halloween may be like for your child, with some pictures or drawings. This will help your child prepare for the day’s activities.
  • Try on costumes before Halloween or let your child pick their favorite costume. If the costume is uncomfortable or doesn’t fit right, it may cause unnecessary distress and ruin their fun.
  • Consider a Halloween costume that fits over your child’s regular clothes. Have them wear it for short periods of time and at increasing intervals over time.
  • Practice going to a neighbor’s door with your child, ringing the bell or knocking on the door and receiving candy.

ON THE DAY OF HALLOWEEN:
  • Understand the comfort zone of your child and plan accordingly. For instance, if your child is not comfortable trick-o’-treating, you can start by going to three houses. Assess how your child is doing and build up to more houses the following year.
  • Partner with family and friends that your child likes.
  • Take your child to an activity in an already familiar community, such as a school festival or a neighborhood party where the child is comfortable and knows the people around.
  • If you are giving out candy at your home, give your child the option to give a piece of candy. During the day, practice greeting people and giving out candy.
  • If your child is afraid of going out at night, plan Halloween activities that can be enjoyed indoors or during the daytime.

A bit of forethought and planning will go a long way in making Halloween super special for your child! We hope you find some of these ideas useful this Halloween. Do share with us some of the things that you do to make this holiday memorable for your child – how to go about planning it? What activities do you look forward to doing with your child?  Do write to us in the comments section below :) Here’s wishing you, and all your loved ones a very enjoyable, fun & HAPPY HALLOWEEN!
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AAC & Angelman Syndrome – A Testimonial from a Parent

In today’s blog post, Kavitha* shares her daughter, Pooja’s* journey with AAC.   Kavitha is a designer by profession. She lives with her family in Mumbai, India. Pooja is her 8-year old child, who is non-verbal and has been diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome. Kavitha reflects upon her experiences with AAC adoption in India and her child’s progress through continued use of AAC apps: 

Pooja’s Journey

Pooja was diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome at a very early age. Among other characteristics typical to this diagnosis, she was non-verbal. She faced many transition issues in her daily life. Furthermore, Pooja also had certain behavioral challenges.  Since Pooja’s scanning abilities were great, her therapist in the US had advised us to use Avaz instead of the Picture Exchange Communication System or PECS. That was one of the best suggestions we were offered. And there has been no looking back since then! After the introduction of  Avaz into her life, we noticed that she was also able to overcome some of the behavioural challenges she faced. When I came back to India from the US, I noticed that no one here was using AAC. Awareness levels too were very low. Since we had seen success with AAC, I was keen on its continued use for Pooja. I had to personally advocate for the use of AAC and Avaz in many of the schools that Pooja has attended over the years. I have since realized that persistence is the key. Pooja is now in the 4th year of her schooling. After many years of persisting, Pooja’s teachers have finally added their folders into her AAC system. In fact, there used to be a time when I would write daily notes to the teachers in Pooja’s school diary, insisting that they use Avaz in school everyday. On the flip side, such persistence has not always yielded positive responses from teachers & therapists. One such instance was when I was asked to stop behavior therapy at a reputed autism centre in Mumbai. This was because I was constantly insisting on the therapist using at least 5 minutes of Avaz with Pooja for her to pick up basic communication. The director didn’t understand my point of view. I was told that they will not be able to serve Pooja, as their therapists could not work in the manner requested. It has been 3 years since we began using Avaz for at least half an hour daily. Regular use has enabled Pooja to do her tasks easily.  Earlier she would be resistant to doing the same work. Now we are at a stage where we are able to discuss Pooja’s daily schedule on Avaz, and she too knows her plan of action for the day. Today Pooja is able to buy groceries or order her favorite food, french fries, at McDonald’s. She says “thank you” to people. She is able to express to me whenever she misses her favorite person – her Nani (maternal grandmother in Hindi). She wishes family members on their birthdays. She is able to recount to her teachers that she went for a movie and ate popcorn. She tells her dad about the time she spent at the mall with her Mama… The list is endless! And the best part. She is now also able to read sight words on Avaz. AAC awareness is gradually increasing in India, but I firmly believe that it could move faster. I really pray that one day, every parent, teacher, and therapist will wake up to the advantages of AAC. I hope that the understanding grows – that such a medium that acts as a voice for our children makes their lives way more expressive, independent and happy.
We are grateful to Kavitha for having shared Pooja’s story with us. Such stories inspire us to strive towards constantly improving the product and making every voice heard! Share your thoughts! Leave us a comment! Do you have a similar story to share with us? Write to us: support@avazapp.com Picture Credit: Hoda Nicholas *Names Changed
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Swati & AAC – A Case for Building Communication before Speech

Gita Arvind is a scientist by education. She lives in Redmond, Washington with her husband and two lovely girls. They keep her curious about everything, from Disney characters to human nature!

Being a mother of a child with speech challenges, Gita is also deeply passionate about advocating for access to AAC for children with special communication needs. She wishes to share her daughter, Swati’s journey with AAC. The following is her account of this journey.

Introducing Swati

Swati is a happy, nonverbal 10-year old, who loves going up to people and asking them to sing to her the songs that she likes. The way her face lights up with a smile when they oblige, is a sight that instantly warms my heart. Don’t you think that is what communication is all about? That is, being able to convey a message that helps you satisfy a need? 

Swati using Avaz

Just so you know, in the instance above, Swati did not use speech to communicate, as she is nonverbal. Then, how did she do it, you might ask? Well, she used Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) – specifically, an AAC App on her iPad. And this is something that I would like to talk to you about today.

This is something very close to my heart. It was born out of a desire to ensure that other parents in India, do not have to go through the same heartache and pain that I went through when Swati was about 4 or 5 years old and was still not speaking a word. Each new speech therapist that we consulted, suggested a different approach. But, no one talked about AAC until much much later. They only insisted on trying speech.

Finally, when Swati was around 6 years old, we tried Sign Language. But I found that it was a challenge for her because of the language’s heavy reliance on fine motor skills – and this was an issue for her. Furthermore, it is only understood by those who know sign language, to begin with. We then tried the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). That brought with it a different set of limitations. Swati mastered it so quickly, that we were running out of space on her picture books within no time! It was after seeing a bunch of speech therapists and professionals, reading and trying to gather as much information as I could, that I decided to try out an AAC App on my own, with Swati (who was around 7 years old then).

Since then it has been a long journey to get to where we are now. Today, I finally feel validated in my decision to have introduced an AAC App to her.


How AAC has helped Swati

Swati has benefitted in many ways since she started using AAC. Some of those benefits are explained below:

  • Behavior

Today, Swati is able to independently make a sentence, to communicate what she wants. She does this on her device, which in turn speaks it out for her. At age 4 or 5, when she still wasn’t speaking, she would probably have had a meltdown while trying to communicate the same thing.

  • Fine Motor Skills

Her pointing skill has improved. She is able to choose 1 icon from a grid of 4×8 buttons.

  • Attention

Swati has to create sentences by choosing all the words required to communicate it. She is able to pay attention to the screen for the entire duration it takes for her to make a sentence.

  • Demonstrate Cognition/Intelligence

Swati’s receptive skills have improved because she can now show what she knows, by choosing the appropriate button on her device. Her expressive skills are also improving, as she learns to express more about what she knows, using her device.

  • Self Esteem

Most importantly, she is confident of being understood by anyone around her when she uses her device to communicate. That in itself contributes to an increase in self-esteem!


Why do I want to make this case for access to AAC before speech? 

Avaz app being used to model

I have seen how Swati’s life has improved for the better since she began using AAC apps. Given this experience, I strongly feel that it is my responsibility to educate and inform more parents and caregivers in India about AAC. I want to stress whenever and wherever possible about giving children access to AAC at an early age. I sometimes wonder how much more progress Swati could have shown, had she been given access to AAC at 3 years of age or even earlier- the typical age when children start to speak. And it bothers me that even today, speech therapists and other allied professionals in India are still unaware of these advances in technology. It is disheartening that they continue to insist only on speech production to parents of children with speech delays.

The app that we used for Swati was the Avaz App. This App is widely available in India and can be customized as per each child’s requirements. It is also available in many of our regional languages. That being said, Avaz is also more affordable compared to other AAC apps in the market and is much more user-friendly. Finally, I request all parents and caregivers out there not to be skeptical about AAC. Proactively consider introducing AAC to your child at an early age. 


We are really grateful to Gita for taking time and sharing her daughter’s story with us! Write to Gita on gitaarvind@gmail.com For sales related queries, write to ramachandran.d@avaz.in
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Here are the Answers that You were Looking for!

Part 2 – Effective Communication Tips Hope the first post of this blog series gave you some ideas on how to start modeling with AAC and Avaz. With this series, we are attempting to provide some reference points for you to run with, and make it your own. Or perhaps, some of the points discussed would spark an entirely new idea – which we would love to hear about! In the present blog post, we will be discussing some tried and tested communication tips sourced from parents and therapists. As with the last post, these are in response to questions asked by first-time users of AAC apps. Please note, for this post, we have clubbed together two questions addressing similar themes. Q2: How to encourage communication? To encourage communication – I have put together the whole sentence – “I want to blow candles” under the single picture of candle. Likewise “I want chips” under the picture of chips. I did this so that the complete sentence is spoken out by one touch. Is this OK? Q3: I have started using Avaz only recently. I created a home screen for my child with his picture with the caption “I want” and then added toilet, water, food and some of his reinforcers like mobile, TV etc. I guided him to use Avaz. When I served him spicy food, he immediately came and touched the water picture. Now, should I insist on touching the “I want” picture or just add “I want water” to make him hear the complete sentence.
Ideas from the Avaz Community
  • Adding the entire sentence under a single picture could restrict communication to only the pre-programmed sentences, thus inhibiting spontaneous communication. What if the child wanted to say something else about the chips or the candles, and not actually want them?  For example, what if you or the child wanted to talk about how yummy the chips were? We will not be able to do that if the whole sentence/request was embedded in one icon that says “I want chips”. So, it would be best to separate the words and model different ways to use those words.
  • Furthermore, the child taps an icon and it pops up, the child sees the icon of a candle but hears the sentence “I want to blow the candle”. This could lead to confusion about what they hear and what they see. Instead, if the words candle or chips are learned and used independently, this problem may not arise.
  • As the child starts using Avaz or any AAC tool, they will eventually attempt to say the words they hear. When that happens, it will be difficult for them to say an entire sentence to start with and might discourage them from trying. Instead, making a start with different individual words would motivate them to try speaking out loud.  

Hope these ideas are helpful! Do you know of any other simple and effective methods to encourage  communication? Please do share your thoughts on all of this and more, in the comments section! We sincerely thank each parent, teacher and SLP who contributed with their valuable suggestions. Our special gratitude to Simona Korkmaz, Gita Arvind, Gemma White, and Priya!
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Here are the Answers that You were Looking for!

Part 1 – Modeling This is going to be the first in a series of blog posts that address questions raised by new users. For each question, we have compiled the responses received from the community. We have also included inputs from our side.
Avaz app being used to model

Avaz app being used to model

In a previous blog post, we had spoken about the importance of community ties, sharing and learning while supporting children with disabilities. We had then gone on to solicit experiences from parents, teachers, SLPs and other caregivers to build knowledge for new users of AAC and Avaz. While we knew that the process would be deeply insightful, nothing prepared for the sheer magnitude of responses and, the thought behind each of them! We would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to each one of you for your contribution and time.   We hope this week’s question would give us all a chance to discuss modeling with AAC and Avaz. We would love for you to share more of your thoughts, ideas and definitely questions, in the comments section below.
Q1: Each time my child wants something, they take me to the place where it’s kept. Be it sweets or toys. How should I encourage them to use Avaz at that time? It doesn’t occur to them to always to use the device. Ideas from the Avaz Community
  • I would make it a habit to model on AVAZ as much as possible. Especially the items my child wants or uses regularly, like food or toys. When they pull me to the item they want, I would open Avaz, and ask them what they wanted. I would encourage them to answer by using AVAZ. If they do not know how to use it, you can model the answer with them in a hand-over-hand manner. For this, I would also try and keep the device at an easy reach always.
  • Say, for instance, your child grabs your hand and takes you to the cookie. You will then have to pick up the device and draw their attention to it. Then proceed to press the words, “I” “want” and “cookie” while speaking the words, “I want cookie”. Over time and with repetition, they will realize that AVAZ is the way to make themselves understood. And when they get here, they will use it!
  • You can choose their 5 most favorite items. Model asking for these items. With time and progress, make sure that they get these items only when they communicate through the device.
#AvazSays The key here is to model language for your child by pointing out words in Avaz. If your child is a beginner, start by selecting single words while speaking the sentence. Once the child gets used to Avaz, you can encourage them to make phrases and then complete sentences. For instance, you can start with teaching how to say ‘toys’, and then teach ‘want toys’. Finally, you can take creating a complete sentence like, ‘I want toys’. Continue modeling the use of Avaz until he learns to use it independently. To give you a starting point, here’s a video of a leading AAC researcher modeling using Avaz. [embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUKMV2mV6D4[/embedyt]
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Avaz – AAC Awareness Month Discount Extended

It’s October and it is a special month at AVAZ. Our goal is to have every voice being heard and give our children the opportunity to share every thought! We have many exciting offers planned for you to celebrate this month! Celebrate this October with:
  • 50% off on all individual app purchases (and in-app purchases)
  • Additional 50% off on purchases of 20 copies or more through Apple’s Volume Purchase Program
  • Valid until October 31st!
Avaz US, Avaz Australia, Avaz Dansk, Avaz Français, Avaz SvenskaAvaz India, Avaz India (Android) Do spread the word and help this reach the people it can benefit!
Queries? Our Support team is here to assist. You can get in touch with us 24×7 at support@avazapp.com Watch this space for more exciting news and offers.
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Observing International Week of the Deaf 2018

Kiran is an energetic and enthusiastic kid. He is just like any other child his age – playful, curious and loves to learn new things! He also happens to have cerebral palsy and is hearing impaired. Hearing loss or impairment is a partial or total inability to hear. In children, hearing problems can affect the ability to learn any spoken language. This is mainly due to the fact that languages are learned mostly by hearing and reproducing the sounds that were heard in the first place. With the aid of sign language and communication tools such as Avaz, children like Kiran can learn to communicate. Avaz lends itself seamlessly to a multi-modal approach, making it ideal to use with the signing. Watch how confidently Kiran uses Avaz to answer the questions signed to him! [embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCvv2AuSApo[/embedyt]   At Avaz, we are honored and humbled to enable millions of kids around the world like Kiran by being a medium for their voice. This International Week of the Deaf, we reaffirm and rededicate ourselves to Making Every Voice Heard! With Communication, Everyone is included! With Avaz, Every Voice is Heard! Leave us a comment on how people can make the best of multi-modal communication.
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Can you help us answer these questions from parents?

