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How Play Therapy Techniques Help Children Cope with Routine Changes

Jul 09, 2020

These are uncertain times and it's important that we prioritize the emotional and mental health of our families as we come to terms with the new normal. So, we must encourage our loved ones to talk about how they feel and reassure them that it's okay to feel a bit low at times. The key is to reach out for help when you feel overwhelmed and stay positive. Masks all around, not being able to go out, virtual classrooms - young children can feel anxious and vulnerable with the changes in their schedules and routines. The inability to express their fears and concerns can make their anxieties worse. This can result in challenging behaviours or deeper emotional struggles. Playtime is an excellent opportunity where you can help children open up and acknowledge their feelings.  When Play Becomes Therapy Playing is probably one of the top favourite activities of most children. Apart from fun which is the obvious benefit, playing can also help children build their skills and boost self-esteem. Play therapy is a process by which children of all abilities are given tools to engage in fun activities that provide a sense of belonging and inclusion. This psychological intervention method uses play to address the physical, cognitive, emotional needs of a child. Studies have shown that play therapy can have far greater benefits with parental involvement. It can serve as a method for parents to understand the world through the child's eyes.  Benefits of Play Therapy Playing can help in nurturing skills that are required for children to lead fulfilling lives. Here are some of the skills that can be developed through play:
  1. Self-expression
  2. Self-regulation
  3. Problem Solving 
  4. Addressing Fears
  5. Managing Stress
  6. Social Interactions
  7. Social Communication 
  8. Self-dependence
  9. Sensory behaviours
Simple Play Therapy Activities  Since each child is unique, a professional play therapist can help in identifying activities that  work best for the child. Here are a few simple activities play therapists recommend to help children cope with their emotions: The Magic Wand Game This game that helps children to talk about their fears may not require anything more than a decorated stick. The game involves telling the child that they can use the wand to ask for three wishes. Experts say that most children may talk about their existing problems in at least one of their wishes. Children can also be encouraged  to be specific in their wishes. 'You can wish for something you would like to change in your life right now' 'What would you want to disappear from the world to make you happy?' The Worry Box Some children who tend to overthink may not know how to process their worries. Asking them to ‘not worry’ may not comfort them because they may feel that their feelings were undermined. By giving them the tools to make sense of their worries, we can help them navigate their negative thoughts. A ‘worry box’ involves the child  writing or drawing their worries and putting it in a box for safekeeping. An adult can help the child in putting their worries on a piece of paper. Any empty cardboard box lying around the house can be used as a ‘worry box’. Getting the child to decorate the box can help them get comfortable with the process. As each worry is written, the child can be encouraged to talk about the worry. Every day, the worries can be discussed with the child and any new worries can be addressed. This reassures the child that all their worries will be heard and understood. Deep breathing StarBreathing Exercises We all know that taking deep breaths can help in calming us when we face stressful situations. Young children may need help in learning how to take deep breaths when they feel stressed. One simple technique used to teach deep breathing is with shapes. As children trace these shapes, they learn to inhale, hold their breath and exhale to take deep breaths. Bubbles can also be used to teach deep breathing to children. Blowing a big bubble can help children learn how to breathe deep from the stomach and exhale slowly. Social stories can also be used to tell children how our body can relax when it gets more oxygen. This can help children understand why they feel anxiety in their bodies and that they can deep breathe to calm themselves.                Hope you found these play therapy techniques useful. Please share your feedback and suggestions in the comment section below.  
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5 Simple Activities to Develop the Emotional Intelligence of Learners with Disabilities

Have you ever thought about how many distinct emotions we generally feel throughout a day? Emotions, big or small, play a major role in determining the decisions we make everyday. Emotional intelligence, therefore, is an important skill to have for everyone. Simply put, it’s the ability to be aware of one’s emotions and identifying those of others. Teaching young children to recognize their various emotions but it can be quite a tricky task. Children with developmental disabilities and cognitive deficits, especially, may need additional help in identifying and regulating their emotions.

Emotional IntelligencceF is for Fun and Feelings 

Imagine giving a lecture to young children about all the 27 distinct emotions that humans are said to have. No matter how articulate you are, chances are most children might not pick up any valuable information on how to deal with emotions. Emotions is a complex concept to teach. As distinct as many of these emotions are, they are also interconnected. So, the best way to teach emotion is through fun activities and games. Here are a few simple, interesting ideas to help children learn emotions:
  • Story and Movies
What’s great about using stories and movies  is that you can teach emotions with an activity that most children typically love. They also offer excellent opportunities to help children make the connection between an emotion and something that happened in the story.  “Look at Sara. She looks sad.” “I think she is sad because her brother fought with her.” You can use emotion cards while reading the story and ask children to place the right emotion card that corresponds to how the character in the story is feeling. "Johnny got a huge present. He must be feeling…" Encourage the child to place the right emotion card or tap the appropriate icon in their AAC system.
  • Emotion Masks Game
Make DIY masks using craft paper and draw the different emotions on them. There are two ways to play this game. One is to wear a mask and ask the learner to identify the emotion. You can also explain a situation and encourage the learner to tell you how they would feel by wearing a mask. "Remember when you were the first to finish the puzzle. How did you feel?" "You told me that you miss your grandparents. How do you feel about that?"
  • Personal Photo Album
This can be a fun project to do with siblings and friends. Name an emotion or give a scenario and ask children to act out the emotions they would feel. "You dropped your ice cream on the floor. How would you feel?" "I'm baking  your favourite cake today. How would you feel?" "Your tablet runs out of charge. How would you feel?" Click photos as children make faces to show the different emotions. Print the photos and make an album. Use the album to help children identify the facial expressions corresponding to each emotion.
  • Emotions ScaleEmotions Scale/ Chart 
Also called, Feelings scale or stress chart, this is a very simple tool with which we can teach children to identify their emotions. The scale has numeric and visual representation of feelings ranging from positive to negative. Encourage children to point to the color or picture that represents how they are feeling. When you find them in a good mood, ask them to tell you how they feel using the scale. If you noticed any antecedent to challenging behaviours, tell them they can use the scale to tell you when they get frustrated or overwhelmed.
  • Voice Recordings
The volume and tone in which we speak can imply emotions. Children with social communication challenges can miss these cues and can misinterpret messages. One way to teach voice tone to children is record sentences with different voice tones. Play them back and explain how the different tones can suggest different emotions. Speaking the same sentence in different tones helps children understand that tone is something they should pay attention to in addition to facial expressions.  "I don't want to talk now" can be said in a sad and angry tone. "She gave me this story book" can be said in different tones indicating excitement, disappointment, happiness, and anger.

Avaz AAC Resources for Teaching Emotions

Here's a story about Johnny, a little boy and his different emotions. Read the story and help the child identify the emotions. You can ask the learner to match the emotion tiles from the given Vocab Toolbox to the emotions in the book. You can also encourage them to tap the corresponding emotion icon on their AAC system.                 It's important to give communicators vocabulary to describe their emotions so that they can express their distinct feelings. Avaz AAC offers extensive vocabulary for emotions. You can download communication board for emotions here.    
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Avaz’s Top 4 Accessibility Features of iOS 14

Apple’s online-only Worldwide Developers Conference 2020 kicked off in great style on June 22nd with the company unveiling features of iOS 14 in its keynote. The beta of iOS 14 is available for developers now and is slated to be available for the public in July. From introducing widgets to enhanced Siri experience, there’s a lot that iOS 14 brings. But nothing excites us more than the new accessibility features in iOS 14. Here are the top 5 accessibility features we love in iOS 14:

iOS14 accessibility features1. Sound Recognition

Your iPhone or iPad can now detect a sound you’ve configured it to listen for. The device's intelligence shows  on-screen notification when it comes across 14 different sounds, namely, Fire Alarm, Siren, Smoke Alarm, Cat, Dog, Appliances, Car Horn, Door Bell, Door Knock, Water Running, Baby Crying, and Shouting.  Whom Does it Help:  People who are deaf or hard of hearing How to enable Sound Recognition 
  • Launch Settings from your Home screen.
  • Tap Accessibility.
  • Tap Sound Recognition.
  • Tap the Sound Recognition On/Off Switch.

2. Back Tap

This is a cool feature which allows users to perform several quick actions by tapping on the back of the iPhone. It can be used for 23 actions and users can assign separate tap gestures for the different actions. By double tapping or triple tapping, you can take screenshots, turn the volume up and down, mute, scroll, open the control center, and launch apps.  Whom it Helps: People with limitations in fine motor capabilities How to Enable Back Tap:
  • Launch Settings
  • Tap Accessibility
  • Tap Touch
  • Tap Back Tap 

3. VoiceOver

Apple's  VoiceOver  that translates on-screen text into speech gets new functionalities in iOS14.  Apples's  on-device machine learning recognizes key elements displayed on the screen and provides VoiceOver support for pages and apps without built-in accessibility features. It speaks the text recognized within images and reads full-sentence descriptions. Whom it Helps: People with vision impairments How to Set Up Voice Over:
  • Launch Settings from your Home screen.
  • Tap Accessibility.
  • Tap VoiceOver under the Vision Category
  • Tap Voiceover Switch to turn it ON

4. Headphones Accommodations

This awesome  new feature amplifies soft sounds and adjusts certain frequencies to suit an individual’s hearing. There are 3 amplification settings with which you can customize settings for movies, music, phone calls, etc. Headphone Accommodations also works with Airpod Pro’s Transparency mode making quiet voices in your surroundings more audible. Whom it Helps: People who are deaf or hard of hearing How to enable Headphone Accommodations:
  • Launch Settings from your Home screen.
  • Tap Accessibility.
  • Tap Audio/Visual.
  • Tap the Headphone Accommodations On/Off Switch 
Apart from the above mentioned  features, iOS 14 also offers exciting features such as Sign Language Prominence with which FaceTime can detect when an user is using sign language and make the person prominent in a Group FaceTime call. With these updates, Apple has reiterated its commitment to make technology more accessible.
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Using Social Stories to Explain Social Situations

Social stories are simple narratives that help people having deficits in social pragmatics  understand appropriate social interaction protocols and responses. While they were originally developed for children on the spectrum, they can be useful for people of all ages having social communication challenges. Visual representation of a situation or concept as depicted in social stories can be more meaningful to people with auditory processing issues than verbal instructions. Moreover, social stories help in reinforcing concepts by repeating the information consistently.

Using social stories is an evidence-based practice created in 1991 by Carol Gray, a teacher for children with autism. They are essentially visual descriptions of a situation, event, concept, or activity. The purpose of the story is to help children understand the situation better and to teach them socially appropriate responses. 

How to write social stories? 

A poorly made social story can convey wrong information to a child. So, it’s necessary to put some thought into what the story is about. Here are few things to keep in mind while writing a social story. 

     1.Use Simple Language             

Make sure that the language is uncomplicated and does not leave much to interpretation. Typically, social stories are written from the perspective of the person for whom you’re creating the story. You can also use third person language for some older kids.           

  1. Keep it to the Point

You may want to convey a lot of information but all that cannot be cramped into one social story. If you have different events or concepts that you need to address, create individual stories for them. 

  1. Collect All Relevant Information

Before you start writing a story, be clear about the purpose of the story. If it’s about a particular event, try and think of all the details you have about that event. For example, if you want to write a story about an upcoming birthday party, look at how the learner had reacted to such events in the past. Was there anything particular that made them uncomfortable? Was there anything that they thoroughly enjoyed? Getting all the details written down helps you build an effective story. 

  1. Make it Visual 

Use a lot of pictures and include personal pictures if possible. For example, if you are writing a story about how to organize their things in the classroom, use pictures of their desk, materials, bins where their things should be placed, etc. This can help them make the connection to the things the story is referring to. 

Benefits of Using Social Stories 

Children with autism and other developmental disabilities may have processing delays and may struggle with generalization of a concept. Their sensory issues or communication deficits may also lead to challenging behaviors. Verbal instructions may not be effective and therefore social stories are seen as an excellent means to give directions to children and for behavioral regulation. 

Creating Social Stories Using Avaz AAC 

You can use Avaz AAC to create social stories in no time. With Avaz AAC, you can bing search for images from within the app. This means that you need not search for images on the web and import it into the app. You can also add multiple words/phrases at a go. A main advantage of making stories with Avaz AAC is that there is auditory feedback as the learner taps on the icons of the AAC system. Screen recording of the social story gives you a video which you can play for the learner when needed.

Here is a sample story made with Avaz AAC.

   

You can find more COVID related social stories here.

