Dipak Ghosh – The World at His Toes

Dec 06, 2018

“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 –  


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.

  • Select Your Country
    Select Your Country

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.

  • Effective Communication Tips

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.

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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!

 

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!

  • Advaith making bead necklaces

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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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 customized for his needs

  • Also included were “Yes” and “No” as well as “More” and “Enough” options.
    Also included were “Yes” and “No” as well as “More” and “Enough” options.

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.

  • We were reading poetry as Tarun likes reading poetry and this conversation followed that.

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 Julia Laferrera.

Julia 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. Julia 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 US (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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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. This week in our initiative, World Through Their Eyes, we spoke to Akila Vaidyanathan, Founder, Director of The AMAZE Charitable Trust, Coimbatore and Founder 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 to 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 disability, improve their quality of life. She uses this 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 mother’s 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 his/her own purpose because each of us is unique and different. Letting your child be his 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 styles, 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 himself in his own ways.

Tip 4: Multiple modes of communication

Expose your child and allow him to respond to multiple modes of communication. These could include gestures, picture charts etc., which makes him less anxious to attempt speech. This might make him more willing to repeat words, which might have been more stressful to him earlier, because of the lack of acceptance. The child should feel accepted, even when he doesn’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 him ask for more.

Tip 6: Get your hands dirty!

Get on the floor and play with your child! This is going to help him understand another area of his life – social area. When the child watches someone else play a game, he learns 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 the 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 he is 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 his senses, more dominantly than the others. He may be using or focussing 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 start talking to your child. You will have his 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? Leave a comment 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

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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Avaz – AAC Awareness Month discount

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!

40% off on all Avaz Products

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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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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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Is one hour of speech therapy at school sufficient for your child?

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.”

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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

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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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