Community ties, sharing and learning has always been an important part of how caregivers are able to better support children with disabilities. While being a great source of strength, communities also build knowledge that is grounded on experience and context. The beauty of such knowledge is that it is dynamic and keeps growing as more people add to it. This is the kind of knowledge that is deeply relatable for many on a personal level. And easy to adopt, given that they have been tried and tested!

A couple of weeks ago, parents organized a Q&A session on an Avaz messaging group in India. Parents posted questions about communication and getting started with AAC. Some of these questions were answered by a few of the more experienced parents on the group. As the process went on, we realized that this Q&A is relevant for parents, therapists and teachers worldwide. And we would love for this knowledge to keep growing. We are posting some of those questions here and inviting you to weigh in with answers based on your experience and expertise. Do chime in with your thoughts and answers on the queries that follow, in the comments section below.


Q1: Each time my son wants something he takes me to the place where it’s kept. Be it sweets or toys. How should I encourage him to use Avaz – at that time? It doesn’t occur to him always to use the device.  

Q2: How to encourage communication? To encourage communication – I have put together the whole sentence – “I want to blow candles” under the single picture of candle. Likewise “I want chips” under the picture of chips. I did this so that the complete sentence is spoken out by one touch. Is this OK?

 

Q3: I have started using Avaz since few days only. I created a home screen for my child with his picture with the caption “I want” and then added toilet, water, food and some of his reinforcers like mobile,TV etc. I guided him to use Avaz. When I served him spicy food, he immediately came and touched the water picture. Now, should I insist on touching the “I want” picture or just myself add “I want water” to make him hear the complete sentence.

 

Thanks for stopping by! We do hope you will take some time to share your thoughts and answers on the queries above, in the comments section below.

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Avaz trainings around the world!

We have been conducting multiple Avaz trainings around the world over the last one month! This has been possible thanks mainly to enthusiastic parents and partners, who are going the extra mile to help us spread the word.


“How to move from PECS to AVAZ”, hosted by the association “les amis de benjamin”, in Brussels, Belgium. Olivier, our partner, did a training on the French version of Avaz.
Avaz training in Brussels, Belgium  

“Learn about Avaz” was conducted by Lalitha, who leads the Customer Success team at Avaz at Redwood City, California. The session included how to set it up, customize it for the child’s needs, the latest features of Avaz

Avaz session at Redwood City, California   “Introduction to AAC and Avaz” was conducted by Narayan, who heads the Product Development at Avaz, at Noida, India. The session included introduction to AAC, busting myths around AAC and features of Avaz. 
  “Let’s Communicate: AAC through High-Tech devices”, organized by the Sri Lankan Association of Speech & Language Pathologists (SLASLP) in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The session covered the features of Avaz (amongst other AAC apps) and also had a hands-on session for the participants. 
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Advaith – The Young Entrepreneur who uses Avaz

We are very excited to share today’s post, which is written by Smrithy Rajesh, a special educator and mother of 10-year old Advaith’s (Addu). Advaith is diagnosed with Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder and ADHD.

Smrithy is a superb mentor and guide for parents who are just starting to use AAC. She has a YouTube channel –  where she shares learning and communication strategies and you can read her blog here.
Advaith is 10 years old now. I am not worrying about his speech because of his excellent  communication skills. He has apraxia and so making sounds is hard for him and words are not clear. For building communication skills we started with sign language then PECS and Avaz. Now he is communicating independently using Avaz for all his needs, expressing feelings, dislikes, preferences, sensory overload, asking for medicines if he has any discomfort, asking for steam if his nose is blocked, ordering food in the restaurant, connected with family and friends  and so on. He is using Avaz in all places and in different situations. That is his communication device. That really helped him to reduce his anxiety issues. In the video below you can see, how he is connected with his customers. He is sending messages to them using Avaz. You can see his confidence level and comfort level. Communication is happening everywhere. Use each situation to build communication skills. Start with their need based communication. It really changed our life!! Of course he is able to  use words for communicating. AAC stimulates meaningful speech!
See Advaith communicating with his customers in this video below.
A proud entrepreneur, Addu sending thanks to his customers using Avaz. For most of his customers he used to send items by speed post. After that they send pictures and messages to him. Then I show him those pictures and explain to him. After that he sends messages to them using Avaz. He is fully connected in all steps and is able to understand. You can see, how happy he is!! We made this video by using his videos and some of his customers’ pictures.Most of the pictures got deleted, but we are thankful to all. Through this his communication skills are also improving and he is connected with more people.

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[Infographic] – Strategies for Shared Reading with your child

What are some of the activities that we can do with our child using Avaz? 

This is one of the frequently asked questions from parents that we meet. And our favourite suggestion is reading a story along with the AAC system that the child enjoys! Using a simple strategy called RAAP – Read, Ask, Answer and Prompt, parents can really work on the child’s communication skills too. Leave us a comment below if you have a different strategy (or activity) that you would love to share with parents! (The inspiration for the infographic is this blog post from PrAACtical AAC. )   Download the high resolution version by clicking here.
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Information about Avaz India version

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPnhZ7DFwTM[/embedyt]

 
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How do you see the world through their eyes?

Growing up, I have spent years watching my father work with children with different abilities. He is a paediatrician with a specialization in developmental neurology, so the house in the evening, which turned into a clinic, was always full of children with different problems. I have also seen the terms changing from challenged to disabled to special needs to differently abled. I won’t contest the terms, as I have realized that taxonomy neither changes the children nor the way we work with them.
Meera Sitaraman

Meera works as a theatre worker and teacher with Theatre Nisha

With my father, the experience was limited to observation. With my teacher, it went beyond observation. My teacher, Bala, is an actor and has spent the past 18 years working with children with learning disabilities. I remember my first class as a teacher in a school for children with learning difficulties. I had gone alone as a substitute for Bala. The only background story he gave me was – they’re exactly like you. It was the best initiation I could have received. The brain is a fine instrument with a lot of possibilities, but one of its most vulnerable features is of adaptability and plasticity. One instruction from my teacher was enough for me to march into class with no stereotypes or biases. I was working with the children on a play that day, and I have been associated with that school for the past 6 years now. I have seen these children bloom as actors, graduate and become stars in their own right. I have seen children with ‘diagnoses’ of ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, Cerebral Palsy etc. with co-morbidities, but I’m yet to see a child diagnosed with an incapacity to live a healthy life as a good human being. Many ideologies work towards making these children trained in the ways of life we deem normal, but somewhere we fail to recognize the multitude that the term normal can encompass. It is not one, but many, and these children comprise that many in their own ways. With specific reference to autism, the problem is of a different concern, mostly because the cause(s) is/are mysterious, ranging from curses of previous birth to lack of nutrition during pregnancy to changing lifestyles and junk food to inadaptability of mirror neurons. In my experience, they are children who watch life differently and hence, respond differently. What is organic and natural to them, may seem bizarre to us, but it does not give us the authority to change or cure them, for there is nothing incorrect about their perceptions. My father once joked that we all have strains of autism. I actually agree with that to an extent, not to dilute the perception of autism but to make the understanding that the features they have, are features we all have, but in a more pronounced manner, a little more embraceable. I work with children on theatre, and I must say that they are some of my best actors. Teaching theatre to them is no different from teaching others. It just requires more patience, and most importantly repetition. They love acting, for theatre as a craft requires one to suspend disbelief and respond honestly to an imaginary stimulus. And my children do it with aplomb. Their sense of imagination isn’t corrupted by social mores and institutionalized conceptions. Their free thinking and instincts make them the most honest people on stage. Albeit, the influence of movies and serials is there everywhere, and these children are not devoid of it; and sometimes it does become a strife to let them not succumb to the way a popular star responds. Nevertheless, giving them the space to think freely and imaginatively allows them to explore their instincts more than we do. Their access to their natural response is easier than most of us, who find thinking before acting more prudent than acting without thinking- something most essential for the craft of theatre. From Bala, I learnt how to use each child’s capacity to the maximum, and this is not just based on skills they possess, but the skills they themselves wish to explore. If a restricted speech student wants to act, he/she will act, and dialogues and patterns of speech will be catered to ease. Speech exercises have allowed many of my students to speak dialogues with confidence and assurance. When the term starts, all kids get to choose their extra-curricular activity- dance, music or drama. One thing that has been consistent in all the years that I have been working is that the choice lies with the child. No teacher decides or the child what they are best at and should pursue. In this way, one doesn’t enter class with a fixed syllabus and a lesson plan. One works around each day, with every child in mind individually. With time, working with them hasn’t changed them as much as it has changed me and my ways of teaching/working. More than teaching, all I have realized I need to do is create a space that is safe and healthy for them to be themselves, and the work is done. Autism is not here for a cure. It is here to be embraced and worked with, not taught upon and transformed.
Meera Sitaraman has a Bachelors in Sociology and a double Masters in Sociology and Medical Anthropology. She works as a theatre worker and teacher with Theatre Nisha. She has been working with children for the past 5 years.
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Chitra and Tarun’s journey with Avaz!

Today’s guest post is from Chitra Paul, a parent who uses Avaz with her son. 

I am Chitra Paul, Tarun’s mother and we are based in Bangalore, India. I am a clinical microbiologist by training and have worked for a few years before my son came into our lives. My career break became permanent when my son was diagnosed to be on the autism spectrum way back in 2008. Since then it has been a different learning path that I have been on. This led me to do my MA in Special Education and Inclusion from the University of Northampton, UK. My journey has made me into a proponent for inclusion for persons on the autism spectrum and I try not to miss any opportunity to advocate for them. Currently, I also run a couple of support groups for parents via social media. I also provide support to parents on an individual basis in connection with parenting advice, education, intervention or just being a friend to talk to, all within the context of autism. (My email – chitraepaul at gmail dot com) My son, Tarun, is a 12 year old boy diagnosed with autism. He is currently studying in Grade 6 of a mainstream school in Bangalore, India. He is a loving child who enjoys going to school. He has a few friends in school and enjoys being with his classmates. He loves reading and listening to music. He is learning the keyboard and can sing a little too. His favourite hobby is watching advertisements and songs on YouTube.
Being a parent to a boy with autism, I was constantly made aware about the importance of speech when my son was just diagnosed. However, what struck me as I read up more and more into this puzzle called autism was that many people were confusing speech for communication which was indeed the bigger challenge for these children. As my own son was non-verbal I too was constantly looking out for alternate options for him to communicate with. It was at this point that I happened to hear a talk by Mr. Ajit Narayanan at the Autism Conference at NIMHANS in 2011. Avaz impressed my husband and me at that time itself. However, it was a device and the cost factor put us off. But I continued to follow up closely how Avaz was being taken forward. Additionally, as my son was just learning language I put off introducing PECS or any other AAC. Turning point However, things changed around when he was 7-8 when his special educator working on her personal belief discovered that he could write extremely well in perfectly good English with grammar and vocabulary intact. However, he needed some support to his hand when writing. At this point we realised that we need to provide him with a means to communicate and of course the first place I turned to was Avaz. By then Avaz had been modified to an iPad application and we purchased it as the prices were also well within our reach. This is how our journey with Avaz started.

Tarun’s Avaz personalized for his needs

Making Avaz work to Tarun’s strengths However, as my son showed a greater inclination towards words and letters and not pictures, I realised I need to use only text when preparing the cards. That’s how we went about it. As my son had already shown that he was way ahead in using language and was already typing full sentences although nobody had taught him sentence formation etc., we started using the keyboard option at the beginning itself. Another factor was that my son also started typing which was much easier for him than writing. Because of these two factors I couldn’t make him to utilise Avaz in the usual manner as an AAC is advised to be started and used with children with autism. However, since Avaz came into his life, his communication has grown in leaps and bounds and we often have conversations using the keyboard option which can also be saved. As he takes his iPad to school for work and communication, I have also created a personalised folder of regularly used words and sentences so that he can use them if he needs to communicate for daily needs. We have also used the same technique and used personalised material on Avaz during his occupational therapy and speech therapy sessions so that Avaz is his constant support for communication. The best part of Avaz is that it is extremely simple and easy to create sets of communication cards. This was voiced to me recently by another parent, who took my suggestion and purchased Avaz to use with her daughter who is on the autism spectrum. Avaz also has other features that are very unique to the needs of users in India like the option to create and use cards in various regional languages. Another great feature that supports and helps a parent to learn and adapt to the needs of their children is their application called Communication Adventures. I have used many of the ideas and tips listed in both these applications. One of the ideas suggests using it while reading with your child. As my son loves to read, I have used this strategy many a time with great success. A glimpse of my conversations with Tarun Some of these conversations were with his special educator, Ms. Priya, whose immense support helped him to reach this stage.
Do you have a story that you would like to share with us? Leave us a comment!
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Autism Awareness vs Autism Acceptance

We are very happy to present today’s guest blog post from Julian Laferrera.

Julian Laferrera is a junior at Mount Holyoke College. She is majoring in mathematics and is in the teacher licensure program for secondary math education. She is a Peer Fellow in the college’s AccessAbility Office, where she mentors and supports other disabled students. Julian has been learning American Sign Language (ASL) for seven years, and is currently studying for a semester at Gallaudet University in Washington D.C.