Download a free editable social story for Learning from Home here.

Get the Word file and personalize it as you wish 😊

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Building Language for All Communicative Functions – Greetings, Questions, and Expressing Feelings

Last week, we learnt strategies and vocabulary required for a few communicative functions such as Requesting, Refusing, and Commenting. This week, let’s see how we can build language for a few more communicative functions - namely, Greetings, Answering Questions, and Expressing Feelings. There are, of course, more communicative functions and we’ll see how we can build a communicator’s language for those purposes in future blogs. 

Greetings:

Greetings are one of the fundamental components of social communication. It sets the tone for conversations and gets communicators started on making connections with others.

Strategies:

  1. Teach them to wave hi,  give high fives, and fist bumps (or foot-taps and elbow bumps during these COVID times). You can come up with more elaborate and cooler greetings young kids are into these days to get them motivated.
  2. Use low tech cards with Hi, Hello, and vocabulary for other pleasantries we commonly exchange.
  3. Enlist a peer such as a friend or a sibling and encourage the children to greet each other.
  4.  If the communicator has a high tech AAC system, make sure they have  quick access to pres-stored phrases for greetings.

Vocabulary:

Hi, Hello, How are you, Good morning, Thank you. I’m fine

Answering Questions

Asking too many questions can make the communicator feel tested. So, we must make sure we make a lot of comments and observations too as we ask questions. It's also important to include open-ended questions to encourage the communicators to express their thoughts on any given topic. 

Strategies:

  1. A good point to start will be questions about the communicator's favourite objects or activities.

       Is this your truck?

      Do you want to listen to music now?

If you are convinced that the communicator's answer to these questions will be a 'Yes', model the language by tapping 'Yes' on the AAC system. Make sure to reinforce it by granting the object/activity immediately.

     Ask open-ended questions related to the communicator's favourite thing / activity.

     This truck looks cool. What other toys do you like?

    2. Ask questions related to pictures, storybooks, and television shows the child is interested in. 

       'What's the little girl eating?'

       'Who gave cake to the dog?

        Make a few comments before asking the questions and encourage the communicator to make inferences from what they're reading.

         The mom looks mad because Jessica lied to her.

         Do you think Jessica is going to be punished?

    3. Involve peers and make them ask questions to each other. Children learn better when it's more fun. Have children make silly faces or make silly dance moves and then ask them to stop.

       'Do you want to continue making silly faces?'

If the communicator responds, acknowledge and praise. Explain what they have conveyed to you by saying 'Yes'.

 Ex'Oh..you're saying 'Yes'. So, you're saying you'd like to keep making silly faces. Sure. Go ahead'

Vocabulary:

Yes, No, Agree, Disagree, here, there, now, later, etc. 

Expressing Feelings 

There is a wide range of emotions and communicators should be taught to identify these distinct emotions. When children don't have the proper means to express their feelings, they may resort to challenging behaviours. It's important that we teach them to understand and label their emotions. Once they are able to recognize their emotions, they can be taught coping strategies for when they feel overwhelmed with strong emotions.

Strategies:

  1. Use tools such as emotion wheel and games to help children identify and label emotions.
  2. Talk about your emotions throughout the day. Make sure you talk about negative emotions such as your anger, disappointment etc. This will encourage the communicators to discuss their negative emotions too.

        I got mad when I saw the messy table. 

        Talk about how you dealt with those emoti ons and tell the communicators they can do               something similar too. 

        I just took a deep breath and listened to some music to calm myself down.  Once I was                  calm, I requested you to help me clean the table.

     3. Storybooks are great resources to discuss emotions. Talk about the emotional journey of              the characters in the story. Help communicators see the correlation between an event and            an emotion.

       He's happy because he won the game.

      She lost her teddy bear. She must be sad.

      Draw the communicator's attention to facial expressions that convey the different emotions          so that they can identify the emotions in people around them. This, in turn, helps them                  identify their own emotions. 

     4. It's important that AAC users have access to extensive vocabulary for the various emotions.           Some children may feel sad when they don’t get to do their favourite activity while others             may get mad or feel  disappointed about it.   Communicators should have access to quick               phrases with which they can vent their feelings. Include phrases in their AAC systems for               their coping mechanisms too so that they can communicate to others when they need to be           left alone or that they don’t feel understood. 

       Get away from me

       I’m going to my room 

       I need a break now

       You’re not listening to me

       I’m frustrated 

       Something’s bothering me

Vocabulary:

happy, sad, frustrated, excited, disappointed, funny, great, mad, etc.

Communicative Functions with Reading

Shared reading can be a great way to teach communicative functions to AAC users. As you read text, encourage the communicator to answer questions. We have put together a Language Learning Bundle with a story to encourage answering questions in emergent communicators.

How to Use the Bundle:ead Language Builder Instructions PDF given below for details on how to use this bundle. Click on the below icons to download the individual PDFs  

Download all the above resources as a Language Builder Bundle here

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Understanding Prompting Hierarchy

Any new learning can be quite overwhelming for the user. New users can benefit from prompting, regardless of age, communication skills, or cognitive ability.  Prompts can be used to assist the user in successfully learning to perform a task - it is a method of guiding the user to give the correct response. If you don’t prompt, the user will continue an incorrect behaviour, and the motivation to learn will decrease. But it's important to understand that prompts may be difficult to fade. This is where knowledge of prompting hierarchy can be handy

What is a prompt?

A prompt is a cue or instruction that is given before or during a user's action or response. There are different types of prompts that you can use to motivate the user to learn and succeed.

What are the different types of prompts?

There are different types of prompts:

Verbal prompts, such as saying “Tap the picture of cookies!”

Gestural prompts, such as pointing to an appropriate icon on Avaz  AAC app that remind them to use it.

Physical prompting. It usually includes hand under hand (which is largely recommended in literature) and that can be easily faded. Physical prompts also include taking the user’s hand and making them point to the appropriate icon. Physical prompting is less helpful and using them is not really advocated and it is extremely culturally sensitive (and it does not support safe practices that are important to protect vulnerability)

Prompting Hierarchy - Least-to-most prompting

Though prompts are very useful in teaching a new concept and working on the use of it, it is also important to use them carefully. Users become dependent on prompts easily and  would seek an adult's or partner’s help before they make any type of response. Research suggests the hierarchy of least-to-most prompting as it provides the user sufficient time to respond to a natural stimulus occurring in the environment. Prompting hierarchy refers to the order and different levels of support that can be used to help the user get the appropriate responses. Remember, as you decide the type of prompts you also need to think of ways to fade prompts over time. Regardless of how often we provide prompts or what type of prompts we provide, providing a model of the possible words suitable in the conversation is considered the most useful strategy we can use.

Let us look at various prompts ranging from least intrusive to most intrusive with encouraging  the user to use the word ‘GO’ to make the car go.

The Powerful Pause

While using each prompt, it is most important to give an expectant pause and WAIT for the user’s response. The wait time can vary from 5-15 secs for the user to produce the expected response. When you say something, wait for a response. If the user says something, respond and move on. If the user doesn’t respond, give the next prompt in the hierarchy and WAIT for the response.  If you don’t use enough wait time, you may be providing more prompts than needed. Remember, rushing through prompts essentially takes away opportunities for the user to respond.

Hierarchy of Prompts

Indirect Verbal

If the user does not respond, you can give indirect verbal prompts to help them construct a response.

Hierarchy of prompts

What is Prompt dependence?

This occurs when a user needs (depends on) prompts in order to respond. In many cases a user is accidentally taught to wait for a certain prompt before responding.

Some reasons for prompt dependency are:

  • Over-use of  prompts

  • Helping too much or helping too soon

  • Failure to fade prompts

  • Repeated use of prompt hierarchy across all the environments and partners thus hindering independent selection of icons

Prompt fading

If the user doesn’t respond, give the next prompt in the hierarchy and WAIT for the response.  If you don’t use enough wait time, you may be providing more prompts than needed. Remember, rushing through prompts essentially takes away opportunities for the user to respond. Inappropriate prompting can result in prompt dependence, passive engagement, and of course poor use of communication tools. Hence it is very important to start fading prompts gradually but consistently so that the user doesn’t become dependent on the prompts. Start with the one that is most appropriate for the user, but regardless of the prompt used, work towards making your user independent of the prompt. Fade each type of prompt until the user is able to respond independently, without any prompts.

Courtesy: Compiled by Octave Speech and Hearing, Bangalore.

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Teaching Young AAC Users to Be Aware, Sensitive, and Empowered

Different parts of the world have seen protests & other sorts of upheavals in the past few months. Children may struggle to make sense of all that's going on around them. And the best way to support them during this time is, to talk to them about it.  Although younger children may not comprehend the enormity of the topics being discussed, it's imperative that they don't stay oblivious to important discussions as they grow up. Many of the biases and prejudices primarily stem from ignorance. So, for young AAC users  to grow into responsible citizens of the world, they must be aware of the conversations that are taking place in society.  From climate change to handling of the pandemic or politics, we may all have different opinions. We may also have different ways in which we address these topics. All of them are valid as long as they come from a place of understanding. Now, more than ever, we need to seek common ground as we embrace different viewpoints. Similarly, there’s no one right way to talk about topics which may be difficult to explain to children. Here are a few simple  things we can do to ensure that AAC users are in the know and are not left without a say on significant social events.

Standing up for Themselves

Children must be encouraged to have their opinions and must be  given ample opportunities to express them. Parents and professionals need to be mindful of giving them the space to express their opinions even if it may be inconvenient for them. Some children may not be more forthcoming with their opinions, likes, and dislikes. That does not mean they don't have one. Give sufficient visual or verbal prompts as required  to help them express their views.  As for vocabulary that builds agency. ‘Stop’ and ‘No’ are very powerful words that give a communicator control over their surroundings.  Look for activities that the communicator is not keen on doing or antecedents for challenging behaviors. Once you can identify an activity the communicator dislikes, ask them to do the activity and tell them they could use ‘No’ to refuse the activity. Try to acknowledge and honour their refusal as much as possible. Similarly, encourage them to use ‘Stop’ during an activity if they do not want to continue doing it. Once you’ve finished playing a song during Music time, ask them if they want you to ‘stop’ or ‘play’. Model these words across different activities such as reading and playtime until they gain an understanding of how to use them in various scenarios. The communicator’s AAC system must be programmed with vocabulary that aligns with their right to express themselves freely. Include pre-stored phrases for negation such as  'Not good' 'Don't want' ‘I Don't like It' As children grow, it’s important to tailor these phrases and include more that suit their personalities. ‘I need some space’ ‘I need some time for myself’ ‘I disagree’ ‘This is not right’ ‘This is unfair’ AAC users deserve these and more vocabulary with which they can fume, disagree, raise valid questions, demand answers, and make their points loud and clear.

Standing for What They Believe in

As we equip AAC users with self-advocacy skills, it’s equally important that we acknowledge their right to be part of the social discourse. Encourage social interactions from an early age and help them connect to others in the community. Their opinions on societal matters count as much as those of their peers. The world needs to hear all sides and perspectives and the voice of an AAC user should be allowed to  resonate along with all other voices that are trying to bring about change. Make sure young communicators have a lot of reporting vocabulary in their AAC systems. They should be able to complain about any ill treatment meted out to them or others. We must encourage them to voice out their apprehensions about people or actions bothering them. The more we are willing to listen, the less they will be reluctant about reporting any unpleasant events. 

Exposure to Diversity

Read books or watch shows and movies with diverse characters. These characters can offer an excellent way to talk about different races, ethnicities, social groups, cultures, religions, customs, languages, economic backgrounds  and how they have their own place in the world. 

Teaching Appropriate Language 

Society has changed and so have the norms of acceptable language. Casual remarks that are insensitive cannot be laughed off anymore. For emergent communicators, we can overlook their language errors because our goal is to get them to communicate effectively. For young adults who seek active societal participation, we need to give  appropriate vocabulary and explain why some words may be considered offensive. 