Julia Laferrera This April, many people around the world are celebrating Autism Awareness Month. I am not one of them; I will be celebrating Autism Acceptance Month. Although these terms sound similar, they mean very different things. Autism Awareness Month campaigns focus on bringing public awareness to the condition. Many parents of children with autism use this time to share the challenges they encounter because of their children’s autistic traits. Additionally, there will be many companies donating portions of their proceeds to autism research and early intervention. At face value, this sounds like a wonderful opportunity to talk about autism, a condition that is often widely misrepresented in media, and impacts the lives of autistic people, their families, their schools, and people they interact with everyday. However, Autism Awareness campaigns are lacking in two ways: they ignore the prevalence of autism awareness already in the world, and they promote basic tolerance within the framework of autism as a consistent struggle or burden. Firstly, many people nowadays are aware of autism. Although stereotypes and myths abound, most people have a general idea of what autism means. Secondly, when Autism Awareness campaigns often frame autism as a disease, a burden, something that should be cured, it hurts autistic people. Many autistic people and their allies, myself included, believe that autism is a natural part of human diversity. Curing suggests that autism is inherently unfavorable, burdensome, and unwanted. I love being autistic, and it hurts to hear that some people think that my peers and I would be better off without autism. Autism still can cause issues for me and others, but perhaps not in the way you think. Many of what people see as “challenging behaviors” can actually be reframed as a difficulty in communicating with neurotypical people. Growing up autistic means that sometimes neurotypical people do baffling things, and it’s hard to figure out the reasons why. Growing up autistic can be challenging when you process the world differently than others around you do. Growing up autistic is difficult when people don’t understand your ways of expressing yourself. When I say that I support Autism Acceptance Month, I mean that I view autism as an integral part of autistic individuals and that their challenges are not an inherent flaw but rather are a reflection on the neurotypical society we live in. Given that many people are already “aware” of autism, the next step after awareness is acceptance of those differences. Unlike simple tolerance, acceptance requires effort, on everyone’s part to include autistic people in parts of society where they were previously excluded. Some autistic people don’t communicate with their mouths, or what comes out of their mouths is not connected with what they are trying to say in their heads. After recognizing communication barriers, practicing acceptance means providing and teaching alternative ways to express oneself, through AAC, sign language, typing or other ways. Acceptance looks like teaching about the rules of the neurotypical world, but not forcing autistic people to strictly adhere to them. Acceptance means working with autistic individuals to figure out what accommodations they need to thrive in a particular environment. Overall, the lives of autistic people and neurotypical people can improve when there is mutual respect and learning from one another. In the end, Autism Awareness campaigns can have a negative impact on autistic people’s self-worth through implications of being a burden, promote cures for a condition that is simply a part of diversity, and seeks tolerance as its goal. Autistic people deserve more than just awareness or tolerance. If you are ready to put in the hard work of autism acceptance, then join me in celebrating Autism Acceptance Month.
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Autism myths that educators & parents want to debunk

Autism myths that parents and educators around the world would like to debunk! What’s the myth that you would like to debunk? Leave us a comment! Autism_UGC_29Mar   [This is a re-post from our archives and unfortunately some of the debunking is still work-in-progress :(]
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Avaz AAC – Autism Acceptance Month discount

With the beginning of this ‘Autism Acceptance Month,’ we are entering the second phase of our “World Through Their Eyes” initiative.  
We are starting this April with:
  • 50% off on all individual app purchases (and in-app purchases)
  • Additional 50% off on purchases of 20 copies or more through Apple’s Volume Purchase Program
  • Valid for purchases on Android as well as iPad
  • Until April 30th 2018!

Here are the links to the apps Avaz FreeSpeech for Schools Avaz US (iPad), Avaz App for Communication (Android) Avaz Dansk, Avaz Français, Avaz Svenska, Avaz India (iPad), Avaz India (Android) Avaz Australia, Do spread the word and help this reach the people it can benefit!

Queries?

Our Support team is here to assist. You can get in touch with us 24×7 at support@avazapp.com Watch this space for more exciting news and offers.
Edited to mention that the discount is till the end of the month.
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Let’s bust some myths about AAC for people with Down Syndrome

This Down Syndrome Day, we wanted to look at the progress made on meeting communication needs of children with Down Syndrome. In the early stages of development, kids with Down Syndrome show limited means of expressions compared to their peers. However, research and studies over the last two decades have shown that AAC helps children with Down syndrome develop better communication skills than their peers who are not exposed to AAC. World Down Syndrome Day Logo Further, research also shows that early exposure of children with complex communication needs (CCN) to AAC minimizes the potential for continued delay that these children face with developing language. In a 2010 study (Drager, Light and McNaughton, 2010), it was found that AAC intervention can have a positive effect on functional communication skills, challenging behaviour, language development (both receptive and expressive), and speech production. Unlike other studies that observed the effect of AAC on children between the age of 3 and 5, this paper specifically focused on understanding the effect of AAC exposure on children under the age of 3. The study recommends AAC intervention by the age of 6-9 months when a disability with the risk of communication risk is identified. That said, many caregivers still have doubts about using AAC. We looked at some of these doubts on using AAC for children with Down syndrome and asked: are they real, or are they myths? Common myths about using AAC for children with Down syndrome: 1. Fear of natural speech development being impeded The fear of AAC intervention becoming an impediment to speech is quite widespread. However, several studies (such as Millar, Light, and Schlosser) show that AAC does not cause impediment in the development of natural speech in individuals with developmental disabilities. On the contrary, children with exposure to AAC learn to use multiple modes of communication, unlike children with no exposure to AAC. 2. Fear that social skills won’t develop Another common fear with using AAC intervention is regarding the development of social skills. How will the child learn social skills using AAC? This fear too is ill-founded — AAC as a multi-pronged model of communication uses modeling, practice and feedback to teach the child different language skills as well as social skills that are required to engage with people (for example, turn taking). Multiple studies have shown this to be effective specifically for children with Down syndrome, including the study by the Janice Light & Kathyrn Drager in 2010. 3. Concern that AAC cannot help tackle challenging behaviour Sometimes, caregivers question the possibility of resolving challenging behaviours using AAC. On the contrary, though, device-based AAC systems can especially be useful in helping with handling challenging behaviour, by working on Functional Communication Training (FCT) with children. For example, caregivers may model with the child on using a specific AAC switch or symbol, to replace a challenging behaviour like hitting his head on the wall to call someone. Studies show that such methods have been effective with most children observed. 4. Concern that the child will be unable to communicate when the AAC device is unavailable With advancements in technology, electronic device based AAC systems have become the order of the day. This often makes caregivers wonder if their child will be left stranded without any means of communication when he or she does not have access to the electronic device. Will the child’s communication become device-dependent? If AAC is properly introduced, this is not a major concern. There are many different types of AAC systems, including unaided and aided systems. While unaided systems usually include signs and gestures, aided systems include picture boards, communication books and electronic devices. If a child has no access to an electronic device based AAC system, and if they have been properly trained to use multiple modes of communication, they will not be left stranded: unaided systems, or other aided systems with similar visuals as the child’s device, may be used to communicate with the child. In our experience, we have heard a lot of success stories of children with Down Syndrome using AAC. Do you have any to share? Leave us a comment! References: 1. Effects of AAC intervention on communication and language for young children with complex communication needs by Kathryn Drager, Janice Light and David McNaughton, (https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/4fde/36329edf21ce59bf0afb2a0f7adb10ff00cf.pdf) 2. Effect of early AAC intervention for children with Down Syndrome by Janice Light and Kathryn Drager  (http://aac-rerc.psu.edu/_userfiles/file/Light%20ASHA%202010%20%20AAC%20and%20children%20with%20Down%20Syndrome.pdf) 3. Millar, D. C., Light, J. C., & Schlosser, R. W. (2006). The impact of augmentative and alternative communication intervention on the speech production of individuals with developmental disabilities (Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 49, 248-264.)
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Useful Communication Tips: From a Parent to a Parent

Parents of children with special needs, mostly struggle to, first, come to terms with the diagnosis, and then to deal with the associated challenges, including communication. But they are not alone. There are others who have been there and also helping other parents work on these issues. In our initiative, World Through Their Eyes, we spoke to Akila Vaidyanathan, Founder, Director of The AMAZE Charitable Trust, Coimbatore and Founding Member of the Autism Society of India. She shared with us a list of tips that could help other parents, like herself. Akila is the parent of Nishant, a 22-year-old with Autism and Apraxia of speech, who is an intern with AMAZE. She was working in the software industry, before Nishant received his diagnosis, after which, she trained herself with a host of courses, to understand autism better. She did DSE Autism, MSc Applied Psychology and multiple international certificate courses like RPM, PECS, AT Tools, FIE and Applied Drama. With a passion for technology, she is always looking for innovative methods and solutions, that help persons with disabilities, improve their quality of life. She uses her vast experience to create awareness about Autism through various forums and media.
Tip 1: Let go of Denial and Blame Usually, there’s almost an expectation from the parent, that the child will be something like the parent, especially when the child does something positive. It is typical of a family to look at it as the gene pool being passed on. When a child has special needs, the family sees it as, “It can’t be. My gene pool cannot have a defect”. Often, there is denial and even blame, blaming each other or each other’s families. Often mothers feel they are responsible. Instead, they could begin by looking into the child’s strength, abilities, needs, and challenges. Tip 2: All of us are Unique and Different This leads to Akila’s second tip to parents! Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
–       Kahlil Gibran
Quoting Kahlil Gibran, she highlights the need to look at your child with their own purpose because each of us is unique and different. Letting your child be their own person is the best gift you can give your child. Tip 3: Explore and Express! Children with special needs probably learn using different learning methods, compared to how we learn. Hence they communicate in a way that is different from how we do. As simple and easy as it sounds, this is a whole new paradigm shift for a parent, and one that is needed! With this acceptance, the parent will allow the child to express themselves in their own ways. Tip 4: Multiple Modes of Communication Expose your child and allow them to respond to multiple modes of communication. These could include gestures, picture charts etc., which makes them less anxious to attempt speech. This might make them more willing to repeat words, which might have been more stressful earlier, because of the lack of acceptance. The child should feel accepted, even when they don’t use words to communicate. Tip 5: Create Opportunities for Communication Create opportunities for communication throughout the day. Don’t pre-empt or make it too easy for them to access everything in a way that requires no communication. Do it even if it means that you sabotage the environment, like hiding something or viewing things in smaller installments.  If your child likes chocolates, give it in smaller installments rather than the whole thing, at one go. This will make them ask for more. Tip 6: Get your Hands Dirty! Get on the floor and play with your child! This is going to help them understand another aspect of their life – Social Aspect. When the child watches someone else play a game, they learn to understand visually and anticipate something. It is a change in pattern. Though hard to explain, your child’s interpersonal skills start developing when you play informally with your child, through games or even silly interactions. Tip 7: Be Interactive Be interactive with your child to build reciprocity. Reciprocity between two people lays the foundation for social interaction. This lets the child understand that there is one more person in the room that they are interacting with. Once the child starts interacting, you can then expand on it. Tip 8: Focus on their Strength Your child may be processing one of their senses, more dominantly than the others. They may be using or focusing on the visual, more than the auditory or tactile senses or vice versa. How do we find this out? A child may stim with visual movements (visual channel) or hum all the time (auditory channel) seeking information. So observe the child’s sensory pattern. Give inputs appropriate to their sensory pattern. Don’t block it (like humming or tapping) as inappropriate behaviour. You could use this drama-based technique for a child who is tactile. Take some cream and put it on your child’s face, and as you start doing a facial for your child, you can start talking to your child. You will have their attention because the tactile channel is open. The parents may not be experts in these techniques, but the parent usually knows their child’s pattern. Leverage it to enter their world!
Do you have tips that you would like to share with other parents? Let us know in the comments section below!
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How theatre helps children with special needs express themselves

This week, we will look at ‘World Through Their Eyes’ using theatre. How does theatre help kids with special needs? Can it help or accentuate the communication process? Answering these questions and many more, we had a conversation with V. Balakrishnan, Founder and Artistic Director of Theatre Nisha. Bala's profile picture

V. Balakrishnan is an alumni of the National School of Drama (New Delhi), and is the Founder and Artistic Director of Theatre Nisha (Chennai), which has staged over 100 plays in the past 17 years. He has been using theatre as a tool to improve communication and combat learning disabilities for the past 16 years. He has directed over 200 plays, acted in over 150 plays and written 10 scripts. He was recently awarded the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching 2017, completed his inquiry project on Theatre Necessities and Application: Role Play for Liberation from Indiana University.

Avaz: What is expected of you when you teach theatre to children with special needs? What kind of curriculum is used and what sort of engagement happens? V. Balakrishnan: With special children, my work so far, has not been dictated by a curriculum given by the school. The curriculum has mostly been the one which I have developed. I do not follow a set lesson plan because each day is very different. We have to improvise quite a bit on the original plan. Broadly, we do have bifurcations of what we will work on; physicality, voice, reading and acting but what we end up doing changes everyday depending on how the children respond. We work outdoors with the children in these schools. There are particular days when the children may be slightly more hyperactive or it may be too hot. In such cases, we look at what best needs to be done, than stick to a curriculum. Simply put, the curriculum is about making sure that the children are able to intuitively, impulsively and instinctively use their imagination and respond. The final line in any training for actors is to be able to respond honestly and this forms the basic title of our curriculum. What goes into forming this curriculum is something that changes with each school. Avaz: What is your approach to building your own curriculum for these schools? V. Balakrishnan: The broad guidelines are the same but the thought process is more or less developed only after meeting the children. We tailor-make the curriculum according to their needs. When we see children who have some difficulty with motor skills, we try to use a little more of silambam or martial arts. For children with a speech problem or shyness or some kind of complex, we use a lot of storytelling, voice exercises and speech exercises. With some children, we just play games. We just keep playing games till we reach a stage where we can start introducing drama theories and allow the children to understand the responsibilities of acting. Avaz: What are some of the necessary building blocks (like motor skills) to be included in a theatre curriculum for children with special needs? V. Balakrishnan: We make sure both the vocal and physical aspects are completely touched upon. We use movement, rhythm and tempo, speech exercise, introduction to acting concepts and making them explore small scenes using their imagination. Within these aspects, what gets stressed upon a little more than the rest, depends upon the group of children we are working with. Sometimes we understand that there is a speech therapist at work with the child. Then speech intervention is not required from us. We then work more on the motor skills. We work more on something like silambam, an Indian martial art form. Silambam has had some remarkable results with children. It has really helped them because moving the fighting stick from left to right is quite a brain-challenging thing to do. It’s not easy and we have seen some really good results in children who started doing silambam. We have also seen some wonderful results in children who do storytelling, group exercises and probes that we do. It makes them understand social responsibility and work with group dynamics and leadership. Avaz: What is the outcome that schools hope for, by engaging the students with theatre? V. Balakrishnan: Quite frankly special schools do not have drama in their curriculum. It is a regular class, it is marked down as a period in the timetable but they don’t have to write an examination on it. All they have to do is to put up a performance at the end of the day. Although the objective is out there in the open, when the children come to us for the class, it is that we are getting ready for a performance. But what we are working on is trying to understand and identify children who have a problem with expressing themselves or with possibly understanding tempo and rhythm or with reading and so on. So we (the team) divide to figure out the challenge that the child faces and particularly like to work on those aspects. The final performance only becomes a huge excuse (may be) in order to be able to follow these interventions in order to finally make the child confident and believe in themselves. Avaz: Often caregivers find it difficult to understand the child when he/she faces a certain challenge. What can caregivers do to better understand them? V. Balakrishnan: Children always express themselves. When we are talking about learning disabilities, I don’t think that these children per se have any problems vis-a-vis children from “regular schools”. Learning disability is only the disability of our cerebral process to be able to indulge in one particular function with a block. So the child is not able to read or write or draw or do math. But this is something that occurs to every child, even you and I would have one aspect or more than one aspect where we totally suck. I might be tone deaf, but recognising tonality is not a requirement of social order. Hence it is not recognised as a learning disability whereas reading, writing and math is. Apart from that, it is not a disability. It is just one aspect and we are trying hard to make them do it. It is quite possible that a person can live happily without having to write or read but unfortunately it has become a norm in our social order. The only way we can survive is to be able to read, write and calculate. When it comes to children with autism and asperger syndrome, they do express themselves very brilliantly and clearly. Unfortunately, we are not able to read it because we are always trying to make them conform to responding in a way that we think is correct. We are trying to teach them how to smile, laugh, show anger and distaste, while they have their own way of doing it. I think what we really need is some kind of space where these children can be free in their environment and not be taught to conform to a way of living, trying to make them be like us. I think it’s more important to be the way they are but that requires so much of compassion on the part of the entire world and I don’t know if that’s possible.  
What do you think of theatre as a form of communication? Leave us a comment!
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World Through Their Eyes