Talking About Current Events 

There's a lot going on around the world. With the barrage of misinformation that's out there, it's important that we stick to facts while we talk to children. Choose video clips or news images carefully so as to not overwhelm them. For some older children who may have already learned about things through the news, avoiding discussion may make them feel more anxious. As you explain what’s going on, reassure them that it will be alright and attempt to answer all their questions as honestly as possible. We live in a world with race, religion, gender, and socioeconomic inequalities and talking about them to children can be extremely hard. But those are the realities of the world  and what children know about them will shape their opinions, their capacity for empathy and determine their demeanour towards others. So, we owe it to our communicators to keep them abreast of the  events occurring in the world. This will empower them with knowledge with which they can  decide for themselves to play whatever role they choose to,  in the larger society.       
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Building Language for All Communicative Functions 

Communicative PurposesThere are several reasons we communicate. Sometimes, we communicate just to get the attention of a loved one while other times we have profound things to say or a strong point to make. Communication, therefore, is the bedrock of human relationships and social interactions. In addition to fostering bonds, it also allows us to stand up for ourselves, stand for things we believe in, and thus  is an important tool for self-advocacy. So, we must ensure that AAC users acquire the necessary skills for the entire range of communicative functions.

List of communicative functions

From expressing our feelings to giving or getting information, communication serves several purposes in our daily lives. Language instruction for AAC users must focus on expanding their communicative functions so that their expression is not limited. When some communicators do not know the appropriate means to communicate, they may resort to challenging behaviours to convey their emotions, needs, and wants. The key is to give them relevant vocabulary in their AAC systems and create consistent communication opportunities for the various communicative functions.

Here are some of the purposes of communication.

  • Requesting
  • Greeting
  • Refusing/Rejecting
  • Commenting
  • Protesting
  • Asking Questions
  • Sharing Information

Let's see how we can support a communicator with these communicative functions:

Requesting 

This is probably one of the most important skills  for an emergent communicator  to pick up because this helps them to get what they want. 

Strategies

  1. Identify motivators for communication. It could be the communicator’s favourite activity, toy, or food item. It’s easier to work on requests when there is a clear motivation present.
  2. Create an environment replete with activities and items that are communication motivators.
  3. Put their favourite snack  in clear containers so that the communicator would request for help. Give food in a bowl without utensils. Keep their favourite blanket or hide one shoe when they are ready to go out. Make sure that the child does not get frustrated while sabotaging the environment to elicit requests.
  4. Acknowledge all request attempts and prompt if the communicator is unable to make an independent request. 
  5. Their desired toy/activity acts as a natural reinforcer but a praise can only add to their excitement.

Vocabulary:

Want, Need, More, This, That, Now, Give, Eat, Hungry, Play are some words that the communicator can use along with fringe vocabulary such as toy, cookie, TV, etc.

Refusing/Rejecting

Since children with complex communication needs may be vulnerable, it’s important to ensure that they are raised with an awareness of their likes and dislikes. It’s also equally important to teach them the power of words and how they can use it to implement their right to refuse and reject. 

Strategies: 

  1. Identify activities or moments that the communicator is not excited about. This might involve a bit of guesswork. If you notice any challenging behaviours, try and see the antecedent which might give you a clue.
  2. Try to engage the kid in the activity and model ‘No’ or ‘don’t like’ on the communicator’s AAC system. For example, if the child seems to be not too interested in reading, model ‘I don’t want it’ . Say, “Oh, you’re saying you don’t want it. OK” and close the book. 
  3. Make sure you are able to acknowledge their  refusal while modelling the vocabulary. In case you are unable to accommodate their requests, try and negotiate as much as possible so that  they feel heard.
  4. When they pick an item they like, help them see how they rejected others to choose their favourite item.

“Oh.. you want cookies? You don’t want cake”

Vocabulary:

stop, don’t, no, not, now, later,  go, break

Commenting

This can be a complex communicative function to teach for emergent communicators. But commenting is a great skill to acquire because it helps communicators initiate and engage in meaningful conversations.

Strategies:

       1.Model commenting by making a lot of comments during shared reading or watching TV together. 

“This is very funny”

“The girl’s hat looks cool”

      2. Give visual prompts such as commenting cards and sentence strips 

      3. Ask wh questions using visual prompts. Remember that verbal prompts may be useful but difficult to fade.

“What do you see”

“Where is the hare?”

     4.Use play time and sensory toys to make tons of comments. Give them the slime,  the play doh, and scarf and encourage them to tell you how the item feels.     

        Model the vocabulary on their AAC system consistently and prompt until they can utter it independently. 

Vocabulary:

see, feel, taste, along with descriptive words

Communicative Functions with Reading

Shared reading can be a great way to teach communicative functions to AAC users. As you read text, draw the communicator's attention to the different things and encourage them to make comments. We have put together a LanguageLearning Bundle with a story to encourage commenting in emergent communicators.

How to Use the Bundle:

Read Language Builder Instructions PDF given below for details on how to use this bundle. Click on the below icons to download the individual PDFs 

Download all the above resources as a Language Builder Bundle here

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Building Literacy: Teaching Grammar to AAC Users

Autonomous communication and boundless expression are very much the primary goals of AAC. While we focus on developing communication skills, it is equally important that we lay the foundation for literacy. Since grammar is fundamental to any language, AAC users can benefit from focussed instruction that helps them gain an understanding of key grammatical structures.

Why Teach Grammar?

Why should we focus on proper language usage for AAC users? Because it is important that we set a high bar for AAC users and for what we expect them to achieve. When we respect their competence, it drives us to work towards giving the necessary support systems that enable them to meet our expectations and even go on to exceed them :) Besides, language abilities have been found to play a instrumental role in literacy. So, AAC users must be supported adequately to learn grammar so as to facilitate their literacy acquisition.

Looking at Errors as Stepping Stones 

Yes, we would like AAC users to learn the right way to form sentences and use words. But the emphasis should always be on communication, especially for emergent communicators. Our quest for grammatical accuracy cannot be at the cost of an AAC user’s communication skills development. To this end, it may be best if we acknowledge and respond to all their communication attempts during the early stages of their AAC journey without worrying about grammar. Every utterance regardless of any errors should be encouraged. These errors can be recast when they are ready for it and can serve as a stepping stone to grammar learning. Once the communicator puts together two or more words, we can gradually encourage them towards grammatically correct phrases and sentences.

Correcting Without Obstructing Communication 

Recasting is one of the effective strategies used for grammar instruction. A communication partner recasts by repeating the communicator's utterances and correcting the language or adding more details. This corrective feedback is not overt and is designed to keep the conversation going. Model the correct usage verbally as you tap the words on the AAC system. Here are a few ways in which you can support grammar learning in emergent communicators: 

Grammar Supports in Avaz AAC 

Avaz supports several language forms and provides morphology options for verb, adjective and noun forms. You can turn on the Grammar setting to turn be able to use the various morphological word forms. You can turn on the setting for the picture mode and keyboard modes independently.

  • Tap the Settings icon on the top bar.
  • Scroll down and tap Grammar
  • Tap the Grammar option to ON.
  • Then tap the modes (picture / keyboard ) for which you want to use the Grammar options.

Turning the Grammar option to OFF will turn off the setting in both the modes.

The word forms displayed for each type of word in Avaz are:

 

Verbs (past, past participle, present, continuous, future tense)

e.g. EAT (ate, eaten, eats, eating, will eat)

 

Nouns (singular, plural, possessive), 

e.g. BAG (bag, bag's, bags)

 

Adjectives (simple, comparative, superlative)

e.g. BIG (big, bigger, biggest)

 

Pronouns  

e.g. YOU (you, yourself, your, yours)

Learn more about it here 

Grammar Learning with Shared Reading

Shared reading can be a great way to teach grammar to AAC users. As you read text, draw the communicator's attention to the different word forms and sentence structures. We have put together a Grammar Learning Bundle with a story to teach plurals for emergent communicators.

How to Use the Bundle:

Read Language Builder Instructions PDF given below for details on how to use this bundle. Click on the below icons to download the individual PDFs 

Download all the above resources as a Language Builder Bundle here

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Avaz AAC App: The New found Voice at Sunrise Learning

Sunrise Learning is a Center for Autism and Special Needs located in Noida, India. The center uses Avaz extensively for teaching communication strategies to their students. Since communication partner skills are important for a communicator’s AAC use,  the center also focuses on training parents so that they can guide children and empower them with communication.

We are grateful to Vandana Gautam who played a pivotal role in Sunrise Learning center adopting Avaz AAC app. Thanks to her passion for implementing AAC in the center, several students with complex communication needs can express themselves better. A huge thanks to Dr. Sonali, Founder and Principal of Sunrise Learning Center for supporting the efforts of all the teachers and making it all happen. Here’s what special educators in the Center had  to say about Avaz AAC and how it has enabled their students to communicate better:

How it All Began

Sunrise Learning’s Avaz journey started on 4th August 2018. We had a workshop on Avaz app byNaryanan. He introduced the wonderful app to us, and it just occurred to us- Why  not  have  such  a  powerful  tool  of  communication  for  our students. And thus we got started.

Charting the Course

Initially, it took us a lot of time and planning to make a road map. We spent a lot of time understanding the communication needs. To do this, We requested parents and class teachers to gather background information of each student along with relevant pictures. We created individualized folders for all students on the ipad, with subfolders of “family”, “things at home” “favourites” etc. When a student opened their personal folder on the ipad, they could see their family members, along with other things they could relate to. This familiarity made them happy and motivated them to use Avaz.

When Students Couldn’t Wait for ‘Avaz Class’

As we started one-on-one sessions, the first step was to teach our students REQUESTING using their top reinforcers. The main purpose of  this  exercise  was  to  get students  familiar  with  Avaz and make  them  feel motivated to use it. We wanted to give them the idea that their voice can be  heard  through  this  tool.  We  saw amazing  communication growth  with this strategy. Students were requesting their favourite things such as rhymes and songs. They also communicated about their visit to grandparents, malls, cinemas and many more things. It  was  overwhelming  to  see  them  express  their  needs  and likes  !!It became the  center  of  attraction  for  all  the students with them eagerly waiting for Avaz class. Even the class teachers thoroughly enjoyed the Avaz classes, since they saw their students opening up like never before!! 

Avaz in the Classroom

Avaz AAC was soon introduced in  the  classrooms  or  with  smaller  groups of students. The class teachers were instrumental in bringing AVAZ to the students by including it in everyday schedule.  Here are a few  things that we incorporated Avaz AAC in:  Calendar Time We started with “How’s the weather today?” and “What time is it?” Each morning, it was a great opportunity to talk about the day,  date,  month,  weather,  time etc.through  Avaz.   Greetings A Greetings  folder  was  created,  and every  class  had  a  greeting  time  with  Avaz  where students were greeted through Avaz and were taught to greet back.A  customized  template  was  used  for  this. Gradually,  we  started  talking about the seasons, the clothes we are wearing, naming and identifying friends, teachers, school didis, and also about class schedules through Avaz. All the students’ communication attempts were reinforced with their favourite rhyme or song which they could request  through  Avaz. It  was exciting with each day filled with surprises as we discovered the new “favourites” of each student.

Smart Classes with Avaz

We converted the regular classes to “smart” classes using Apple TV. The regular walls became alive with new exciting pictures and videos and drew the attention of the students. These smart classes were different from the regular “audio-visual” classes.(that we create using the projector). These Avaz-Apple TV classes were more engaging bcause we are able to modulate the screen through the buttons on the ipad. And so students were able to enjoy the “real time action” on the wall. It’s fun, exciting, and a novel way to get their complete attention towards  the  activity or the  concept  being introduced. Once we taught them how to pay attention to the teacher and the board, we then introduced students to various concepts through Avaz. We  taught them about their  surroundings.  Most  importantly,  we  helped  them  to communicate  about their needs, feelings, likes and dislikes.  This step was the most crucial, in making this app a “voice” for students who are either non-verbal or less expressive. It  meant  a whole  new  world  for  them,  and  for  their  teachers, to discover a “new means” to express, say, ask for, request, demand and speak for themselves!! 

Avaz’s Role in Acquisition of Literacy and Life Skills

Avaz  also  helped us to teach students academics  skills  such as  listening comprehension, reading comprehension, picture comprehension, understanding the concepts and storytelling. In fact, storytelling sessions became more interactive, and the quiz sessions became far more fun! We  organized an Independence  Day Quiz  using  Avaz  and  got  amazing  responses from  the students  who might  not have been  able  to express their  capabilities without Avaz.  Then in 2019, we used Avaz for a “theatre play” at the 3rd Annual Function at Sunrise  Learning. Earlier, other students  or  teachers delivered  the dialogues for the non-verbal students. But with Avaz,  the students delivered their dialogues  themselves. It  was  one  of  the  most touching  and emotional moments for parents who never thought it was possible to hear their children speak dialogues in a play on the stage at a cultural event. Recently, we have been using Avaz to teach independent skills to our students. They  have  been  working  in  the  Sunrise  Learning  Shoppe,  and  the  Sunrise Learning café, working on their own, towards independence and dignity. Now, they make tea, sandwiches using the recipes on Avaz without any other physical or verbal support. Our students are also learning self-help skills using Avaz. Few of the students are using Avaz to order food in the restaurants.  

Laying the Foundation for Self-Dependence

So far, it has been a great tool for the students to express their feelings and pain and  helped  to reduce  or  minimize  control  battles, aggressive behaviours and anxiety episodes. Reducing anxiety, in turn increases connection and bonding, thus increasing the chances of learning and development of social skills. Our next step is to gift Avaz AAC app to all our students who need a tool  to  communicate,  express, and learn.  We  believe  that  it  will  boost their  self-confidence  and  their  ability to  connect  with  the world, and  lead  them  towards  freedom  from the “stigma” of being “disabled due to the inability to speak”.  Once they learn to use a tool that gives them the “ability” to express themselves, (be it writing, typing, or AAC like Avaz), there is NO STOPPING THEM...!! Thank you Avaz team, for understanding the perspective of people on the autism spectrum, and creating a tool as powerful as this. Thank you, Ms Vandana Gautam for introducing this tool to the students at Sunrise Learning, and inspiring and motivating all the teachers and parents to use AAC to make it a new found “voice” for the children !! Learn more about Sunrise Learning Center at www.sunriselearning.inwww.facebook.com/sunriselearningnoida122           Hope you enjoyed reading about how AAC was used to power the communication of students with speech and langauage difficulties. If you have a story to share, please let us know in the comment section below or write to us at support@avazapp.com    
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Expansion of Language: Supporting AAC Learner’s Progress

We often see that one of the major stumbling blocks for an emergent communicator's progress is the struggle to get past single word utterances. The simplest way to help them overcome this is by building on what they already know. And the key here is to refrain from adding too much new information.

One Step at a Time Please

This language building strategy works best if the goal set is to attain just the next step in their language development i.e, single word communicators must be encouraged to utter two-word or three-word phrases. Setting an overambitious goal can end up discouraging them and can prove to be counter productive. 

There's A Method to This Expansion

By using expansion strategies, we can help communicators gradually build their sentence length. This, however, is easier said than done. Without an understanding of how best to expand language, we may just end up confusing the communicator. (Learn more about expansion and extension here.)

When then communicator says, 'TV',  say, 'Want to watch TV?" and model the two words on the child's AAC system.

Saying, 'Oh, I think your favourite cartoon will be on now' or 'After you finish reading' aren't necessarily incorrect reponses. But communicators tend to pick up language skills better when we repeat the word they have uttered and add little new information.

Here's a look at how you can expand a communicator's single-word utterances:

Be Specific in Your Praise 

When the communicator successfully puts together words, praise them and let them know what you're appreciating them for. 

Instead of saying, " Good job", say, "Good job. You said want cookie"

"Well done. You said more cookie please"

This will ensure that the child knows clearly what they are receiving the praise for. This reinforcement will go a long way in motivating them to put more words together. 

Language Builder Bundle

Here is a sample activity bundle for language building. This bundle focuses on the core word 'Want'. 

Use the core word poster to reiterate the communicator's knowledge of the word 'Want'

Read the story book given to model two-word phrases to encourage the child to expand their language.

Cut Pictures from the Vocab Toolbox to make the reading fun. Cut, Play, Communicate!

Use the Gamified PDFs to help the child acquire fringe vocabulary along with core vocabulary

Refer Communication Partner Ideas for how to incorporate language building in daily activities.

How to Use the Bundle

Read Language Builder Instructions PDF given below for details on how to use this bundle. Click on the below icons to download the individual PDFs

Download all the above resources as a Language Builder Bundle here

 

 

Hope you use this Language Builder Bundle in your child's communication journey. Please share your opinions, suggestions and feedback in the comment section below or write to us at support@avazapp.com

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MDA Avaz Reader: Shared Reading Made Simpler

If you are looking for a simple tool for shared reading with your child, MDA Avaz Reader is the perfect fit. It is a reading app that comes with several exciting stories that cater to different reading levels. Avaz Reader app is great tool for shared reading because it comes with a host of reading supports for each word. For emergent communicators who need visual representation, the picture hints for each word can be of great help. Syllable hint, word family hint, and comprehension tool are some features of the Avaz Reader app that can help communicators gain literacy skills.

Download a free trial of Avaz Reader for iOS I Android here to read this story.

Watch how Reader app helps children with reading

You can also take a photo of any text, be it a textbook, magazine, or storybook and read it with Avaz Reader. This means that you child gets all the reading help they want for their academic excellence too 🎓. Hope you and your family has fun reading books with Avaz Reader. Keep reading because there are more exiting books coming your way !!

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Avaz User Stories and Videos

We always love to know how users across the world are using Avaz AAC app and how it helps communicators express themselves better. Seeing the impact Avaz AAC has on their lives motivates to do more and create better technology solutions. Here are a few stories and videos from Avaz AAC users who have shared snippets of their personal communication journey with us -

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Language Builder Resources: Play, Learn, Communicate!

AAC is primarily for communication. But it's important that we focus on developing literacy skills of the communicators too. Once communicators get familiar with their AAC systems, they need to learn how to build vocabulary, utter grammatically correct sentences, and use language for various communicative purposes. Children learn better when it's more fun. We've put language builder bundles with Vocab storybooks so that you can help communicators acquire language and literacy skills while reading playing. Click on the icons below to download the bundles.   Language Expansion:   Teaching Grammar:Plurals   Communicative Functions: Commenting   Communicative Functions: Answering Questions    
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Avaz Joyful Reading: Resources for Shared Reading

Shared reading is a simple and delightful way to pick up language and communication skills as you take children on an exciting journey with awe-inspiring characters inhabiting fascinating worlds. Avaz Inc. has put together a joyful reading kit with resources to get you started with shared reading. Read a story together with your child and help them build vocabulary and communication skills.

Avaz Joyful Reading Kit

What's included in the kit:

  1. A fun children’s story in PDF format with words highlighted for modelling
  2. Interactions - Suggested questions and comments to encourage child’s interaction 
  3. Printable Communication board with relevant set of core words
  4. Printable Communication board with story-related vocabulary 

 

Joyful Reading with Communication Boards

Read the story eBook and model on the communications boards given in the Joyful Reading Kit. Refer Interactions PDF  for  suggested comments and questions to encourage interaction.

 

 

Joyful Reading with High Tech AAC Systems

Read the story eBook and model on your high tech AAC system. Refer Interactions PDF  for  suggested comments and questions to encourage interaction. 

Getting started with Shared Reading:

Model language as you get ready to read and use the C.A.R (Comment. Ask. Read) strategy while reading. Read more about the C.A.R strategy and how to encourage interaction here. 

Get your Joyful Reading Kit Here                                                              

Try Shared Reading with Reader App

Symbol and Language hints for each word just a tap away                                                     

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Avaz Reader as a Schoolwork Helper: For Lessons, E-reading Worksheets, and Assignments

Schools are still struggling to get virtual classrooms right which leaves parents to figure out how to best support their children’s learning at home. As we see on social media and on news, families are finding it really difficult to make the switch to online learning. Parents of younger kids, especially, are looking for any help they can get to ensure that their children are not left behind.

Be it Science lessons, Social Studies Assignments, or Math word Problems - reading comprehension is the key to acing all these academic tasks. Avaz Reader is a reading app with which a child can learn to read independently with minimal support from parents. Plus, it is a perfect complement to online learning and the virtual classroom setup.

What’s possible with Reader?

Got that reading comprehension worksheet that your child needs to work on or the science lesson on Eyes and Ears that they need to read? Learning is all about reading and understanding what one reads. Typically, teachers read to children and re-read text at school so that children can get familiar with the vocabulary. Schools employ shared reading and guided reading strategies to help children develop their reading skills. With inadequate support from teachers due to virtual classrooms, young children may find it difficult to read on their own.  Avaz Reader has several reading supports which help them develop their reading vocabulary, phonological awareness, fluency, and comprehension. 

Download a free trial of Avaz Reader for iOS I Android here.

Auto-Read Take a photo of the assignment worksheet or a screenshot of the ereading worksheet and import it into Reader. You can also import any text in Pdf format. The app reads the text aloud and this supports learners who comprehend better when they listen to information.  Word Hints As the child reads text, there are a wide range of hints available for each word. Just tap on any word and the app provides several hints that make reading easier for young children. These hints include Syllable hint, Picture Hint, Pronunciation hint, Word family hint, etc. Comprehension Tool The comprehension tool highlights different parts of the sentence so that the child does not miss any key information. This helps children pay attention to every detail of the text, thus ensuring better comprehension. Focus Mode Children who get overwhelmed by long passages can benefit from Focus Mode which helps them read one line of the text at a time. Finger Tracking The pencil icon on the reading page which can be dragged with the help of a finger shows all the words they’ve already read. If your child is prone to skipping words as they read, then the finger tracking tool can be a great help.  Apart from these awesome reading supports, Reader also has several cool and interesting stories for children to read and we are adding more books every week. Get Avaz Reader today and help children discover the joy of reading. Hope Avaz Reader serves as a reading buddy for your child guiding them whether they are reading for school or for pleasure.  
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Smart Games AAC users can Play with Digital Assistants

Fart noises, Yucky sounds, and Rock Paper Scissors. What more does a bored kid need to to liven up their dull day? With the promise of roaring fun through these games, smart assistants offer great company to kids when parents are busy. This means that parents can take that little break they’ve been yearning for all day. And it’s not all silly fun. Smart assistants have something for every child, from quizzes for the trivia lovers to number puzzles for those budding mathematicians. And to cap it all, most games can be played by communicators using high tech AAC systems. This makes smart assistants quite a dynamic tool for entertainment, communication, and learning.  Here are a few games AAC users can play with the various digital assistants. This includes games you can play with smart speakers such as Alexa and Google Home. If you don't have smart speakers, you can also use your Android device's Google Assistant to play some of these games. Create customized folders for the digital assistants with icons for wake words such as ‘Hey Google’ or ‘Alexa’ and other digital assistant skill-related words, and your kid’s AAC system is all set for some great fun.

Memory Tic Tac Toe

Command: Alexa, Tic Tac Toe This classic game of noughts and crosses can be played from memory. While older children can play this game without pen and paper, younger children may need a little help for them to remember the positions. AAC users will need the vocabulary for all the 9 positions of the game programmed into their AAC system.

True or False

Command: Alexa, True or False This is an exciting game for kids to test their  knowledge about the world by answering either "true" or "false". This game has a multiplayer mode which means that the whole family can play too.

Rock Paper 

Command: Hey Google, Talk to Rock Paper This rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock game which can be played both with Google Home and Google Assistant on phones is an expansion on the traditional Rock, Paper, Scissors game.  AAC users will need vocabulary for all the variables such as Scissors, Paper, Rock, Lizard, and Spock added in their AAC system.

Connect 4 

Command: Alexa, Play Connect 4 Kids can enjoy playing the game "Connect-Four" against Alexa. If you don’t have  Echo Show and Echo Spot, play with an actual Connect 4 set or open the website https://calcbox.de to see the game board. Customize your child’s AAC system to include the commands 'Start a new game' and 'I throw into slot #' for this game. After you have made your move, Alexa makes her move and awaits your next move as an answer.

Animal sounds

Command: Hey Google, Talk to Animal Sounds How does a fox sound? What about the hippo? This is a wonderful game or those curious minds who wonder about animal sounds. Make sure to include the above mentioned command in the child’s AAC system to start playing this game.

Yucky sound

Command: Alexa, Open Yucky Sound Does your child have a huge laugh hearing fart and burp sounds? Then this is just the right game for them 😆 Some commands to include in the AAC system are: Open Yucky Sound, Burp sound, and Suprise me.

Fart noises

Command: Hey Google, Talk to Fart Noises Google Home and Google assistant don’t shy away from giving us the best silly fart noises. Include the above mentioned command in your child’s AAC system and let your child have fun listening to some big ones and some nasty ones. 🤣🤣 Games with smart assistants can motivate AAC use in emergent communicators and they are also an excellent way to teach the core words, Stop, More, Yes, and No. Asking the smart assistant to ask for more of a game or stop a game, or answering Yes/No if they wish to continue a game teaches children the power of these core words and how they can manipulate their environment by mastering these words.   

Find more AAC Resources including free printables here.