Logo of World Through Their Eyes Logo

There seems to be an inherent stress to view the world in a fixed way. This exerts excessive pressure on people with special needs to respond to the world only in ways that others are familiar with, than through modes of expression that they are comfortable with.

There is a growing need to change this to make the world more inclusive. With that in mind, Avaz has launched – World Through Their Eyes, an initiative to create awareness about viewing the world through the eyes of persons with special needs.

We will bring to you different and unique perspectives of persons with special needs and trendsetters in this space, as interviews, ready-to-use strategies, infographics, research and much more over the course of the next few weeks.

Join hands with us in sharing this initiative and spreading more awareness about looking at the World Through Their Eyes!

If you would like to be a part of this initiative, let us know in the comments below so that we can get in touch with you.

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Why pictures work better than words for children with special needs?

This week, Avaz is launching its World Through Their Eyes initiative on creating more awareness about viewing the world from the perspective of people with special needs. We are kick-starting this initiative with this infographic on why pictures communicate better than words with some who face challenges with words. This infographic explains how words and images are processed differently with people facing challenges with words. Infographic explaining why pictures communicate better than words   Hope you find it useful and share it with others who might find it useful. Leave us a comment below if you would like to be a part of this initiative.
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How to use Expansion and Extension strategies for building language

Language learning can be facilitated through simple and effective strategies. Let’s look at two of those strategies – Expansions and Extensions and how they can be combined with different aspects of pragmatics to facilitate language learning. These strategies work well with children who communicate using a few words or are at an early sentence level, since it is predominantly based on communication partners’ responses to their child. Expansions: Expansion is the process by which you not only repeat what the child says, but also add missing words to make it more grammatically correct. Try not to rephrase the phrase dramatically, but simply hone the statement to make it more robust. For example, if the child says “Want More” you can model something like “Want More JUICE” on the child’s AAC system (assuming the juice is in the context of the conversation). Or if the child says “bike”, you say “Yes! It IS a BIKE!” (It helps to use different tones and stresses on each word appropriately, to catch your child’s attention). There are two things at play here.
  1. By repeating and expanding the child’s language, you are staying within the realms of responding without directly “correcting” him/her.
  2. By repeating- you’ve acknowledged that the child successfully conveyed something to you and will be motivated. Step it up very gradually i.e. expand using more words, bend words (Ex: go- went) as you go along. And keep modelling!
    Extensions: To extend a child’s utterance, we simply respond to the child’s utterance in a conversational way, providing a little more new information, that is related to what the child has to say. These are similar to expansions, but in this case, you not only expand the child’s language, but also add some additional information as an extension. For example:
  •      If the child says “Dog run!” you could say, “Yes, the dog is running. He is running fast.”
  •      If the child says “Red block.” You could say, “Yes, you have a red block. The red block is shaped like a triangle!”
  •      Another example, if the child were to say “yellow doggy” you could say, “Yes you see a yellow doggie! The yellow doggie is big and fluffy.”
Cute Golden Doodle Dog Puppy -1326688   Expansion and extension seem to work best with children who are using words/phrases or small sentences to communicate. You might not want to use these strategies with every word the child communicates. The hardest part about these strategies is that they require the communication partner to wait and respond to a child’s language instead of directing it. Another thing to keep in mind is to respond to the communicator’s intent i.e. replying to their question or request – and not in a manner of commenting such that the conversation does not go any further.  Are there any favorite ideas that you use for expansion and extension? Share it with our readers – by adding them in the comments! Sources: http://www.playingwithwords365.com/strategies-to-help-your-child-talk-using-expansions-and-extensions/ http://www.talkingkids.org/2013/03/using-expansion-and-extension-to-grow.html PrAACtical AAC’s blog on Expansion  
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3 Tips to celebrate a gratifying Valentine’s Day with your AAC family

Happy (belated) Valentine’s Day to you! Here are 3 tips that we followed this Valentine’s Day to make it the absolute best! Tip 1: Acknowledge the love in your life We at Avaz, feel loved and motivated when we hear from people who use Avaz with their loved ones. So, we picked two people as our Valentine this year. These two individuals, with their words of love and motivation, made our Valentine’s day very memorable! Tip 2: Express gratitude for the love in your life! This is a follow up to tip 1! Express your gratitude to the people who love you, for the love they share. So here we are, expressing our sincere gratitude to all of them, for trusting in us and continuing to use Avaz. Here’s their message to us and our messages to them!
“My wife had a severe stroke a few years ago and her Speech Therapist downloaded your APP together with other similar apps, to provide steps in her rehab to improve her speech and communication. After a period of 6-9 months she made sufficient progress and improved beyond the need for any of the APPS. Currently my wife is still having speech therapy; her communication skills are much improved. There was a time when it seemed that it may be necessary to rely and subscribe to each of the Apps. “Fortunately” this was not required. I have to recommend you and your team in making such a product available; the positivity that this gave my wife is immeasurable and has helped in her rehabilitation. (It) helped tremendously in recognizing words and sentences and the structure. At times my wife used the App to either ask a question or respond if she was unable to remember how to say a word or sentence.” – S.M
Thank you! Your positive words are immeasurable to us. Thank you for trusting us to be a part of your wife’s recovery. Wishing you and your wife a happy Valentine’s Day and sending you both our love! – Team Avaz
“My daughter is a 11 yr old child with Down Syndrome, PDD and is nonverbal. We have always had to deal with the frustrations of her not being able to communicate her needs/wants. As frustrating as it was for us as parents, it was ten times more frustrating for her.  We were reluctant to purchase the app because she had an Augmentative communication device when she was younger and neither she nor I found it to be “user friendly”. I did a lot of research on both Avaz and a competitor and found tons of positive reviews on both. I did come across many people who said that Avaz was just as good as the costly competitor and since I had reservations I went with the least expensive. This ultimately has been a decision that is worth it’s “weight in gold”. My daughter has nearly mastered the navigation, so much so that one day she brought it to me to show me she wanted Taco Bell for lunch. This made me cry. My child had a voice for the first time. Thank you for being the one to give my daughter that “voice” – A.K
Thank you for trusting us to give your daughter that voice. Your trust means the world to us. Thank you for all the love and this absolutely heartfelt message. Thank you for making our Valentine’s Day so special! – Team Avaz Tip 3: Share and spread the love with others you love We felt absolutely overwhelmed and grounded receiving kind words from our users. That said, our experience wouldn’t be complete without sharing these endearing words, with those close to us, and you are one among them too! You should also know that you are absolutely awesome with who you are and what you do. Thank you for continuing to be a constant part of our lives and making our Valentine’s Day special. That was our Valentine’s Day! What about yours? We want to know all about it too! Leave us a comment! We are waiting!  
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Understanding different aspects of pragmatics for effective communication

Communication can predominantly be split into two aspects – the act of speaking, and the setting in which it happens. We are going to be looking at the latter in this blog post. Communication changes with social settings or context. Let’s take two examples. While talking to a child, our voice mellows, we speak slower and we use a different set of words to convey the same meaning. Similarly, if a person that we are talking to constantly looks away or responds in monosyllables, we decide that the person is bored and change the topic of the conversation. Now, what gave that away? Who taught us to do that? In both of these examples above, there is a certain sense of the social setting, age/mental maturity and physical response. This insight of the social setting in which communication happens is called pragmatics. Acquiring pragmatic skills is difficult for both- a typically growing child and a non-typical child, while they differ at the intensity and speed of acquisition. Pragmatics that governs our day-to-day communication includes three different aspects namely: Using language to convey different types of messages:
  • Greeting– Hi, Have a nice day, goodbye etc.
  • Requesting information– What is that? Where are you going?
  • Requesting for an action – Can you give me a cookie? I want a cookie.
  • Refusing/protesting – Stop the music. Don’t touch my toy. I don’t want to eat.
  • Promising – I am going to play your favorite song.
  • Informing– I am making a sandwich. We are going to paint this wall.
painting the wall Changing language according to the needs of a listener or situation:
  • Presenting information (background details, facts) to an unfamiliar listener: Hi, my name is Randy. I’m here to meet Sue.
  • Presenting information (background details, facts) to an familiar listener: Hi Sue, I read the storybook you gifted me. I loved it.
  • Speaking differently depending on the listener: a small boy speaking to a friend of his age vs an adult- “Joe, give me a cookie, please.” vs “Mrs. Stevenson, could you please give me a cookie?”
  • Speaking differently depending on the location: speaking differently in a classroom than on a playground. “Hey Greg, could you please pass me a copy of the worksheet.” vs “Greg! Pass the ball.”
Following rules for conversations:
  • Introducing topics of conversation: “Yesterday I went to the movies with my sister…”
  • Staying on topic: “Oh, you drew a horse? I drew a dog!”
  • Rephrasing when misunderstood: “The time is quarter to five. I mean four forty-five.”
  • Using verbal and nonverbal signals: Nodding to agree, pointing the index finger to identify etc
  • How close to stand to someone when speaking: Explaining physical space, appropriate touch etc.
Some people may face challenges with respect to adhering to the pragmatics of communication. The main problems include responding with the wrong or inappropriate words or action, give monosyllable or one word responses or talk about things that are irrelevant to the context of the conversation. Often children facing these challenges may be facing communication challenges. When faced with such communication challenges (either before or after diagnosing the issue), how do we handle it? How can we help the child in such circumstances? In the next few articles, we shall explore the integration of the different pragmatic aspects in a way to resolve these issues. These are many simple and successful techniques to help the child be effective in their communication. Watch this space for more activities on pragmatic skills. (Source: http://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/Pragmatics/)
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The 5 Domains of Language

It seemed like 2017 only yesterday. It is February already! We wanted to welcome this month of love by sharing with you something essential to the expression of love – the different components of language. After all, most often, it is language that aids us in the expression of love.

So we have put together an infographic explaining the different components of language  – Pragmatics, Semantics, Syntax, Morphology & Phonology, integrated as a whole.

What do you think of this representation? Did we miss something? Leave us a comment below.

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How to make Thanksgiving memorable this year for your child

Happy Thanksgiving! The entire Avaz team would like to express our gratitude and thank you for being a part of the AAC family.  Happy Thanksgiving from the Avaz Team Thanksgiving could be overwhelming, in many ways for a lot of us – hosting, planning food! But let’s make this holiday an enjoyable one for the child. Let’s break it down and look at ways to tackle each part to ensure that the child has a good time, without distress or being overwhelmed. Changes in the surroundings:
  • Venue– if you are hosting, give the child time to take in this new temporary re-arrangement and do this a few days ahead. Create a designated “my spot” for the child, with their toys and comfort items. If you are going to a different place, get the child accustomed to it, by showing pictures and talking about the place.
  • Clothes– stick to a familiar and comfortable outfit for you and the child.  If you want to try new holiday wear- get the kid to wear it a few times before, make sure it is familiar and comfortable.
  • The holiday itinerary- Even though this is a holiday, try and stick to the usual routine as much as possible- like play time, meal time, nap time. Do the 2 o’clock dinner too, but as an add-on to the usual routine.
  • Setting expectations and the holiday mood –  Have some fun story sessions of how you are going to spend the day, using visual aids – e.g. car activities on the drive to the venue, whom you are going to meet, what you are going to eat, the parade on the television etc.
People:
  • Faces– Show the child a lot of pictures of the family and create an excitement about meeting them all. It helps jog their memory, as well as prep to meet the newer people.
  • Greeting– One recommendation would be to ask a few people in advance to wait and greet one-on-one, once you settle in.
  • Volume– Pack your noise cancelling headphones! You never know when the party would liven up, so be conscious of the noise levels and use them when required.
  • Conversations– it always helps to role-play greeting, answering questions and the dinner table talk with the child before the holiday. You can also prep your relatives by telling them the latest topics that interests the kid.
Food and the dining table:
  • No harm in having some chicken nuggets– Sometimes, it just helps to bring food they usually eat and are comfortable with, especially if your child is a fussy eater. You can always top off the familiar with some holiday specials.
  • If you have a food-enthusiast in the house– Some kids tend to get distracted with the overwhelming options and may not know when to stop snacking or eating. You can do the plating and serving at the kitchen rather than putting the dishes out on the table.
  • Don’t forget- at every step to give the child a lot of positive feedback! In slow and small doses, your kid got to experiment and have fun. Appreciate their efforts – take notice, give him hugs and, kisses. And remember- if they are overwhelmed and you have to take a break, it’s okay. Or if they are sitting with their toys the entire time- that’s okay too. That’s their way of celebrating the day!
Happy Turkey Day, you all! References: https://www.autismspeaks.org/blog/2017/11/14/autism-and-thanksgiving-how-cope-feasting-and-hubbub  https://themighty.com/2015/11/tips-to-make-thanksgiving-more-comfortable-for-kids-with-autism/
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How to have a memorable Halloween

Halloween is around the corner! And it is the most eagerly awaited holiday for children. This is the time for creating lasting childhood memories and flaunting costumes. If your child falls in the autism spectrum, the evening could cause anxiety over unfamiliar looks, places and social interactions. But there is no reason why they can’t participate in the festivities (along with their AAC systems). With some preparation from our end, we can make it happen for our children! Halloween image There are a few ways to ease the child into being a part of this night of celebrations. Let’s tackle the big challenges in do-able ways:
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How Avaz helps parents/teachers to be more comfortable using AAC?