       
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Core Word Ideas

Core words are the small number of words that are used most frequently in our conversations. About 80% of the words we speak are core words. They can be used across contexts, and can have more than one meaning. Pronouns, common verbs, prepositions, and helping verbs are part of core vocabulary. Examples are I, you, help, that, me, mine, stop, go, get, etc. Here are a few ideas to incorporate core word learning everyday. Use these words across various settings and contexts within your daily routines in whatever scenarios possible. The posters below serve as a guideline on how to model  core words. Depending on your schedules and  the communicator's cognitive abilities, use these words in whichever way best fits the communicator's learning goals.   Core Word: ON Download a high resolution pdf here: AAC Everyday - Core Word ON   Core Word: IN Download a high resolution pdf here: AAC Everyday - Core Word IN   Core Words: STOP, MORE, GO Download a high resolution pdf here: AAC Everyday - Core Word STOP MORE GO   Core Word: WANT Download a high resolution pdf here: AAC Everyday - Core Word - WANT   Language Builder Bundle for Core Word WANT Download the bundle here.
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Convert Any Book into Audiobook: Supporting Your Child’s Learning During School Closures

With school closures, several teachers have expressed how they feel grossly underprepared to teach online. Imagine the plight of children who may have to make do with this arrangement even though it is evidently less than optimal. Remote learning can also be hard for children because of the change in setting and the lack of a collaborative classroom environment. And let's face it, virtual classrooms have become a burden for parents too. Let's see how audiobooks can help us support our children's learning without depleting our energies.  First, a few facts: Remote Learning Struggles Studies suggest that virtual classrooms can affect the performance of students. This means that kids may have to work harder to get good grades -  Lots and lots of reading and spending more time with homework. Reading Proficiency Facts One in five children in England cannot read well by the age of 11 67% of fourth-grade students may not read proficiently at their grade level The English reading proficiency of children in countries where English is not a native language is much lower. The key thing to note is that low reading comprehension levels affect more than just the scores in the English test. Link between Reading and Science/Math The connection between Math/Science and English proficiency may sound far-fetched but studies suggest otherwise. Reading levels and comprehension may have a much larger impact on a child’s academic performance and knowledge than we think. Audiobook as a Solution for More Reading Practice? Experts say that children may comprehend text better with audiobooks. Audiobooks are said to help a child improve their fluency and build their vocabulary. The increased fluency may encourage them to read for longer. It also can influence their choice of books with greater chances of them choosing books with high-level words. Audiobooks are said to cater to  the learning styles of average to high-achieving students too, helping them to read beyond their own level. Make Your Own Audiobook with Avaz Reader Use any age-appropriate text, be it worksheets, textbooks, storybooks, or magazines. Forget about special PDFs or web resources. Add a page by simply capturing an image with text in it. Just take a clear picture of the text and have the Reader app read it to you! You can change the voice accent, speed, font size and more in Settings.                         There are also a host of reading supports readily available so children can read independently. Reading Supports Available: Download a free trial of Avaz Reader for iOS I Android here. Hope Avaz Reader serves as a reading buddy for your child guiding them whether they are reading for school or for pleasure.    
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AAC Everyday: Reflecting on the Day with AAC

Download this resource as a PDF here: Recap Your Day with AAC

We are all still adjusting to the new realities although it's been a few weeks now since most of us have been staying at home. Discussing the day’s plans with your child at the beginning of the day prepares them for the various activities. But in times like these, our well-crafted plans may go for a toss and that’s okay. Taking some time to discuss how the day went gives a great opportunity to get your child’s inputs on how they’d like to structure their day. Isn’t this a wonderful way to encourage AAC use and choice-making as you get insights on how to plan the next day?

Peaks and Pits of the Day

This ritual highly recommended by experts involves families discussing the highs and lows of each day. This helps in reassessing goals and priorities.  Praise your child for all their completed tasks. This reinforcement motivates them to do better. Talk to them about things they need to work on. Giving specific instructions gives them clarity on what they are expected to do. List all the things you are grateful for and encourage your child to do so too. Talk a little about things that are going on around the world and how several people are working hard to keep us safe.  Encourage your child to talk about their emotions. A good way to do that is to talk about your own emotions. There are going to be good and bad days. Discuss how we can deal with negative emotions and reassure them that you will support them when they’re having a rough time. Allow your child to decide how they want to schedule their favourite activities during the day. This gives them a sense of control and power and helps them with decision-making skills. Be ready to be flexible and try to accommodate their requests. You can use the First-Then method to tell them if they finished a certain activity first, then they can have their way with their favourite activity. 

Conversation Ideas

Children may find it difficult to recall how the day went or may struggle to communicate it to you. You can start by talking about the peaks and pits of your day. I’m going to start with the best part of my day. I was glad I could complete my project on time. I was annoyed to see the mess on the table. Once you’ve discussed your day, you can encourage your child to talk about theirs. Give them prompts if needed and remind them of the activities they did during the day. If you have a planner or a visual schedule that your child follows, seeing it may help children recall what they did during the day. Do you think today was fun? What activity did you enjoy the most? The mermaid book used to be my favourite too. If your child has not completed an activity, give them a chance to explain why. Hear them out before telling them why you expect them to complete the activity and how you can help them with it. You did not do exercise today. Would you like to dance during exercise time?

Core words

Here are a few core words you can model during your daily reflections with the family:
  • Let’s talk about  the best parts of today
  • I liked the game we played
  • Your brother was upset
  • What didn’t you like about the movie?
  • You did a great job!
  • Thanks for helping me clean
  • Would you like more playtime tomorrow?
  • You finished all your homework
  • Grandma was happy to talk to you
  • Let’s play the game again tomorrow

Communicative Functions

For emergent communicators, AAC is often used only for questions or requesting. Here’s a range of communicative functions you can use AAC for while discussing the good and the not-so-good parts of the day:
  • Question: Did you enjoy reading the book about aliens?
  • Comment: I love Taco Tuesdays
  • Describe: The weather has been lovely today
  • Instruct: Let’s talk about the good stuff first
  • Request information: What game would you like to play tomorrow?
  • Express feelings: I was upset when my computer stopped working
  • Joke: Do you know why our dog loved today? Because he thought it was ‘CHEWS’ day 🤣 🤣
The foremost benefit of daily reflections with AAC is that your child develops the habit of expressing their emotions and feelings to you. Since they feel heard, this encourages them to form opinions and identify their likes and dislikes.The prospect of using the AAC system as a tool to dictate their environment also serves as a great motivator in developing their communication skills.  

Find more AAC ideas and activities here.

     
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Storytime with Avaz Reader

School closures or not, we are always looking for meaningful ways to engage children. Stories and books, especially give a fantastic way to keep children occupied - because young minds get stimulated while reading about the wonderful world around us and all the fascinating made-up worlds. Why Need a Digital Reading Buddy? The joy of reading can be further enhanced with a reading buddy. One who helps children with those unfamiliar words. One who can show them how to pronounce words, and teach them about syllables and more. Children tend to skip lines when they come across a new word and this may lead to inadequate comprehension. Parents can read with children but that can limit their reading time. Avaz Reader is a research-based reading app which can guide your kids on their reading journey everywhere, all the time. The foremost benefit of reading with Avaz Reader is that your kid will become an independent reader in no time. The app comes with captivating stories and new stories are added every week! Read the Sniffles Story with Reader There’s a virus going around. What are viruses and what do they do? Divya got the sniffles but she didn’t want to miss the game. Her team won the cup but not everyone’s celebrating now. Why? Should Divya have missed her game rather than playing it while she had the sniffles. Read this interesting story on Avaz Reader. Download a free trial of Avaz Reader for iOS I Android here.   Here’s the host of reading supports your child gets while reading this story.   1.Picture Hint 2.Syllable Hint 3.Prefix/Suffix Hint 4.Rhyming Hint 5.Pronounciation Hint 6.Audio Hint 7.Comprehension Tool 8.Focus Mode 9.Finger Tracking [gallery size="medium" ids="5109,5112,5113"] [gallery size="medium" ids="5114,5108,5115"] [gallery size="medium" ids="5118,5117,5116"] You can also take a photo of any text, be it a textbook, magazine, or storybook and read it with Avaz Reader. This means that you child gets all the reading help they want for their academic excellence too 🎓. Hope you and your family has fun reading books with Avaz Reader. Keep reading because there are more exiting books coming your way !!  
 
   
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AAC Everyday: Strengthening Bonds Through Family Anecdotes and AAC

Download this resource as a PDF here: Family Anecdotes and AAC

Every family has its share of stories - silly stories of mom and her cousins playing together as children, or sentimental stories of grandma making pancakes for dad and his siblings. Some of the most delicious recipes, family traditions, and impressive skills get passed on to future generations through these stories. With school closures and lockdowns, let's use this opportunity to share these anecdotes with children. And to support our AAC user's learning, let's model away as we tell them these exciting anecdotes.

Down the Memory Lane with AAC

  • Take your family album out to make the storytelling more visual. 
  • Play a game encouraging your child to identify family members in the photos. This can be a fun game to play with siblings where you can keep score of who can identify more people.
  • Connect the anecdote back to your child's life. Ask questions about what they would have done or how they would have felt if in a similar situation.
  • Since family stories are replete with myriad emotions and sentiments, this can be a wonderful opportunity to discuss feelings. You can also discuss human relationships, the social bonds we form, and how they are important to lead a fulfilling life. 
  • Video call a family member or a friend who's part of the anecdote and show them how heartwarming and emotionally uplifting social interactions can be

Conversation Ideas

  • I loved flying kites with my friends.
  • I used to be excited about breakfast at Grandma's place.
  • Grandma's chocolate chip pancakes were the best.
  • Let's make pancakes tomorrow.
  • This pink dress was my favourite. 
  • What's your favourite outfit?
  • Can you find me in this school photo?
  • Don't I look just like you in this photo?
  • This was the friend who sat next to me in middle school.
  • Is your friend nice to you?

Core Words

  • This is my brother's friend.
  • He works as a nurse now.
  • He helps sick people get well.
  • No. That's not me
  • Look at Grandpa with his dog.
  • That's my mom's painting on the wall
  • I stopped watching scary movies after that.
  • I kept my marbles under my bed.
  • She had the same rag doll
  • I had an amazing time at the barn.

Communicative Functions 

For emergent communicators, AAC is often used only for questions or requesting. Here’s a range of communicative functions you can use AAC for while cooking together:
  • Question: Do you remember meeting my friend Sara at the cinema?
  • Comment: The prank was fun!
  • Describe: I had a big red toy car 
  • Instruct: Be gentle while turning the pages of the album
  • Request information: What colour is your toy car?
  • Express feelings: I was sad when we moved out of that house.
  • Joke: I asked my dad if he knew what a solar eclipse was. He said, "No sun" 🤣 🤣
Family anecdotes help children get a sense of your family history, culture, and customs. This can also be an opportunity to discuss your child's equation with their siblings, cousins, and friends. Use descriptive language while narrating your stories and model corresponding words on the child's AAC system. As your child eagerly watches you animatedly talk about your childhood memories, they would've picked up important language, emotional, and social skills along the way.

You can find more AAC ideas and activities here.

 
 
 
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COVID-19 RESOURCES

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruptions to the daily routines of people across the world. Avaz Inc. has put together a few resources to help children and adults cope with the pandemic. We are committed to offering the best resources that help people during these trying times. If your insurance application for Avaz AAC is currently on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we're glad to offer you a free subscription until things get better. You can fill this form and we'd take care of the rest.     COVID - 19 Social Stories                                                            Social Stories  

          Resources for Parents COVID Links   AAC Resources  

Teletherapy with Avaz

Remote speech TherapyLearn more about Avaz Live, a seamless and simple solution for remote therapy With stay-at home and lockdown orders extended, remote therapy is the need of the hour. Avaz AAC has an inbuilt solution for teletherapy through which a therapist can model language, tweak settings, and demonstrate AAC strategies Lear more about Avaz Live here.                      

   
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AAC Resources: Games, Activities and Communication Opportunities

Here are a few resources for AAC users to help them continue their AAC learning while staying home   Everyday Communication Opportunities AAC Everyday   Core Word Ideas           Language Builder Resources   Shared Reading Resources   AAC Games Fun AAC Games   Low Tech Communication Boards Parent using communication board with child  
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AAC and Exercise: A Fun Way to Model and get the Family Fit

Download this AAC activity as a PDF here: AAC Everyday_ Exercise

No playgrounds, no gym time, no playing with friends. Without their regular dose of physical activities, kids are likely to channel their energies elsewhere. This can spell disaster and create quite a ruckus in the house if they don't have structured activities to satiate their adrenaline cravings. Exercise not only engages kids but can also lift your spirits up as it’s a great stress buster. Think you don't have enough time with the additional responsibilities you've been taking on due to school closures?  How about making exercise a family activity? Even better, how about using exercise time to communicate and model language using AAC? This way, you're getting two of your important goals for the day met at the same time. 👍

Say Hello to Your New Instructor 

Break down the exercise time into mini workout sessions and let your child lead the family in one of those sessions. Create a separate folder in your high tech AAC system and include icons for the individual routines such as jumping jacks, bear crawl, skipping etc.  For example, if your child is great at hula hooping, let them take control of that session and get you all spinning the hoop. You can include phrases in their AAC system that allows them to dictate what you do. Spin faster  Spin clockwise  Talk to them about what other things they would want the family to do with the hoop. Spin two hoops  Remember to pay heed to their orders and give it your best shot even if you can't find a way to keep the hoops from falling to the floor 😂 If your little one is into dance, then let them take charge and teach you a few awesome moves. Choose the soundtrack they would like the family to work out to. What music would you like? This BTS song sounds interesting

Conversation Ideas

Build the conversation from your child's individual interests. Can you jump as high as I do? Who is your favourite dancer? Remember, I used to walk in the mornings with your mom everyday? It's fun working out with you and your sister We must do this everyday This is so much better than working out at the gym. Doing exercise everyday keeps you healthy What activities did you do during gym at school? Did you like gym class? You are an amazing dancer Do you want to take dance lessons? I can look for a few online lessons for you.

Core words

Here are a list of core words that can be modelled during this activity Arms up over the shoulder  Arms down Breathe in Breathe out Can you do this five more times? Want to do the plank again? Now lift the other leg up Do you want to stop now? I'm going to do jumping jacks five times  Would you like to rest for a few minutes ? I can feel my heart beating fast 

Communicative Functions 

For emergent communicators, AAC is often used only for questions or requesting. Here’s a range of communicative functions you can use AAC for while doing exercise together:
  • Question: How many times do you think you can squat?
  • Comment: Dancing is fun!
  • Describe: Your skipping rope is pink. I have a blue skipping rope
  • Instruct: Don't bend your knees
  • Request information: How long did you do the plank for?
  • Express feelings: I feel relaxed after the workout 
  • Joke: You know why the line works out? To get in shape 🤣 🤣
Exercise time can be a great opportunity to teach action words such as skip, jump, hop, run, walk, etc. Try and model a few words everyday while you're warming up or while you're cooling off post-workout. Here's wishing that your family stays fit and healthy as your child's AAC learning is on course.    
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COVID-19 Social Stories

1.Washing Hands                 Download this as a PDF here: Washing-Hands-PDF   2. Social Distancing            Download this as a PDF here: Social-Distancing-PDF   3. Coronavirus Symptoms      Download this as a PDF here: Corona-Symptoms-PDF   4. If You are Sick                Download this as a PDF here:  If You're Sick-PDF    5. Explaining Lock down Extension      Download this as a PDF here: Lockdown extension.pdf

   
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A Delicious Way to Continue AAC Learning During Lockdown

Download this activity as a snippet in PDF

If you are concerned about your child's AAC learning losing momentum due to missed therapy sessions, worry not. There's a lot you can do at home to aid their AAC learning. Kitchen, especially can be a great place to practice AAC conversations with your child. Get them into the kitchen and you'd be surprised to see how much they can help.  And there are conversations galore to be had and tons of modelling opportunities. Let’s not forget the yummy meal that makes it way to the table in the process.

Choice Making with a Chef Hat on

Discuss the menu with children. Give them the power to choose what they want to cook with you.  What can we make for dinner today? Model on their AAC system and encourage the child to come up with suggestions. Remember to wait for a few seconds for their response.  Do you want to help make lasagna, rice, or something else? Keep the question open-ended. They may just blow your mind with a choice of dish that you didn’t see coming.  What vegetables do you think will go well with the pasta? Raid the fridge with them so that they can look at the vegetables and make the decision.

Conversation Ideas:

 This can lead to many interesting conversations. Here are a sample sentences you could say:
  • Oh..Zucchini. I love grilled Zucchini salad. Great choice (A little compliment that puts a smile on their face 😊)
  • Grandma makes amazing Zucchini fritters. We should make them some day.
  • Grandma is a very good cook. You love her pancakes, don’t you?
  • This Zucchini is green. Let me get some yellow zucchini. Look, this one is yellow.
  • Look, the green zucchini is longer than the yellow zucchini.
See how a simple, unsuspecting zucchini helped you teach your child about different colors, sizes, and a few descriptive words. 

Core Words While Cooking

If you're looking for low tech core boards, you can find them here.

It’s not a family activity unless you keep communicating, right? Once you've decided on what to cook, you can model throughout the activity. 
  • I'm going to turn the stove ON
  • We need to add more water.
  • The water isn't hot yet. We need to wait longer.
  • I'm going to close the pot.
  • Open the fridge.
  • Keep the bowl on the counter.
  • I'm putting the rice in the pot.
  • Get some butter from the fridge.
  • Let's stop stirring.
  • Let's start chopping the vegetables.

Communicative Functions 

For emergent communicators, AAC is often used only for questions or requesting. Here’s a range of communicative functions you can use AAC for while cooking together:
  • Question: Can you wash these herbs, please?
  • Comment: This pan is too hot.
  • Describe: These crisps are yummy
  • Instruct: Peel the garlic carefully
  • Request information: How many cups of water did you pour?
  • Express feelings: This tastes delicious. I’m excited for dad to try this
  • Joke: Look. The onion got the cut but I’m the one crying. 🤣 🤣
While you’re getting your hands messy with flour and spices, you may not be able to try out all the above conversations. This is just to give you an idea of the possibilities for AAC right at your home. Do as much or as little as you find feasible while keeping an eye on your little chefs in the kitchen. Just by modelling a few sentences, you'd have supported your child’s AAC learning at home with very little effort.  
 
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AAC Everyday: Communication Opportunities in Everyday Life

AAC EverydayIt's like the world has come to a standstill due to the lockdown across the globe. But we can't let this affect the AAC learning of children. Now is when they need to communicate more than ever. To let their fears be known. To convey their irritability and frustrations due to the change in routines. Or for those little ones who like to see the brighter side of things to tell you how much they're enjoying spending time with family.  For AAC users, the lack of access to their regular therapy sessions can stall their progress. The last thing we want is for an user who was picking up key AAC skills to lose their way due to inconsistent AAC use. We need to find ways to get them to use AAC. The advice to keep communicating and modelling still holds true. But with parents having to work from home and taking care of children staying indoors all day, they may be at a loss on how to continue the AAC learning.  So what if AAC use can be incorporated into daily activities? There are many simple and effective ways to do just that.  We are putting together a few ideas for you. New ideas added every week! So here goes -   [caption id="attachment_4822" align="alignleft" width="225"]AAC Everyday AAC in the Kitchen[/caption]               [caption id="attachment_5010" align="alignleft" width="225"]AAC during Exercise AAC During Exercise[/caption]               [caption id="attachment_5122" align="alignnone" width="225"]AAC and Anecdotes AAC and Anecdotes[/caption]   [caption id="attachment_5143" align="alignleft" width="225"] Daily Reflections with AAC[/caption]            
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Self-Care: Put Your Oxygen Mask On First Before Caring for Loved Ones

Self careChildren are staying home due to school closures and it can be overwhelming for parents having to take on the multiple roles of a teacher, AAC specialist, and occupational therapist in addition to their domestic duties. For those working from home, it can be a tough balancing act to take care of their professional commitments as well. While so many things may seem to demand your immediate attention at once, It’s important to prioritize self-care.  Don’t Beat Yourself Up  You don’t have to be perfect at handling the additional responsibilities that’ve been piled on you due to the lockdown. It’s okay to feel clueless about what to do to keep your child’s AAC progress going. Remember that there are others in the same boat as you and there is no reason to feel guilt for not doing enough. Reach Out to the Community You’d be surprised how much you can learn from the experiences of  other AAC families. Not to forget the wealth of resources so generously shared on social media by the best AAC experts. Connect to them via facebook and Whatsapp groups, or other social media platforms. A small tip, a visual schedule they use, or a fun activity they do can give you ideas of how to engage your kids. Include ‘Me Time’ in Your Schedule Yes. You need to plan and carve out a time out of your busy schedule for self-care. This may be in the early morning when the rest of the family is asleep, where you sip a cup of steaming coffee all by yourself. Or some time during the day where you chat with your old time friends cracking silly jokes. Don’t underestimate what a few minutes of ‘me time’ can do for your emotional and mental health. AAC is Communication Aided Language Stimulation, Prompting, Core word, Fringe word - Don’t let these terminologies bog you down. Yes, there are best practices for modelling and strategies that’ll better serve the AAC learning of your child. But, the key is to keep communicating. From breakfast time to homework time, make it a point to include the AAC system while communicating to your child. Just by communicating using AAC any chance you get, you are aiding your child’s AAC progress in a big way. Get the Family Involved Do yourself a favour and delegate a few household responsibilities to other family members. Children get responsibilities too. Household chores can be a great way to teach them discipline and work ethic. The toddler putting away their toys in their toy box is one less job for you to do. Assign simple tasks to children and appreciate them once they complete them. Nothing like a sense of accomplishment to motivate young children to do a task. Music and Games All work and no play makes everyone dull 😩 Make your daily routines exciting by playing some music in the background. Doing the dishes may seem a little less exhausting with your favourite musician serenading you. Family time can be spent playing fun board games, dancing together to funky tunes, or singing karaoke. If you are looking for exciting games to play with AAC, you can find them here. Remember that that it's not what you do, it's You that means most to your family. So, makes sense to invest your time and energy in some self-love 💖      
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News Today – Discussing News with AAC Users 

This Avaz News book can be downloaded as a PDF here: News Today: Discussing News with AAC Users
Salute to Healthcare Workers with AACThe primary focus of AAC learning is generally on teaching language and communication skills. But AAC users deserve more. They have a right to know what's going on in the world much like we do. Discussing everyday news using AAC is a great way for them to become aware of the happenings around the globe. It is also an excellent way for them to get introduced to complex concepts including emotional intelligence, economics, science, and more.  Here’s a piece of news we can discuss with AAC users:  The fabulous job that doctors and healthcare workers are doing world over in the fight against COVID 19.
  • Start by talking to them about how Coronavirus is making many people sick (Make sure not to overwhelm them by giving too many details)
  • Reassure them that there is no need to worry as long as we stay indoors
  • Ask them - If everyone is staying home, who's taking care of sick people?
  • Time to explain the selfless work of doctors and medical professionals
  • About how they are leaving their homes to care for others -> This can lead to a conversation about empathy and the value of caring for others
  • Tell them how sick people become ok because of them -> Help them see the rewards of empathy and hard work
  • Encourage them to express gratitude for the doctors -> Help them appreciate the efforts of people around them such as family members and friends too.
  • Lead by example by saluting the work of the amazing medical professionals -> Demonstrate your appreciation by applauding or saluting the healthcare workers. Children may find it easier to follow if they saw you doing it.