One of the questions that we frequently receive from speech therapists after these webinars is “how do I to get parents/teachers to be more comfortable using AAC?”. Communication partners who are comfortable with the child’s AAC app can model language at appropriate times for the child and no learning opportunity gets wasted! In Avaz, we have built an entire Dashboard module for this specific goal. Communication partners can get fluent in using Avaz by practicing to model sentences in the Dashboard module. They can choose a particular context and select sentences, and Avaz would guide them on how to create them. See how this feature works here
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How Avaz provides AAC users with continued access to communication?

We have been collecting stories of AAC usage around the world and trying to figure out what are the factors that influence the success of an AAC intervention. One of the influential factors that we have heard in anecdotal reports from our customers as well as from leading researchers in the field is – giving continued access to an AAC system. Ideally, we want AAC users to have their communication device with them. Always. However, this is not feasible in many situations for a variety of reasons. For example, the device could run out of charge or the AAC user is at a beach or at a water park. In all these situations, we want to give continued access to their communicator and offer the power of communication. But we are unable to. We built a feature into Avaz to address this exact problem that our users face.

Avaz "print a book" feature

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Back to School: New beginnings and new features

It’s back-to-school time already! Are you excited? We sure are. It’s a new year, full of exciting new possibilities. And we can’t wait to show you some of the cool new stuff we have been working on this summer. Here are some of them:
  • We all know how important modelling is. So, we’ve introduced a feature by which you can learn to model a word using the Search bar in Avaz. This feature will help you remember how to find that word easily. Catch a sneak peek here – https://youtu.be/XoVToM3uCqw.  (Hat tip to Kate Ahern for this suggestion.)
 
  • You can now use AirDrop to transfer your student’s vocabulary seamlessly across devices. (Huge shout out to the users who wrote in requesting for this.)(Psst… and this is just the start!)
All this and more is part of our effort to make Avaz more intuitive to use. So that you and your students get the most out of the time you spend with Avaz. Here’s to the new school year bringing a lot of joy, inspiration and learning for you and your students. With love, Team Avaz You can download the latest version here – Avaz US Pro
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Poetry in Pictures using Avaz AAC

One of the great perks of working at Avaz are the heartwarming stories that we get to hear from our customers. These stories range from a therapist telling us about the breakthrough that they had with her student or from a parent who is beside with excitement to hear their child speak using Avaz. Recently we received one such story, all the way from Bucharest, Romania. Simona, has been using Avaz for the past few years with her daughter Sara. Simona translated the entire Avaz vocabulary into Romanian and personalized it so that Sara could use it to communicate. How cool is that! Last week, Sara used Avaz to say her first poem at kindergarten. Simona added the poem on Sara’s iPad and she just needed to learn the steps to say it. Below is the video of the classroom rehearsal! Kudos to Sara and Simona! Do you have a similar story? Share it with us! It motivates us to push ourselves further.
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Autism myths that Educators & Parents want to dispel

In the run up to the World Autism Awareness Day (April 2nd),  we asked people to tell us what is the ONE autism myth that they wished to dispel. As the replies from around the world started pouring in, we realized that there is a lot of work to be done with respect to raising Autism Awareness. As a second step to our initiative, we created the below poster that collates autism myths from around the world. What do you think of this, let us know by leaving a comment. We request you to share it with your friends & colleagues. No occasion is better than the World Autism Awareness Day!!
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Parents are the Best People to Help Kids Learn Communication [Infographic]

There is no better communication partner for children than their parents. That’s the main reason that much of the recent research in autism management focuses on parent mediated intervention as a way for a speech professional (like a speech therapist) to maximize communication outcomes.

Below is an infographic explaining why parents are the best communication partners for children.

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Why pictures help kids communicate better than words

It is widely believed by researchers that the primary reason that kids with autism find communication and language complex, is because of so-called “processing issues”. When a child is exposed to language at a volume and rate which typically-developing adults are comfortable handling, the child would find it immensely complicated to “decode” these words into meaning. This is true of both spoken language and written language, though the latter is somewhat less stressful (for literate children) because they are able to take their time to decode it.
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Every Child Can Read and Write : AAC and Literacy

We believe, as a matter of faith, that one of the end-points of AAC(Augmentative and Alternative Communication) is the development of literacy, i.e. the ability for a non-verbal child to read and write.

Well-designed AAC is more than an assistive technology — it is also an educational technology. In other words, AAC can (and should) provide a way for a child to transition from being a picture-user to being a text-user. Some parents, and even a few therapists, sometimes question the assumption that a non-verbal child is capable of literacy. We take inspiration from David Yoder’s quote — “no child is too anything to be able to read and write”. Both systematic research as well as anecdotal evidence has shown that even children with very high levels of disability can be taught literacy.
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Avaz – Autism Awareness Month Offer

Like every Autism Acceptance week, this time round too, we’re running some great promotional offers on our Pro apps. Avaz Pro in English, Spanish and Italian are all available at 50% off until the 10th of April. If you were looking to buy new licenses for your school, or if you know someone who you think should experience the same awesomeness of Avaz that you have, now’s the best time to get a great deal on these products. As a special gift to you in support of Autism Awareness Month, we’re offering 50% off on Avaz apps:
  • Avaz – Pro – 50% off – $149.99 – $74.99

o Download from iTunes here: http://bit.ly/1atGoya

o Download from Android here: http://bit.ly/1CDKdKe

  • Avaz – India – 50% off – $109.99 – $54.99

o Download from iTunes here: http://bit.ly/1CDKexN

  • Avaz – Italiano – 50% off – $299.99 – $149.99

o Download from iTunes here: http://bit.ly/1bVqld0

  • Avaz – Español – 50% off – $149.99 – $74.99

o Download from iTunes here: http://bit.ly/1BZ9yLb

This limited time offer is only valid until April 10, 2015!

Give your loved one, the best gift ever

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Avaz Webinar – Powering Your Chilld’s Communication

Developing communication skills helps children with Autism live fuller, richer lives! But how can you make your child’s therapy sessions go farther, so those skills develop even more? Presenting Avaz Together, world’s first iPad AAC app for home use, designed to help your child learn faster everyday. Join us on Apr 2nd ( 3 pm – 4 pm PST) for a webinar explaining how Avaz Together helps you put your child on a fast-track of communication. Here are some of the things we’ll discuss:
  • Why is communication the most critical skill for a child with Autism?
  • Integrating communication-opportunities in your child’s daily life?
  • Modelling and why is this critical for the child’s communication development?
  • Measuring the vocabulary improvement of your child
Register for the webinar today!!
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Guidelines for Participating in a Avaz App Twitter Chat #avazchat

Introduction: Twitter chats, sometime known as tweet chats, occur when a group of people tweet about the same topic using a specific tag, known as hashtag (#) that allows the conversation to be followed online. The chats take place at a specific time and topics are defined in advance. We use the hashtag #avazchat for our twitter chats. Getting Started: You’ll need a Twitter account to join a chat. To sign up, visit twitter.com. There are several ways to view a chat as it is happening: • Go to twitter.com and type in the hashtag you want to follow (e.g., #avazchat) in the search bar. You will see a list of every tweet that uses the hashtag, with the most recent tweets on top. • Third-party tools (outside of twitter.com) are also available. Tweetdeck and Tweetchat are two options. Format: Tweet chats typically last for 60 minutes. A moderator will start the chat to introduce guest speakers and provide an overview of the agenda. A specific amount of time is allocated to each topic, followed by an open mic for follow-up questions and idea sharing. Participants are encouraged to submit questions prior to the event by e-mailing to sally@avazapp.com or by directing the question to our twitter handle @avazapp and by using the hashtag #avazchat on twitter. Due to time constraints, not all questions may be addressed during the chat. Etiquette:Stay on Topic. When you join a chat, be aware of the topics being discussed. If you ask a guest or moderator a question, stay on topic. Don’t use the hashtag unless your tweet is on topic. • Use the hashtag. If you ask a question or respond to someone in a chat, always include the hashtag so everyone can be in on the conversation. Services like Tweetchat.com automatically add the hashtag for you. • Share. Share tweets from within the chat with your network by retweeting or by commenting. Let your followers know you’ll be participating in a chat advance so they know you’ll be active during the time period. (They might also want to join the chat.) • Don’t be a self promoter. Don’t use someone else’s tweet chat stream to market your product or services. Policy & Terms: Participants of the Avaz App Twitter Chat may not post or link to any content that is false, defamatory, inaccurate, abusive, harassing, obscene, sexually oriented, threatening, invasive of a person’s privacy, or that would infringe on any third party’s rights (including copyrights and other intellectual property rights) or content that otherwise violate any applicable law, rules or regulations. Any information that you post becomes publicly available and may be viewable by any visitors to the site. Participants must also agree to twitters Terms of Service.
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Avaz Webinar – How can Avaz help your child communicate?

If you are a therapist, and have been checking your calendar and thinking that it‘s time to evaluate new AAC options Or You are already using Avaz, and would need a brief refresher course, then please join us for a FREE demo of Avaz on 26Th Feb 2014, 3 PM – 4 PM PST. Choosing the right AAC app is a conscious decision, and we’ll cover the following items to take you through Avaz and explain how it can help children communicate:
  • Customize Avaz for each child’s needs
  • Learn how Avaz helps reinforce learning
  • Discover Avaz features for children who need consistent motor patterns
  • Find out what makes Avaz child-friendly
Click here to register for the webinar.
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Join Us For The Twitter Chat With @Debraruh, Global Disability Inclusion Strategist

Topic: How to get schools to educate your child with Autism, so they are ready for employment Time: Join Us on 26th Feb, 20:00 hrs GMT About our Guest: Debra Ruh is an advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities and founder of Ruh Global Communications. Debra has provided global leadership to governments, corporations, NGOs and DPO’s (Disability Persons Organizations) supporting research projects, DPO outreach, policy and standards initiatives with the public and private sector. Debra has worked with United Nations agencies and countries to help implement the CRPD. Debra founded TecAccess in 2001 and merged it with another firm in 2011. TecAccess was an IT consulting firm that employed persons with disabilities and helped businesses create accessible technologies for people with disabilities. Debra is active on social media and blogging on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, G+, Tumblr, and Pinterest her Twitter handle is @debraruh. Debra is the Co-Founder of www.AXSChat.com a Social-chat website, on accessibility and disability inclusion.
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Dah Der Peas

Not every mother would know how to decipher “dah der peas”. But that was what Alex, a child with speech difficulties, was saying from the back of the car one morning when his mother was ferrying his younger brother Andy to school.
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Demystifying – AAC, Recorded Webinar

We at Avaz are having a great new year!! As part of our efforts to make every voice heard, we had a webinar on ‘Demystifying AAC’ on January 17. Parents, special educators and speech therapists like you enthusiastically took part. We tried to address the issue of how jargon was clouding the AAC space and ensured that voodoo around AAC was cleared. If you are feeling sorry that you missed it, don’t be. Here’s a recording of it. Also, we will be coming up with more webinars in the future. Stay tuned.
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Avaz Communication Challenge – Vocabulary Extension

We had posted the below question on our FB-page and got some great responses. The answer to the question is Option ( C ). {Disclaimer: The ‘correct’ answer varies according to the communication level of the child. We would suggest you to consult the child’s therapist for the best advice.}
Extension is similar to expansion, but one step more, where you introduce a new concept that is related to what the child has just said. It is preferable that you introduce only one concept at a time, which makes it easier for the child to digest. For e.g. if your child says “doggie tail” , you can extend it with “Yes! The doggie’s tail is fluffy”. Or if your child says “red flower” you can extend it with “Yes, the red flower is soft”! If your child says “doggie bark” you extend it with “Yes, the doggie is barking, he is hungry.” Look out for words that your child is uttering and grab that opportunity to build on what he has just said – to expand and extend his language. Extension adds to his language and vocabulary in a natural way. These strategies make communication far more engaging, since the child is encouraged by seeing the parent respond to his statement and this tends to initiate and sustain a conversation. Expansions and extensions are techniques that parents tend to under-utilize. These strategies not only aid in building the child’s vocabulary, but research has shown that it also helps the child build longer and more meaningful sentences.
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Avaz Webinar – Demystifying AAC

Specialized AAC(Augmentative and Alternative Communication) jargon makes AAC decisions difficult. Many of the questions that researchers have studied over the last few years are loaded with complex terminology. For example:
  • Is a vocabulary based on core words different from a pragmatically oriented vocabulary?
  • How do we deal with multi-graded vocabulary that a child has to grow through? Which color-coding works best for AAC vocabularies? Is it possible to combine high-tech and low-tech vocabularies for the same child?
  • Our webinar demystifies this terminology and the process of selecting or building an AAC vocabulary based on the latest research findings.
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Avaz – Communication Challenge { Topic: Extension in Communication}

We are back, with the Avaz Communication Challenge!! Johnny is a 7-year-old and communicates in 1-2 words. He returns from school and shows you a fish he made in crafts class. He uses his AAC device to say “BIG FISH”. You expand his utterance with “Yes! This is a big fish”. Now, what is the best way to extend this communication? Leave a comment, with your answer – Option (A) or (B) or (C).
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Avaz – Communication Challenge!!