What to say

  1. Corona virus is making many people sick
  2. No need to worry as long as we stay indoors
  3. We are safe when we stay home 
  4. Everyone is staying home
  5. But who's taking care of sick people 
  6. It’s the doctors who are caring for the sick
  7. Doctors and healthcare workers are being selfless 
  8. They are leaving their homes 
  9. They are helping for sick in hospitals
  10. Sick people get well because of them
  11. We should thank the doctors 
  12. A big salute to the amazing doctors 
You can download this News book with larger images as PDF here. Avaz News Book_Amazing Doctors
    Avaz Inc. salutes the wonderful doctors and medical professionals. We vow to honour your efforts by following your advice and safety guidelines.   
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10 Cerebral Palsy Facts and Myths You Must Know

Cerebral Palsy FactsCerebral Palsy is the most common motor disability of childhood. People with CP can have varying levels of symptoms and difficulties. There is a lot of misinformation about CP that dictates the society’s perception of the condition. Here are 10 myths and the corresponding Cerebral Palsy facts that people need to be aware of-
  • Myth: CP is caused only by brain injuries at birth
Fact: About 85 to 90% of CP is congenital CP which is due to brain damage that happened before or during birth. However, it is quite possible to develop cerebral palsy later in life.
  • Myth: Premature births cause CP
Fact: Premature birth is the largest risk factor for cerebral palsy. However, it cannot be identified as a cause for cerebral palsy. Experts say that the series of events leading up to premature birth may be the more important factor to consider than the prematurity itself.
  • Myth: Everyone with CP has some degree of intellectual disability
Fact: Cerebral Palsy primarily affects movement, balance, and posture. Only 1 in 2 people with cerebral palsy have an intellectual disability. About 20% of people with CP can have a moderate to severe intellectual disability.
  • Myth: People with CP cannot communicate
Fact: CP can affect the muscles around the mouth and tongue making speaking more difficult. 1 in 4 people with CP may not be able to communicate through speech. But there are other ways with which they convey their wants and needs. They use communication boards, high tech AAC solutions such as AAC apps to communicate their thoughts effectively.
  • Myth: People with CP generally have a short life.
Fact: Most children affected by CP are healthy and have a life expectancy of 30 to 70 years. The severity of condition and the quality of treatment received can also be factors that determine how long they live.
  • Myth: Children with CP have poor quality of life
Fact:  CP is a life-long condition. However, wIth appropriate intervention strategies and adequate support, young people with CP can lead meaningful lives. They can pursue their hobbies and take part in societal interactions. Individuals with CP have been known to go on to pursue careers of their choice.
  • Myth: CP is hereditary
Fact: Cerebral Palsy is not a hereditary condition. However, according to researchers,  hereditary factors can predispose a person to CP. There is no specific genetic disorder that directly causes CP. Preterm birth, fetal growth restriction, preeclampsia, chorioamnionitis, and breech presentations are some of the genetic contributions to risk factors.
  • Myth: People with CP will not be able to walk.
Fact: Since cerebral palsy affects muscle movements, people with CP may have difficulties with walking. While some may need assistance, more than half of the children with CP can walk independently.
  • Myth: CP will get worse with age
Fact: CP is a non-progressive disorder. It may seem like the symptoms are worsening as a person gets older. That may be due to the general change in physical abilities due to advancing age.
  • Myth: People with CP cannot lead independent lives
Fact: People with CP may require caregiver support due to their motor difficulties, co-occurring conditions, and intellectual disabilities. However, assistive devices such as mobility aids, transfer equipment, and AAC systems can help adults with CP live independently. With proactive support and early intervention, children with CP can go on to lead fulfilling lives. While they take on life’s challenges with spirited determination, a lack of inclusion can affect their potential to be active participants in society. Being informed about CP will help in understanding the condition and is the first step towards societal acce
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How Reading Apps Help Children with Learning

Reading ComprehensionGeography is Jessica's favourite subject in school. Her teacher has asked the class to read the chapter on landforms and is preparing a quizlet on the same. As she is reading, she comes across the sentence, 'A strait is a narrow waterway that connects two larger bodies of water'. Jessica can't get past the word 'strait' as she is clueless on what to make of it. She doesn't want to skip the word lest the word should appear on the quiz.  She looks up at her friends and they seem to be absorbed with the book. She thinks momentarily about asking the teacher, who is still busy composing the quiz, for help. But she refrains from doing so. The rest of the class seems to have no problem reading the word and she doesn't want to be seen as dumb. She stares at the word again frantically trying to harness her mental energies into figuring out that word. She wishes her brother were there because he was the one who helped her at home with her reading tasks. He would've read it aloud to her. He would've broken down the syllables and taught her how to pronounce the word. Jessica's anxiety builds. She's got an A+ on all subjects and doesn't want to fail the Geography quiz just because she can't decode a six letter word.  Several children like Jessica suffer due to their reading difficulties and are made to feel inadequate. Although they are perfectly capable of excelling at school, they are constantly battling their struggles to keep up with their peers. Without appropriate intervention strategies, they may have to work harder to prove themselves and this puts a tremendous emotional and psychological strain on them.

How Reading Apps Help

Let's see how Jessica could’ve aced her Geography quiz with reading apps such as MDA Avaz Reader: Any written text including textbooks, worksheets, magazines, storybooks, newspapers etc can be read with MDA Avaz Reader. Just take a clear photo of the text to be read and you get a variety of supports readily available. Once Jessica taps the word ‘strait’ in MDA Avaz Reader, she can access the following hints: [caption id="attachment_4664" align="alignleft" width="250"]Reading support Picture Hint[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4666" align="aligncenter" width="250"] Pronunciation hint[/caption]     [caption id="attachment_4667" align="alignleft" width="250"] Syllable Blend Hint[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4665" align="aligncenter" width="250"] Syllable Hint[/caption]  

The Role of Reading Apps

Conventional reading intervention strategies do an excellent job in preparing the child to overcome their reading challenges. However, the child may not have access to such resources all the time and this can limit their progress. Reading apps can not only complement existing intervention methods but can also serve as a way to ensure that consistent support is available to those who need them. Here are a few ways in which assistive technology offers reading support to children: Independence  This is probably the foremost benefit of having a reading app. The child no longer has to wait for someone to help them with a word. If they want to read the latest ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ book, they need not put it off until a parent or teacher can assist them. This ability to read without having to rely on others gives them independence and helps them become more proficient readers. Multisensory Learning Children learn to read and spell better if  multisensory techniques are employed in the classroom. They also tend to retain more information when a more engaging and fun approach is taken during  instruction. Reading apps provide picture and audio hints providing stimulation for all kinds of learners. Reading Practice  With the 24×7 support reading apps provide, children can read at school, at home, while waiting at the dentist’s or while on vacation, and grow their love for reading. Since the app serves as a reading buddy, children do not need to expend their energy in decoding each word. This encourages them to read more! Further, experts suggest that reading volume can significantly influence reading fluency and comprehension. 

Shared Reading and Literacy for AAC Users

MDA Avaz Reader is a reading app that offers several reading supports for emergent readers. The Auto-Read feature of the app reads the stories aloud and the speed and the accent of the voice can be customized for each learner. More importantly, MDA Avaz Reader has several reading supports including symbol hint which can help AAC users learn words and build language skills during shared reading. [caption id="attachment_4897" align="alignleft" width="273"] Tap on the word you want to model[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4896" align="aligncenter" width="271"]Shared Reading Picture hint[/caption]   When you tap on any word that you want to model, a picture hint shows up. The visual reinforcement can help AAC users easily make the connection between the words in their AAC system and the words in the stories. There are  picture hints for the several  fringe words too which make it a stimulating reading experience for AAC users. The pencil icon that tracks the word being read can also help the learner focus on that particular word. As children read more, they are likely to pick up key skills that are vital for their literacy. You can also add any PDF or take a photo of a storybook that the child got as a gift or any magazine they enjoy reading. Many children fall behind in school or literacy because they get stuck at words they are not familiar with. This hugely limits their growth and academic performance. A reading app can make a world of difference in enabling children to overcome their reading challenges and to realize their full potential.      
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Avaz AAC Android: Exciting News About Updates

Avaz AAC AndroidHello Avaz AAC family! Hope you are healthy and staying safe. These are difficult times, more so for people with special needs. We’re glad to bring some cheer amidst the uncertainty around us. We’re coming up with an update for Avaz AAC Android with awesome features that give you an improved user experience.  Here’s what’s included in our latest update:

New Voices, More Voices:

Avaz Avaz AAC is all about giving a voice to people having complex communication needs. With that aim, AAC will now feature voices from Google! This  gives the user a wider choice of voices. Since Google keeps adding more high quality voices periodically, you’ll keep having more voices to choose from :) You can also change other vocal characteristics such as pitch to make the voice sound more nuanced and appropriate for each user. This means that users can choose voices that best match their personalities and individual preferences. This Android update also gives you access to  regional language text to speech voices like Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Gujarati, Malayalam, Marathi and many more.

Whatsapp Support for Users  and Communication Partners

It’s no secret that proficiency of communication partners has a huge role in the AAC learning of a user. We understand that beginning communicators and their communication partners may need consistent support to get comfortable with the AAC system. To facilitate this, we are planning to send AAC resources regularly over Whatsapp once you opt in for it. Since Whatsapp is an easier medium to reach AAC users, we are hopeful that more AAC users and caregivers will benefit from receiving AAC resources including mini tutorials, how-tos, and more. Now, you can reach out to us over WhatsApp. You can send us quick queries about app features, customization, ways to use Avaz AAC, personalization options etc. This is just another way we can support you in your AAC journey.

Why Google Voices? 

We are switching to Google voices  because our previous voice provider Ivona no longer supports voices for Android.  It was a tough decision for us to make and rest assured we considered all options before making this switch. Google voices was chosen for quality and affordability. All other alternatives would have made Avaz AAC unaffordable for a majority of our users - and that would have been very unfair to many kids waiting for a voice. The switch to Google voices  means that some voices like Raveena / Ivy / Justin / Sally will no longer be available on Avaz AAC for Android.

Adjusting to New Voices

In case you use one of the voices that is no longer supported, we completely understand that the voice change might be a challenge. This might be the case especially for the child who is already used to a particular voice. We are extending this advance information to enable you to prepare for this change and to accordingly prepare your child too.  As always, we are here to support you!  Here are some tips for you to help the user prep for the voice change if applicable to them - TIP 1 As a trial, start by changing the voice in your current app to see how your child is responding to the change. Do this in regular intervals to gradually set expectations for the voice change.  How to switch or change voice in your current app - Google TTS You can change the voice by going to settings and tapping on the Change system voice option. Please note that at present you will be taken to the device settings to change voice. Once you download the update for Avaz AAC Android, you can make these changes from within the app.  Tap on 'Language' to choose a voice. Avaz AAC ANdroid settings TIP 2 Talk to your child about the upcoming change. Using a social story to talk about this will go a long way in explaining it to them. Here’s one example of a social story you can use to do this -

How to Retain the Old Voices

After attempting to prepare your child, if you still think your child will not be able to handle the change, there is a way in which you can retain the old voices.  Please note - We DO NOT recommend this, but if you see no other way out, you can try this method: Turn off auto-update in your Play store. This will let you retain the original voices. This also means that you will not get any further app updates or  new features.  Android apps downloaded from the Google Play Store are automatically updated by default.To turn off auto-update, follow these steps:
  • Open the Google Play Store on your Android device.
  • Tap the Search Box at the top of the Play Store.
  • Enter the name of the app and tap Search.
  • Tap on the app to open the listing.
  • Tap the three-dot overflow menu in the top right-hand corner.
  • Click to deselect the checkbox next to Enable auto update.
[caption id="attachment_4636" align="aligncenter" width="237"]Avaz AAC ANdroid Turning off auto-update in Play store[/caption] Once you configure these settings, the app will no longer automatically update. If you have any questions or concerns, you can always reach out to us at support@avazapp.com. Please know that we’ll do our best to make this transition smooth for everyone.

What to Expect in Future Updates:

Sharing Vocabulary Avaz users can soon share vocabulary folders with other Avaz users. This means that if you have created a very useful folder of words, you can share it with others directly from within Avaz AAC itself! Teachers and therapists can share folders and words with parents too! Plus, vocabulary can be shared via WhatsApp as well. Your constructive feedback and suggestions have steered our efforts towards refining our apps. With your continued support, we are determined to include more features that make communication effortless with Avaz AAC.    
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Let the Games Begin – AAC Games the Whole Family can Play

Fun AAC GamesSo, schools are closed and we are home religiously following WHO guidelines for social distancing. News updates paint a bleak picture. While it’s important to stay aware, we cannot let the crisis consume our minds. So, let’s consider this challenge an opportunity in disguise- an opportunity to spend some quality family time, to build communication and strengthen family bonds.  Connecting with others  during these trying times can keep our anxieties at bay. Some of these games can be played with other AAC users over social media. So, families with AAC users can get together and plan for some organized AAC fun.  Ditch the TV and movies, folks. It’s time for games. Fun games that AAC users can play with their families 👨‍👩‍👦‍👦. Click on the images below to see how to play these awesome games:  

WORD CHAIN

Word Chain AAC game          

MEMORY GAME

Memory AAC Game

 

WHO'S THE BOSS

Simon says AAC game  

GAMES WITH DIGITAL ASSISTANTS

            With young kids missing school and therapy sessions, exciting games like these can fill their days with fun and joy. It will also enable them to keep in touch with their AAC learning and continue the progress they have made with it at therapy. It can also help in shifting the focus away from the glumness around us and make time for self-care and family well being.      Did you like these games? Please share screenshots or videos of how you played the games with friends and family. You can post them in the comment section below or send them to support@avazapp.com  
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Play Word Chain with AAC