A few days back, we posed the following question to our Facebook community. We got some great responses.
Our answer to the question is (B). We asked this question because we wanted to explore the topic of ‘Expansion in developing language’. First, a disclaimer. The ‘correct’ answer varies according to the communication levels of the child. Consult the child’s therapist for the best advice. Having said that, here is our rationale for the choice of the answer. Expansion is a technique that helps develop language. It is useful for children who are emergent communicators. Expansions are comments that add syntactic and semantic details to incomplete phrases, to create a simple sentence that is grammatically correct. To expand your child’s comments:
  • Use the same words that your child has used and in the same order
  • Maintain the same meaning
  • Add the missing words to complete the simple sentence that is being conveyed
E.g. If your child says ball red, you can expand it by saying, “The ball IS red”. Or if he looks at a dog and says big doggie, you can expand it with “HE IS a big doggie”. You are building his language without correcting him directly. Expansions have been shown to increase the probability that the child will spontaneously imitate the adult’s expansion of his utterances.
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How do Children Benefit from Speech Therapy at Home?

In general, most children hear approximately 1,200 words per hour, and they learn language by listening to the words they hear every day. It’s difficult to imagine how many times a typical one-year-old hears a word like ‘more’ before learning to say it. Children develop language and speech by hearing sounds, morphemes, words, and sentence structures repeatedly, and these repetitions sometimes happen 10,000 times before children are able to generate them on their own. Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) users need that same type of exposure to their AAC language systems before we should expect them to ‘speak’ AAC. If a child is using an AAC device, then his or her parents or caregivers also need to work continuously to model how the AAC works, so the child is immersed in the language. Over time, children will be more likely to observe and mimic what they’ve learned. The more you use the AAC, the sooner your child’s language skills will improve.
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Choice-Making Empowers Children

We asked the below question to our FB-community and we thank our fans for coming up with answers and making the discussion lively.

Avaz_Mealtime

The reason we posed this question was because it throws up a number of interesting subtleties in AAC strategy, which every parent should know. First a disclaimer that the ‘correct’ answer depends on the child, and you should consult the child’s therapist for the best advice.

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Avaz-Webinar: Recording

It has been a wonderful month for us so far, and we conducted our first webinar last Thursday. Special educators and SLPs participated from around the world. We talked about the various elements of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) and how Avaz addresses them.

We started with a quick introduction to AAC, and about its importance in the broader context. Participants took a quick tour of Avaz to learn about its features, and the webinar ended with a great question and answer session.

Our webinar participants shared interesting ideas regarding communication pragmatics,language acquisition via motor planning (LAMP) etc.. Some of the participants were very interested in the Track Session feature and wanted more details, so they could make the most of it.

If you weren’t able to attend, here is a link to the webinar. Check it out and share your thoughts with us.

Also, stay-tuned for news on our upcoming webinars.

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Presume Competence – An AAC Mantra

I received a heart-warming email today from a mother whose two sons, both with autism, have been using Avaz for nearly a year now. Her email had one detail in particular which will probably remain with me for a very long time. She spoke about her elder son — let’s call him Harry — who is seven years old, non-verbal, with sensory issues and delays in fine-motor and gross-motor skills. Harry hardly initiates speech, so his mother was often left wondering what he was thinking about. But a couple years back, she and Harry’s speech therapist made an astounding discovery. They realized that Harry had taught himself to read, and he is now able to communicate — autonomously and, to a large degree, independently — by using Avaz.

Harry’s mom went on to write about all the wonderful instances where he’d used Avaz to astound his family, his therapist, and his baby-sitters. But I think the most important takeaway from this email is a validation of an AAC guideline that we may have heard about but don’t put into practice often enough. And that’s the advice to presume competence. Presuming competence is so important that I think it deserves to be called an AAC mantra. And it’s probably a good idea for you to repeat this mantra to yourself five times before you start your day with a child: “I must presume competence. I must presume competence.”

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Speech, Language, and Communication: What each of them means to a child with autism

I was at ISAAC 2014 in Lisbon earlier this year, and the highlight, for me, was the research symposium after the conference. This event included a hundred or more researchers in AAC from all over the world, who came together to discuss some very important cross-domain topics in the field. I had the good fortune of sitting next to Signhild Skogdal from the University of Stavanger in Norway. Signhild spoke to me very passionately about how we are always using the term ‘AAC’ to refer primarily to speech and language, whereas we should be focusing on the “C” — communication — more often. Talking to her, I came to understand a very interesting distinction between those three words we use rather carelessly while working with children with complex communication needs: speech, language, and communication. What is speech? Speech is the common term that we use to refer to what’s known more technically as articulation. In other words, it is the process of physically expressing a sequence of sounds, which, through the process of hearing, convey a message. So, speech is definitely a physical process involving the muscles of the respiratory system and the vocal tract, or, in the case of people with speech disabilities, a speech-generating device or app like Avaz. What is language? Language is shared meaning — “an agreed-upon set of symbols that enable people to interact and communicate with each other”1. The core property of language, then, is its symbolic nature — our ability to name and remember names of objects and actions in the world around us, so that we can ‘talk’ about them with each other. The names, by themselves, are more or less arbitrary. For instance, the object which we call a door, by any other name, would still open and close. But language is a way to put these words together to create meaning. Language is either sound-based (for verbal communication) or gesture-based (like sign language); and for many people with autism (and other disorders), it could be picture-based, too. And what about communication? Communication is a medium of interaction between people that allows them to direct the emotions and actions of others. We communicate to convey information, to get people to do things, to express approval or disapproval, and to express our needs and wants. In short, we communicate so that we are able to live socially. All social creatures must communicate with each other — whether by the grunts and roars of tigers, or by the scent trails of ants, or by messages written on Facebook by human beings.
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Vigtigt ændring: Avaz 3.2

Date: 10-Nov-2014

Kære Avaz – Dansk Brugere,

Vi har netop udgivet en gennemtestet stabil opdatering af Avaz Dansk i app-butikken – version 3.2.1 og det er sikkert at opdatere. Den seneste version af denne app vil give mange flere folk som har specielle behov, muligheden for at opleve og drage fordel af Avaz.vaz Dansk er gået fra at være en betalt app til en gratis app, med mulighed for in-app køb. Dette skift har dog givet visse af vores brugere nogen problemer. Vi beklager meget, hvis du har oplevet nogen problemer i forbindelse med denne opdatering.

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Avaz Webinar-Discover How Avaz Helps Children Communicate

We’ve had a very exciting October. We attended the “Closing the Gap” conference in Minneapolis. We released Avaz Spanish. And we have been working on some exciting new projects. It’s all hush-hush for now but do watch out for more announcements. This Nov 13, we have a one-hour webinar ( 3 pm – 4 pm, PST) on the various aspects of Augmentative and Alternative Communication, and how Avaz addresses these.
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Hola señoras y señores. Bienvenido a Avaz Espanol

Hello! If you were wondering why this sudden burst of Spanish, we have news! We just launched Avaz Spanish. Partly because we love saying Hola to each other, but primarily because we received a lot of interest from the Spanish-speaking populace. Avaz Spanish comes with a vocabulary of 5000+ words that has been localized to Latin American Spanish. For instance, you will find that in categories like food, restaurants, sport, religion etc the words are specific to Latin American culture. More of football, less of baseball.
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Contest Terms & Conditions

  1. The promoter is: Avaz Inc. whose registered office is at Stanford Financial Square, 2600 El Caminao Real #403, Palo Alto, CA 94306
  2. Employees of Avaz Inc. or their family members or anyone else connected in any way with the competition or helping to set up the competition shall not be permitted to enter the competition.
  3. There is no entry fee and no purchase necessary to enter this competition.
  4. Closing date for entry will be 17-Oct-2014. After this date the no further entries to the competition will be permitted.
  5. No responsibility can be accepted for entries not received for whatever reason.
  6. The promoter reserves the right to cancel or amend the competition and these terms and conditions without notice in the event of a catastrophe, war, civil or military disturbance, act of God or any actual or anticipated breach of any applicable law or regulation or any other event outside of the promoter’s control. Any changes to the competition will be notified to entrants as soon as possible by the promoter.
  7. The promoter is not responsible for inaccurate prize details supplied to any entrant by any third party connected with this competition.
  8. No cash alternative to the prizes will be offered. Prizes are subject to availability and we reserve the right to substitute any prize with another of equivalent value without giving notice.
  9. Winners will be chosen by the staff of the Promoter. The decision of this team is final and conclusive in all circumstances and no correspondence will be entered into.
  10. The winner will be notified by email/on social-media platforms within 28 days of the closing date. If the winner cannot be contacted or do not claim the prize within 14 days of notification, we reserve the right to withdraw the prize from the winner and pick a replacement winner.
  11. The promoter’s decision in respect of all matters to do with the competition will be final and no correspondence will be entered into.
  12. By entering this competition, an entrant is indicating his/her agreement to be bound by these terms and conditions.
  13. The winner agrees to the use of his/her name and image in any publicity material.
  14. Entry into the competition will be deemed as acceptance of these terms and conditions.
  15. This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook, Twitter or any other Social Network. You are providing your information to Avaz Inc. and not to any other party. The information provided will be used in conjunction with the following Privacy Policy found at https://www.avazapp.com/privacy-policy/
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Avaz goes to CTG

The Avaz team is eagerly looking forward to next week. On Monday, we fly to Minneapolis for the 32nd Closing the Gap (CTG) Conference – one of the best and most practitioner-driven Assistive Technology conferences in North America. This yearly conference provides a comprehensive examination of the recent developments in assistive technology for use by persons with disabilities and professionals who work with them. This year’s conference will cover a broad spectrum of topics as it is addressing all disabilities and age groups in education, rehabilitation, vocation, and independent living. CTG typically sees a balanced mix of participants comprising SLPs, Occupational Therapists, AT Consultants, teachers and parents.
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A day of nothing spoken, and much communicated @ Avaz

The Avaz office is usually a noisy place – whether it’s the engineering team discussing new ideas and new features, or the customer relations team discussing feedback from users, everyone has an opinion and everyone freely airs it. But on October 1, the office was quiet. A synthesized voice broke the silence. “Happy AAC Awareness Month.” This was followed by a series of synthesized voices – “Thank you”, “Wish you the same”, “To you too” and so on. On September 30, the entire team received an email from our marketing team, “October, as we all know, is celebrated as the International AAC Awareness Month. In the true spirit of the month, let us use only AAC devices to communicate tomorrow (Oct 1). Let’s use Avaz for all communications within office. Even if you have to ask any of us for a pen, you will have to use Avaz.
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This October – Educate, Organize & Promote

Being the parent of a child with special needs is challenging. Add lack of communication, it can be frustrating and heart-breaking. Imagine seeing the crayon you want to use across the table, it’s the perfect color for your picture, yet you can’t voice your need. A pain in your body that makes you feel ill, or something as simple as wanting a glass of water becomes an internal stress because you can’t say what you need. People with communication difficulties have the daily challenge of having their voice heard. As we head into October, the official month of AAC( Augmentative and alternative communication) awareness, we think of how far we have come with AAC. Technology is moving fast. Increased awareness about AAC and the availability of AAC is a gift to individuals with communication challenges. It is also a tremendous help for the parents of children who lack communication. Currently, assistive technology is becoming more advanced, easier to use, and affordable. Having access to AAC will increase independence, heighten education, create opportunities for inclusion, and broaden learning and life experiences.
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Here’s what’s cooking in our kitchen

September has been a busy month for our developers at Avaz. The next version of Avaz US will be out in mid-October and we are super-excited about the new features in this version!! Here are two of our favorites:
  • Graphic UI for Track Therapy: Until now you were able to view only text reports of the therapy sessions you were tracking. In Avaz 3.3, apart from a sleeker display of the report itself, you will see analytics of the therapy sessions with graphs measuring mean length of utterance, percentage of core words used etc as well, thus giving you a better insight into the child’s progress.
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Avaz – why are we increasing the price?

Avaz has been on the App Store for 20 months and we have had tremendous response so far from our customers. A big heartfelt thanks to the people for believing in us and contributing to our success till now. We have had 2 major updates and several minor ones to improve the app based on customer and expert feedback. The big news is that we will now be shipping with voices from IVONA. IVONA voices have been consistently ranked the best text-to-speech quality in several independent studies, and we are glad to be one of the first AAC vendors to be supporting these wonderful voices. The other important feature we introduced in our latest version is word morphology, brought to you with the support of Ultralingua. We’ve worked hard to make morphology very user-friendly and accessible, and from the feedback we’ve received so far, many Avaz users have been able to form more complex utterance formation because of this.
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Happy Father’s Day

Fathers are special human beings. Some would even say they aren’t human beings at all, but super heroes. But undoubtedly, a father is someone your child looks up to. Little girls want to find a man like their fathers and little boys want to be the type of man that their father is. A father is someone who is their kid’s biggest fan. He takes them to their soccer games and cheers them on, or he sits in the front row at their school play so he can get the best shot for the photo album. He supports his children as they get older and offers his help where he can. A father is someone who has all the answers. His children may have never asked the questions, but dad is always the first to offer his solution. He has his opinions on how they should handle things, and this may get frustrating as they grow older, but this is his way of trying to help.
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On communication

Think about the last time you communicated with someone. The scenario you come up with will undoubtedly be reflective of your definition of the idea of communication. Overall, there is a societal tendency to ascribe a higher value to verbal communication over non-verbal communication. For example, I assume that the above question most likely directed your thought stream to the last conversation you had. If verbal (and thereby written) communication is the means by which humans share and receive information, then language becomes the most important facilitator of this process. However, I feel that thinking of language as the only way to communicate is problematic – it is too narrow of a lens. Ask the parents of an autistic child, who have learned, after several frustrating hours, to find meaning their child’s slightest shrug, frown. According to a blogger, and mother to an autistic daughter “every single thing we do communicates something”. Especially for parents like her, learning to reposition this idea of communication provides for a way in which to feel closer, more connected to their children who struggle with ‘mainstream’ verbal communication. Gestures, pictures, expressions, vocal utterances are a few examples of the ways in which communication can operate on levels independent of speech and language. It is important, here, to acknowledge the interconnectedness of these communication channels. That is, we have noticed that developing one or few of these dramatically increases the development of other channels as well. For example, for a child we worked with, her parents noted that using an AAC aid substantially increased the number of gestures she used as well. This is not to discredit verbal communication: in many ways, language forms a more objective platform that people can interpret with more uniformity than non-verbal communication; it is associated with intent and ability. Perhaps it is in finding each child’s unique way of relating non-verbal and verbal communication with each other, it will be possible to develop both channels simultaneously.
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Mom’s the word… Happy Mother’s Day!

Dear Mom, We often wonder how you do it all. How you can stay up all those nights, just so your child can sleep better. How you cook the most delicious meals, yet are content with the burnt ends of toasts. How, your joy in your child’s progress is often tinged with lost dreams and small worries. How, no matter how many temper tantrums and meltdowns you deal with, it makes no difference to you. A part time counsellor, a full time friend, sometimes a teacher. Planner and organizer par excellence. Chef extraordinaire. Caregiver, coach and comrade rolled into one. And all of this powered by a heart of pure gold. A mother’s love is something that can never be replicated no matter how strong the support system around a child is – a love that is unconditional and perpetual, absolute and profound. And today being Mother’s day, we would like to honour this special bond.
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SLP Testimonial: “Without Hesitation, Avaz It Is!”

As we continue the transition from The Flintstones into The Jetsons age of technology, the process of selecting the perfect AAC app can be exasperating and overwhelming, due to the massive selection in the app store. At the present time, there are over 300 AAC apps in the store, each with subtle differences, but all targeting the augmentation of communication. Our goal as professionals and caregivers is to find the AAC app that is most appropriate for the child and meets their individual needs. Avaz has done what the iPad has done for all learners, modernizing the way children with special needs learn and communicate. As a Speech Pathologist and Assistive Technology Specialist, the most common question that I receive relates to what I feel is the best AAC app on the market to support our nonverbal students. Without hesitation, I quickly refer them to Avaz, as I truly feel that this AAC app is one of a kind. We know that there are a number of communication apps that let you create multiple communication pages and link them together, but most of them have a steep learning curve and takes a lot of time and training to use effectively. Avaz is extremely user-friendly, allowing the user to create their own custom buttons and communication pages in seconds. The user is in control of how the language is arranged, and with pre-designed communication pages, creating a solid language foundation can be quick and easy. Jane Farrall, an expert in the world of AAC, rates Avaz with 3/3 stars, and the iTunes store has a user-rating of 5 stars, which is a difficult feat to accomplish these days. If you want to simplify your life in the AAC world, give Avaz a try, as I can honestly say that it has made a world of difference in the lives of the students I work with and in my professional life as well. By Chris Wenger, M.Ed., M.S., CCC-SLP Speech & Language Pathologist
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Avaz FreeSpeech will revolutionize how you think about language!

Children have been using Avaz extensively till now, and it is an extremely successful AAC intervention for children with autism. Although Avaz allows for extensive literacy development in children with autism, there were still a few situations that were not addressed by this app. Namely, children with speech and developmental conditions using the app were found to struggle with word orderings and abstraction. So it is simple to identify and learn a word that denotes ‘eat’ but when it becomes ‘I want to eat’ – it becomes problematic – for how do you visually represent ‘to’? Additionally, children struggle with understanding word order, and how different sequences of words have different meanings. A need to address these issues is what gave birth to the idea of Avaz FreeSpeech. FreeSpeech is a way of representing ideas visually, and a way of converting the representation into perfectly grammatical, meaningful English (or any other language). Instead of stringing words together as sentences, you can use Avaz FreeSpeech to create maps of images, to represent ideas in a completely language-independent way.

Avaz FreeSpeech

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Celebrate Christmas with Avaz

It’s finally our most favourite time of year! Christmas is all about love, family and memories. People are nicer to one another. More people smile.There’s a magic in the air. And to make the moments you share with your child extra special, we recommend that you use the Christmas vocabulary sets in your Avaz app. (Navigate to : Advanced→my topics→special days and events→Christmas)
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Innovative uses of Avaz’s features!

Children with autism have a tough time adapting what they’ve learned in one physical environment (e.g., the therapist’s office or school) to others, including the home. Creating consistency in the child’s environment is the best way to reinforce learning. One important way is to find out what the child’s therapists are doing and continue their strategies and tactics at home. It is vital to transfer learning from one environment to another, through consistency and practise. This helps your child feel more secure, because it creates a consistent and predictable environment. We have heard some nice stories about therapists using Avaz innovatively to promote consistency. One way is to share backups of Avaz content on Dropbox (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hl1HnTavZhE&feature=player_embedded). A child using the Avaz app on different iPads at home and school can use the same vocabulary by syncing both iPads to the same Dropbox account. This not only synchronizes the content, but also saves content from being deleted or lost accidentally.
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25% off on Avaz this Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time to simply say, Thank you. It is a time to take a moment, stop and think about all the wonderful blessings in our life and be grateful for our family and friends. And to make this season a little more special for you and your family, we’re offering you a 25% discount on Avaz. Do avail of this offer by making a purchase between 28th November and 2nd December 2013.

Happy Thanksgiving from Avaz Please do spread the Avaz Thanksgiving cheer around you! We’d appreciate it if you talked about the discount with your family and friends (email, tweet, facebook) or those who might need Avaz.
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Avaz Resource centers and the ‘Data Logging’ feature on Avaz

An Assistive Technology (AT) Library offers families and therapists the opportunity to preview or trial assistive technology devices for children and young adults. Thus, families of children with special needs can go to an AT library, have a look and trial the different AT devices the library has to offer. They can subsequently borrow a device/app for a period of few weeks. This way they can preview a host of AT devices and based on the child’s compatibility with it, buy it for the child. (For example, check out one of Wisconsin’s AT libraries: http://www.atlclibrary.org/). Many of Avaz’s resource centers (https://www.avazapp.com/avaz-resource-centers/) are AT Lending libraries, where people can borrow an iPad with apps in it, and a parent/therapist can try out Avaz (or other apps) with their child before deciding on it. Since, these lending libraries offer a time based trial of the app, it’s critical that the speech therapists or parents have some evidence to decide if the app has worked for their child or not.
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Sensory Processing Disorders

Sensory processing refers to our ability to take in information through our senses (touch, movement, smell, taste, vision and hearing), organise and interpret that information and make a meaningful response. For most people, this process is automatic. Sensory Hotspots Children who have a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), however, don’t experience such interactions in the same way. SPD affects the way their brains interpret the information that comes in; it also affects how they respond to that information with emotional, motor and other reactions. Babies and toddlers learn about the new world around them by using their senses. At first they put everything in their mouths, they grab your finger with their little fists, then they start using their eyes to look at all those baby mobiles hanging over the crib. They learn to recognise the sound of their mother and father’s voices and other noises. They start putting meaning to what they are hearing and seeing. The lesser known senses that have to do with balance and body position are also necessary in order to making meaning of the world around. If these are not working properly and are not in synch, they acquire a distorted view of the world around them and also of themselves. Although a sensory processing disorder is not considered a qualifying characteristic for a diagnosis of autism, most people with autism have stated sensory processing challenges as the number one difficulty for them, regardless of where they are on the spectrum. So, many people on the autism spectrum have difficulty managing their sensory inputs. They may over- or under-react to visual, tactile and aural input – sometimes to the point where they are unable to participate in typical life activities. Information is processed by the brain in an unusual way that causes distress, discomfort and confusion.
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Using Avaz with motor planning

In my last post, I spoke about how some kids with special needs are better at motor planning than picture identification. In a nutshell, kids who tend towards motor planning can ‘remember’ a movement sequence that leads to selecting a word, and learn to associate that movement sequence with the word. It’s another way of building and using vocabulary. We build Avaz so that it could be used by nearly all kids with complex communication needs, and so we built in a number of features to support motor planners, too. Here are some tips about how you can set up Avaz for maximum efficacy if you think the child you are working with is stronger at motor planning than picture identification:
The settings for motor planners are grouped under

The settings for motor planners are grouped under “Picture settings (Behavior)” in Avaz.

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Contest Winner – Independence Day

Thank you all for participating in our Fourth of July – Independence Day contest. We were overwhelmed with the response!

A $50 iTunes gift card is on its way to Toby & McKade, who sent in this winning entry of McKade using Avaz to tell his parents what he would like to do each day. Toby also wrote a few lines to tell us he loves Avaz and how it has helped everyday interactions for him and his wife with their children.

Thank you. Avaz is our preferred AAC app. I have been so grateful to have found it. I love that there are different levels to use in the app. Thank you for what you all do for families like mine.”

IDay_contest_winner_Mckade_FB_1

McKade, age 9, uses Avaz to tell us what he wants to do each day!

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Approaches to Better Communication

It is widely known that children with developmental or language disabilities like autism have difficulties with identifying words from their sound or spelling. They need a different way of identifying words and using them to build their language and communication skills. In an interesting conversation with an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) expert we discussed two approaches that have worked well to build communication in the context of these disabilities: Picture Identification and Motor Planning. Picture Identification 17730588_s-300x200
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Independence Day Contest!

Independence Day is the celebration of an idea : An idea that all of us deserve to be free; that we have the freedom and rights to make choices and communicate those as best as we can. We are conducting an Independence Day contest this week and next (till July 14th, 2013) as this gives us a chance to thank our Avaz community for being part of our endeavor to help every child’s voice heard. Our last blog post on Independence Day Vocabulary set very easily enables your child to enjoy using Avaz this 4th of July. Contest Details: Stand the chance of winning a $50 Gift card at the iTunes Store (Terms & Conditions Apply)! To participate and win the Gift card its just one simple step: Mail us a photo of your child using the Avaz app and tell us how you used Avaz on Independence Day! Whether it was spending the long weekend with friends and family, seeing the Independence day parade, going on a long drive or dressing patriotically – there’s no fun activity that communication can’t make even more fun.
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Celebrate 4th of July with Avaz

Independence day – 4th of July is a day for Five Fs – Fun, Food, Family , Friends and Fireworks – and a time for celebration and enjoyment for everyone. There is so much to see all around and so many new experiences which your little wonder might get a chance to explore and learn from. To help your child express himself on this occasion and to enable you to prepare him for what’s coming up, we have created a special vocabulary set for Avaz users, for 4th of July. Whether it is expressing amazement at the sight of the American Flag, or happiness on watching the fireworks, or just conveying that he is tired and wants to go home – there are numerous thoughts that flash across his mind, waiting to be expressed. But not getting the right words cause disappointment to the child and might decrease his intent to communicate. The child’s joy at his ability to express exactly what he wants to say with the least effort, is what drives our team forward to create these little sets of vocabulary for you. So, with Avaz Version 2.1 we offer you the opportunity to download and add these tailor-made vocabulary sets to your Avaz content, which enable your child to express himself more accurately, for every special occasion.
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Avaz Vocabulary Sets: Raising the Bar with Avaz v2.1

We’re launching Avaz 2.1 today. We are very excited about the new feature that we are introducing in this version. We think it’s a big game-changer! Every time we meet and talk to educators, therapists and parents, we hear the same complaints — too much work, too little time. We’ve kept raising the bar on how user-friendly Avaz is, and we’ve tried very hard to make it the easiest AAC app to use. Version 2.0, which we launched only a couple of months back, had several great features that received awesome reviews all-round. But today, we’re going one step further – from enhancing the app’s features to helping you create content on it. Avaz 2.1 allows you to download and incorporate new words and vocabulary into your copy of the app, and we promise to keep creating interesting, research-based vocabulary, that you can use right off-the-bat. (e.g. a birthday party vocabulary set)
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Choosing an AAC app: it’s not even about the app!

One of the most insightful things I ever heard anyone say about AAC was the magnificent Ian Bean’s talk in 2012. His talk was called “The Killer App” — and his point was that the most important thing, which decides whether AAC works or doesn’t work, is not the app – it’s the way it is used; it’s not the technology, it’s the parent or therapist; it’s not the features, of the app, it’s the strategy of the caregiver. People often ask me what’s the best way to choose an iPad AAC app, and (when I take off my Avaz evangelist hat) I tell them, choose the app that you think that you, as a caregiver, would feel most empowered with. When you see an app, do you feel intimidated by it? Or do you get that tingly feeling of possibility, as ideas crowd around in your head about how you can use this shiny new tool in your arsenal to build communication skills in new, fun ways? Always choose an app in the second category. It doesn’t matter what the price is, or how famous it is, or how pretty the graphics are – what matters is how easy it is to incorporate in your strategy, and how comfortable you feel with it.
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Celebrating Father’s Day with AAC

While interacting in conferences, support groups and online forums, we’re more likely to run into moms rather than dads (Autism Daddy is a notable exception) – but this Father’s Day is a good time to thank all those awesome, amazing dads out there – for the incredible things they do for their kids, and for the amazing support they provide for moms. As SLPs and speech-language techs, we are sometimes guilty of looking too deeply on the ‘how’ and the ‘how much’ of communication, and too little on the ‘why’ and the ‘who’. Nearly every heart-warming story we’ve heard about Avaz and AAC usage is a beautiful interaction that happens between a parent and a kid. Whether it’s a kid expressing a food preference for the very first time to their parent, or seeing the awesomeness of the big smile of a kid who’s just got something they love by asking for it with AAC, or just sharing an emotion or a feeling.
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New & Improved Avaz 2.0

1. Track your therapy sessions

Therapists suggested that they would love to have the app track their therapy sessions automatically in the background. This would save them time from taking notes during or after therapy, and allows them to concentrate on their therapy instead. In this version, you can automatically track the users’ activities during a therapy session, by using the Track Session option under Settings. When you end the session, you get an option to email the session log. The session log maintains a log of all sentences spoken out, changes made to settings, and changes made to the vocabulary (add or edit).

2. Backup & Restore

Therapists voiced their concern that after customizing the vocabulary in a particular device, they were unable to backup the content, and would lose the content if they change the device. We now offer the option to backup the existing Avaz data onto your iPad using Create new backup from the Backup & Restore menu in Settings. To restore backed up content, select from the list of backups displayed. This restores the state of the app at the time of backup. The backups can be deleted by connecting to iTunes.

3. Use Dropbox to synchronize your Avaz content over multiple iPads

With this version it is really simple to synchronize your Avaz content over multiple devices. You can do this by linking your Dropbox account in Avaz. Use the Link to Dropbox option (under Settings -> Backup & Restore) to sign-in to Dropbox and then create backups of your Avaz content. Use the same Dropbox account on the other iPads to synchronize the content.

4. Share messages

Avaz now empowers the user to communicate with family and friends through the social media. An Avaz user can share messages (that Avaz speaks) through Facebook, Twitter or Email. Set the medium of communication using Share on Social media option in Settings. You can share the message after you speak it out from the message box. A child can say “hello” to his friends through email or wish “Happy birthday” to his grandmother on Facebook!

5. Color coded vocabulary

The vocabulary is now color-coded (optional) and grouped linguistically, to facilitate language development. You can also individually change the colors of any of the images using the Edit image option.

6. Enhanced vocabulary

Parents and therapists were keen to have vocabulary that serves a wider range of children, and offers increased opportunities for communication. The Avaz vocabulary has now been enhanced by an additional 2000+ words. You can choose from more than 80 topics of conversation under My Topics – e.g. “Go shopping”, “Play basketball”, “Pet care” etc. Each of these categories contains the relevant context words, supported by appropriate core words to facilitate sentence formation. These topics are grouped under the relevant settings or environment where they are likely to be used – e.g. At home, Outdoor etc.

7. Add your own voice to messages

Some parents and therapists wished to personalize the spoken messages by recording their own voice. You can now add your voice to the message using the Record button when you edit the message. This is also useful for correcting mis-pronounced words or words having different audio messages.
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Backing up your vocabulary with iTunes in Avaz 1.1

We just released a minor update of Avaz into the App store. Here are the major features * Backup functionality has been added through iTunes. You can now back up your vocabulary and transfer it between iPads if you want to. * Restoring the default vocabulary is faster * A few minor bug-fixes The backup functionality was something that many people asked for. While we’re working on a new backup mechanism for v1.2, this one has the basics covered.
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Avaz – Success Stories

It is certainly a pleasure to know what our customers feel about us! I was completely overwhelmed when I went through the articles written by Mukund, a student of SPASTN. Read on to know more about Mukund and how Avaz has transformed his life. Thanks to Ms. Jyothi, speech therapist of Mukund and Mrs. Jayashree, the Director of SPASTN. The article below was typed out on Avaz by Mukund and his teacher has written it down.
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A day at the library with Avaz

We love to hear stories of Avaz users generalizing AAC beyond the classroom, and that’s why we found the story of Gopinath in the library so much fun. Gopinath is 11 years old, with CP, and he’d been using Avaz for a few months when his therapist decided to take him (and Avaz) out of the classroom and into the big world outside. There’s a large public library only a few blocks from his school, and Gopinath was only too glad for the opportunity to skip out and go there. It was a lot of fun for Gopinath and his therapist to pick a book to read in the Children’s section. The shelves in the Children’s section are low and really well-designed, and Gopinath, on his wheelchair, could browse all of the books without too much assistance. He ended up choosing a colourfully illustrated book about a tiger cub and a little boy, and used Avaz to request his therapist to take out the book for them to read together.
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Evolution of Avaz’s easy to use features

The #1 comment we hear from reviewers of Avaz is how easy it is to use! Some people think that products that are easy to use are also easy to build. If only this were true. It’s easy to build complicated AAC systems – just put in everything including the kitchen sink, build the code, and release into the app store. To make something simple is rather more work. With Avaz, we went through many iterations before we could get something that was ‘simple enough’. The first generation of Avaz couldn’t be customized from the device – you had to customize it on the PC, and then load it in. The next version was better, but still cumbersome – to add a new word, you would type it in the keyboard mode, and save it as a picture for it to show up in the picture mode. It seems the most intuitive idea now to make every screen of Avaz editable with a single click on the Edit pencil – as it is today – but it took many iterations to get to that point!
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Some Common misconceptions about AAC

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is the name given to devices and apps that can help non-verbal children with cerebral, autism, mental retardation, Downs syndrome and other disabilities to communicate. While developing and demonstrating Avaz, I’ve heard parents express numerous misconceptions about AAC. A child with special needs isn’t empowered to make his or her own choices about AAC, which is why a parent’s misconceptions are doubly dangerous. Here are some of the most popular ‘myths’ I’ve heard: 1. My child can talk – if she uses an AAC aid, she will not feel motivated to develop natural speech. This is the most dangerous myth of all. Some non-verbal autistic children go on to become verbal and some do not. Withholding communication and trying to insist on natural speech prevents a child from experiencing a normal childhood, with new experiences, expressing curiosity, and making friends. Even for those children who do become verbal eventually, research has shown that using an AAC aid actually assists the process, instead of inhibiting it. 2. My child is too young to get started with AAC. This is related to the ‘can talk’ myth. Thirty years of AAC use have demonstrated very clearly that early intervention is key to managing autism and other disabilities effectively. The brain is very plastic before the age of 6 – new neurons are created, and new connections are formed between different parts of the brain. Picture-based AAC aids for autism work by bypassing the brain’s verbal center and instead using the visual center or language-planning center for developing language. The earlier the intervention, the greater the likelihood of success. I’ve seen stellar successes in AAC intervention with kids as young as 2.
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Babu Loves His Biryani

In the dimly lit Audiology room, 10-year-old Babu emanates energy and good cheer. Accompanied by his mother, he seems excited about his Avaz communication therapy session with his teacher Ms. Radhamani. Babu has cerebral palsy and is quadriplegic.  This doesn’t stop him from having fun with the people around him. Before sitting in on his session; a struggle between him, the teacher, and Avaz was anticipated. However, the reality was far from what was envisioned. In the next forty-five minutes that was spent with Babu, many wonderfully lighthearted moments were shared. He joked with his mother and giggled. And saw his mother’s beaming pride as he navigated the device to speak his mind.  Of the many instances that were spent with Babu, one stood out in particular because it was – for lack of a better way of putting it – super cute. His teacher asked him about his favorite foods. Babu quickly navigated the screens with his little finger, scrolling up and down searching for his choice. Then looking up at his mother, his face broke into a naughty smile. Biryani (Indian spiced rice), he tapped. Biryani, biryani, biryani, he persisted laughing all the while. Soon, everyone joined in and his mother happily said to Ms. Radhamani “Yes, he really does love biryani”. Using Avaz, Babu was also able to tell his teacher what he wanted to eat for lunch, and his mother was more than happy to comply. Another instance was when Ms. Radhamani asked him about his family. With almost no hesitation, he tapped on ‘brother’, to the delight of his mom. “He really loves his brother”, she said proudly. But Ms. Radhamani wanted to go further. She wanted him to name the members of his family in order of age. With a little encouragement, he was soon able to tap on Father, Mother, and Brother in that order. Babu’s success with Avaz is a testimonial to the device’s potential to help a child communicate. Babu has only used Avaz for two weeks (yes, ONLY two weeks!), and he has already advanced from picture mode to text mode. A combination of his lessons, individual and group Avaz sessions, and a consistent use of AAC at home – has enabled Babu to make great progress. He has developed his sight reading skills and is now able to better communicate his thoughts and preferences. At the end of the session, he ended by tapping on Thank You. The emotions and pride felt by Babu’s mother were very evident. From this interaction, we were able to observe what seemed to work for Babu and what didn’t. We were able to put together some tips to facilitate effective engagement with any AAC device or app.
  • Individual attention is the best kind, but group sessions help build social interaction skills.
  • Being consistent with the AAC normalizes the device to the child, so they’re able to acclimate to it faster.
  • Give the child as long as they need to ‘discover’ the device. Do not be impatient, and do not immediately prompt.
  • Set short term and long term goals for the child’s progress using the AAC device.
  • Do not get comfortable. If you see that the child has mastered the picture mode, for example, challenge them by gradually shifting to text. Challenges keep kids motivated, especially when they’re able to overcome them!

Most importantly, keep providing positive reinforcement to help the child stay motivated to use the device.
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Contingency Mapping to enhance positive behavior in autistic learners

Inspired by a recent post by Speech-Language and AAC specialist, Dr. Carole Zangari, we’re bringing to you the basics of contingency mapping and its merits in decreasing behavioral problems in autistic children. We think this strategy shows immense potential in creating and sustaining an environment where lesser time is spent on tending to behavioral issues, allowing for more time and energy to be devoted to learning AAC use. What is Contingency Mapping: Contingency mapping, developed by Dr. Brown and Dr. Mirenda is the process whereby pictorial representations of antecedent – behavior – consequence pathways are created. The map shows divergent pathways depicting consequences of desired behavior (or alternative behavior) as well as undesired behavior (or problem behavior) from the learner. It contains the following components: – the common antecedent that occurs before the problem behavior (and alternative behavior) – the topography of the problem behavior and alternative behavior – the functional reinforcement that will be provided if the learner avoids the problem behavior – the absence of this reinforcement that will not be provided if the learner continues the problem behavior. (Brown,
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The importance of motivation

In using AAC devices, I’ve noticed that parents tend to envision the device as an automatic solution to their child’s communication needs. Parents anticipate that the child will take to the device right away with somewhat of a sustained interest, and express disillusion with it when he/she doesn’t use it the way they expected. Some parents report their children touching the wrong keys, responding incorrectly and getting distracted. Disheartened by the lack of immediate results, parents spend decreasing amounts of time helping their child with the AAC.In India, where the credibility of AACs and its success is still little known, there is a skepticism towards using technology, which in turn impacts how much the child is actually exposed to the device. If the child doesn’t respond quickly to the device, parents stop encouraging him/her to use it: it becomes easy to blame the technology, to claim that it isn’t a good fit for them.
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The Disconnect

India is indeed a paradox. Those of us in India are aware of the extremes that we find ourselves in the middle of, yet sometimes the disconnect between the two polar ends takes becomes more real, more unsettling than ever. Recently, I found myself in such a position of disillusionment. It came in the newspaper one morning, when I read about a mother in Tamil Nadu, India seeking euthanasia for her 14 year old daughter – Madhumita – who suffers from cerebral palsy. The mother – Jaya’s – disheartening appeal was the result of her being unable to access adequate care services for her daughter. In the words of Ms. Jaya, “She cannot walk or speak. She cannot even identify us. She sits all the time in her wheelchair or lies on her bed. The only thing she does is cry. I am taking care of her with great difficulty and I am worried about her future”. The family whose income was insufficient to cater to their daughter’s medical expenses said that the homes for rehabilitation were unwilling to accept Madhumita, driving them to seek this drastic measure. This is particularly unsettling because my work with Avaz has exposed me to the expanse of individuals and companies that are coming up with new technology and solutions to the very problems of communication and mobility that Jaya talks about. Even within India, there is no dearth of such technology – it is just overwhelming problem of connecting these resources with the people like Madhumita that most need it. Is it a lack of awareness, funding, governmental intervention or an amalgamation of all of this? In any case, it was shocking to me, as I work alongside individuals who envision better futures for children like Madhumita, that there are still many who are being left behind – that structural problems of society cause families to make such extreme decisions in evident desparation. Can this change?
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A visit to Chrysalis

I walk into Chyrsalis – a small school for autistic children in Neelankarai, Chennai- and I’m greeted by smiles. In a courtyard shaded by trees, children interact with their teachers, tossing a ball back and forth to each other. It is oddly serene, and I am immediately put at ease. Inside, I meet the director of the school Ms. Rekha, and Ms. Viviani – a special educator, who have graciously agreed to share their experiences with Avaz – their stories – with me. “We feel like we’ve become better people” Due to our extensive reliance on language to express and understand emotions, sometimes an autistic child’s feelings go unnoticed, or are misinterpreted. Several high-functioning autistic adults have elucidated that as children, they often had instances where they felt intense emotions (such as those of anger or fear) but had trouble expressing those feelings coherently. Here, AAC devices help facilitate this very expression, by giving a voice to previously unspoken feelings. Rekha and Viviani recount the instance where a young student was in distress, crying incessantly. It was by using AVAZ that she was able to relay to her instructors that she wanted to see her mother, who had passed away. Needless to say, both Rekha and Viviani were overwhelmed by the extent to which the little girl was able to express her emotions when given the right tools. According to Rekha, AVAZ has helped the faculty of Chrysalis be better listeners and establish deeper connections with the students. “Don’t leave me alone” A 5 year old at Chrysalis was gearing for his transfer to a mainstream school about a year ago, and as a part of this process, he was required to attend an assessment session at his new school. Upon his return, his teachers were eager to hear about how it went. Using AVAZ, they asked him questions about his experience. Pushing the device away, he burst into tears, then taking back the device, he used it to say “Don’t leave me alone”. Later, AVAZ helped him communicate to his teachers his fears about transferring to the new school – he thought his teachers were pushing him away and leaving him. Understanding this, the teachers were able to pacify him, tell him that he would never be alone, and explain to him how much fun he was going to have at his new school. Great reviews The ease of navigability and extensive customization options are features that make AVAZ most appealing to the students at Chrysalis. The predictability of the software, coupled with the appeal of the touch screen make communication a hands-on, enjoyable activity geared to the multi-sensory needs of an autistic child. Rekha notes that the intent to communicate has grown, and more children are taking the initiative to communicate. Rekha and Viviani have only good things to say, and in the year that it has been in use, Avaz seems to have brought about many wonderful improvements. I leave as I came, with a smile on my face.
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Helping Jyothi speak – Lalitha’s reflections

Visiting Akshaya Prathishtan, I knew that the wheels of change had been set in motion. There was none of the initial resistance and skepticism about using Avaz, only progress and communication. The kids have only been using the device for a month and a half, yet the developments have been incredibly encouraging. Interestingly, most of the children are hearing impaired, and therefore the the effectiveness of a voice output device was suspect. Yet even in the short time span, not only has communication increased, but simultaneously so has the will to do so. We had a meeting with around 10 children (current users and potential users) along with their parents. One child, Jyothi, who has never spoken at all save a couple of words in all her 14 years is suddenly attempting to speak. Although the words are not comprehensible, she is making a very strong attempt at trying to speak. Her mother who had also come there was extremely happy with her progress and was very happy to share her experience with all others there. This is a very heartening response to the those who believe that a voice output device would impede speech development – on the contrary it has resulted in speech development within barely a month of usage! Most moving was hearing her parents express their heartfelt happiness and excitement about their child’s improved speech. Other children also tried it for the first time that day. They were able to quickly understand the text mode and even started using it to type their names, parents’ names etc. One of them even used the clear button to clear the message box after using it ! He was so keen to use it that he refused to give it to the next in the queue ! It is moments like these that stay with us, and show us that with a little help, encouragement and an open mind, anything is possible.
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