Word chain AAC gameThis classic game can go on and on because the last we checked, there are around 171,476 words in the Oxford dictionary📕. Agreed, kids may not know most of it. But what a way for them to gain vocabulary. And spelling. This can be played with any number of players. The more the merrier. How to Play: One player communicates a word. The next player needs to communicate a word beginning with the previous word’s final letter. The next player needs to do the same and so on. For example,  Player 1: orange   (The last letter of this word is ‘e’. So, the next word begins with ‘e’) Player 2: elephant    (This word ends with ‘t’. So, Player 3 needs to say a word beginning with ‘t’) An example word chain could look like this: Orange, elephant, tiger, river, rain,notebook, king Since AAC systems are compatible with social media, you can play this game with other AAC users and their families.  Here’s how our Avaz AAC users rocked this game in a Whatsapp group: Word Chain AAC game     Image may contain: text   Did you like this game? Please share screenshots or videos of how you played this game with friends and family. You can post them in the comment section below or send them to support@avazapp.com
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Memory Game with AAC

Memory AAC GameThis game that puts our memory to test can be played with things that lie around the house. This can be exciting game to play for both kids and adults.  How to play:  Keep a few items covered on a tray such as ball, pen, ruler, book, etc. Reveal the items for a few minutes so that all players can take a look at them. Cover the tray again with a cloth. All players write down the list of items from their memory. The player who gets the most number of items right wins🏆. The number of items and the time given to memorize them can be increased as the players get more adept at this. For beginning AAC communicators, you can create a memory game folder and add the names of all the items on the tray. The trick is to mix it up with items that are not on the tray. (This is pretty easy with Avaz AAC because you can add multiple words at one go). They then tap on the items they remember from the tray. For more advanced AAC users you can have them navigate the app and tap out the names of items they remember! Multiple words in Avaz AAC Memory GAme with AAC               Did you like this game? Please share screenshots or videos of how you played this game with friends and family. You can post them in the comment section below or send them to support@avazapp.com
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Play ‘Who’s the Boss?’ with AAC

Simon says AAC gameNo, this is not a new game we’ve invented. It’s just a more fun name for the old favorite Simon Says! Who wouldn’t love to be the boss and order others around? It’s loads of fun for kids and the bonus is that this encourages AAC use. Because which kid would want to miss out on an opportunity to turn the tables and dictate what parents do. How to Play: When the player prefaces a command with “Simon says’ (or  'The Boss says’ 😎), others simply have to follow the command. Get creative with commands and you’ll have the whole family roaring with laughter during the game. Some examples of commands are: Make a silly face, bark like a dog, mimic a cat, do a crazy dance, sing a gibberish song, etc. Create a folder in your AAC system and add several phrases with audio for the commands. Remember if the player communicates a command without saying ‘Simon says’ and you go on to follow the command, you are out of the game. So, keep your ears open for this one.   Simon Says on AAC                                 Did you like this game? Please share screenshots or videos of how you played this game with friends and family. You can post them in the comment section below or send them to support@avazapp.com  
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Autism Acceptance Month Discount: April 1 to 30, 2020

Autism AcceptanceGiven the grim circumstances around the world, communication has never been more important. It’s imperative that we as a community stick together, connect, and communicate. We at Avaz Inc, are doing our bit to empower people having complex communication needs, and to support the literacy journey of children staying home due to school closures. April being Autism Acceptance Month, we also want to celebrate people on the spectrum and all forms of neurodivergence. We are offering a FLAT 50% DISCOUNT on all Avaz Products from April 1 to 30, 2020! 

The Discount:  

50% off on: Avaz AAC : An award-winning communication app for users with speech difficulties arising from ASD, Cerebral Palsy, Downs Syndrome, aphasia, apraxia, strokes & more MDA Avaz Reader : Education app that enables struggling readers become independent readers using research backed strategies. Avaz FreeSpeech : An education app that makes learning English Grammar fun & easy for children with special needs

Help us Spread the Word

Share this news with loved ones who have been waiting to buy one of our products. Tell that teacher friend of yours who has been eyeing our products for her school. Or that parent who has been waiting for this discount to give her child a voice.

Queries?

Our Support team is here to assist! Reach us 24×7 at support@avazapp.com Please note that the discounted prices mentioned below are for the Lifetime purchase of Avaz AAC, MDA Avaz Reader, and Avaz FreeSpeech apps. [ninja_tables id="2354"] You can avail the discount for Avaz FreeSpeech here. You can also purchase all our products at the App store or at the Play Store Learn more about our assistive technology products that empowers users with communication and learning: Avaz AAC         MDA Avaz Reader    Avaz FreeSpeech
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All you Need to Know to Help Children Cope with the CoronaVirus Pandemic

Coping with COVIDThe Coronavirus pandemic is causing anxiety in people around the globe. Misconceptions and a lack of awareness can only make things worse and it’s important to stay informed.  Here are a few resources to help you combat the challenges that arise due to the COVID-19 crisis:

Talking to Children:

Several schools have closed and children may sense the panic even if they do not grasp the gravity of the situation. Not addressing their fears can heighten their anxieties. So, parents and family members must reassure them and help them make sense of all the furore over the pandemic. Children with special needs may need more support to comprehend how the virus spreads and ways to protect themselves. Trusted adults must have an honest conversation about the pandemic, including as much information as they deem appropriate for the child’s age and cognition. For children using AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication), visual supports may help in reiterating the steps to follow to keep themselves safe. You can create visual supports now for free  on Smarty Symbols by using the promo code HOMEVISUALS. Here are more links with visual supports and information regarding COVID-19:  

Wash, Wash, Wash Your Hands

Washing hands regularly is general hand hygiene. But young children are not typically known for their squeaky clean hands, given their tendencies to explore things by physically touching them.  UNICEF has emphasized the role of correct hand washing techniques and other safe practices  for coronavirus prevention.  Humming Happy Birthday twice is suggested as a hack to indicate how long we should be washing our hands for. Not a huge fan of the tune? https://washyourlyrics.com/  is a website that lets you use any song as a Wash-your-hands jingle. This has really caught on with netizens who have generated thousands of posters  with song lyrics from artistes including BTS, Shakira, Coldplay, etc. Children seem to love the idea of listening to their favourite songs while washing their hands. https://birthday-hands.glitch.me/ is an app that tells you the celebrities you can sing birthday to while washing your hands.  Handwashing need not be a drudgery anymore courtesy of these simple and ingenious ideas.

device sanitation Device Sanitation

With cities in lockdown, and experts urging to practise ‘social distancing’, many adults and children may turn to their smartphones for social engagement. However, experts say that devices are hotbeds of germs. For high tech AAC users, this amplifies the risks because they may need their AAC systems at all times for communication. Given the serious consequences, it’s important to regularly sanitize devices and device cases. Samsung is offering free UV-C light sanitation for some of its devices in several of their Samsung experience stores (Check if your local store offers this service). Apple is instructing iPhone owners to use a cloth dampened with water to clean their phones while warm soapy water can be used for the iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max. Apple also says that you can use Clorox wipe or a wipe with 70% isopropyl alcohol to clean your iPhones.
  • What Not to Do:
Don’t use harsh chemicals, window cleaners, or rubbing alcohol on your screens as these may damage the coating on the screens. Using paper towels can scratch the screen while using antibacterial wipes may often not be a great idea. Make sure not to let moisture get into open areas of the devices
  • What You can Do:
Dampen a microfiber cloth with mild soap solution and quickly wipe down the screen. Please ensure that your phone is water-resistant before doing this.Use cotton swabs to clean headphone jacks and around the buttons. Assistive technology users need to sanitize their equiments in addition to maintaining their self-hygiene. Numotion has instructions for cleaning wheelchairs and other equipment : https://www.numotion.com/blog/march-2020/coronavirus-what-to-do-if-you-re-in-a-wheelchair.

Creating a Supportive Learning Environment

School closures have led to parents struggling to keep their bored children engaged. More and more school districts are opting for virtual classes. But for young children, online classes may not be effective without active adult supervision.  For children with special needs, school closures pose additional challenges beyond learning. Parents are concerned about the possibility of childrens’ progress being stalled due to suspension of therapy sessions or classroom instruction.  Parents of beginning AAC communicators too  worry about children losing ground on their AAC journey and forgetting the skills they’ve picked up painstakingly over several months. But thanks to the power of the internet, children can continue their AAC learning through virtual therapy sessions. Avaz AAC’s Avaz Live is a powerful feature through which therapists can demonstrate AAC strategies on their systems, or take control of the AAC user’s systems and change vocabulary settings. This way, if the AAC user was on course to get additional vocabulary added or to move to advanced vocabulary, they can do so with the help of the expert. If you want to know more about Avaz Live, please reach out to support@avazapp.com. AccessiByte is supporting remote learning for those who use assistive technology by  offering free access to its apps. Here are a few more learning and recreational resources to keep children occupied:  
  • Facts4me.com gives free access to its resources til APr. 4, 2020 (Username:read Password:read)

Mental and Emotional Health

Mental healthThe coronavirus crisis can take a heavy toll on the emotional and mental well being of families trapped within their homes. Adults may have to deal with the financial implications of the lockdown and this can put tremendous strain on them. Worrying about the health of family members and caring for young children staying home due to school closures can add to the stress. It’s important to talk about your difficulties openly with friends and family. While isolation is advised, make sure to stay connected to loved ones through social media and messaging platforms. If you feel overwhelmed, seek help immediately. Your unease can affect how children perceive the crisis. Children may experience a wide range of emotions due to the circumstances surrounding the virus outbreak and maybe unable to express them. Especially those with special needs may not be able to communicate their fears or feelings of distress. Adults must encourage them to express what they feel. While it is important to drive home the significance of following safe practices, this needs to be done discreetly so as to not scare the child. Here are a few resources that explain how to take care of mental health: Telegraph’s video about mental health Guardian’s video to deal with cabin fever WHO has this PDF about mental health considerations https://www.eachmindmatters.org/ask-the-expert/stayingconnected/ CDC has a bunch of resource about reducing-stigma and  self care SAMHSA has a few tips for social distancing WHO’s Q&A on mental health during COVID-19     If you know of any other resources or links, please share them in the comment section below. We'll keep updating the post as and when we come across authenticated resources  
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Small Screen, Huge Impact: Avaz AAC now Available on iPhones

Avaz AAC, which is available for iPad, and supports more than 15 languages, has taken another significant step towards ensuring accessibility. The robust AAC app that empowers people with complex communication needs is now available on iPhones. To date, Avaz AAC has made communication possible for more than 60,000 users across the globe. With this major move, Avaz Inc. looks forward to opening the doors of communication for many more users worldwide. 
Avaz AAC now available for iPhonesOur young users who have grown up using Avaz AAC on tablets, are now transitioning into adolescence & adulthood. As they build vibrant social lives with peers, they wish to use communication tools that are less conspicuous, sleeker and available at all times. Big tablets are hence no longer an option. Hence, today marks a big milestone in our company’s pursuit towards customer delight. Over the years, our focus has been to ensure that our users’ needs are front and centre of all product design. This has resulted in several night outs by the engineering team to bring to life our users’ single biggest request - Avaz AAC on iPhones. Now our young users can hang out with friends, access public spaces, travel and so much more. With Avaz AAC now available across platforms and mobile devices, the possibilities are endless. They no longer have to feel conscious about their preferred mode of communication. Nor do they have to lug an inconveniently sized tablet around for their basic needs.
And this is exactly what social inclusion is all about!

What to Expect from Avaz AAC on iPhones

The iPhone app is packed with all the same phenomenal features that users and experts love in Avaz AAC. Every feature included in the app is the result of meticulous research and invaluable inputs from renowned experts and experienced professionals in the field of AAC and assistive technology. Avaz Inc. is committed to providing you with a world class communication app you are worthy of. We are constantly listening to your feedback and feature requests to understand how the app can be improved to suit your needs. In the recent months, we’ve updated Avaz AAC app with several features to meet your requirements and expectations. The iPhone app comes with all of these awesome updates and we are excited about making communication more accessible to a wider range of users.

Features of Avaz AAC In a Nutshell

The most common and heartwarming feedback we receive about Avaz AAC is how user friendly it is. Effortless communication is definitely one of the app’s end goals. The app’s design and layout are also focussed on providing communication autonomy. Here is a brief look at some of the exceptional features of Avaz AAC and how they arm AAC users with the power to communicate:
  • Easy Customization
Customizing Avaz is simple and uncomplicated. You can add multiple words and images at one go (in picture mode). Once you type in all the words to add, the app adds relevant icons with respective images, color code automatically in no time!   Adding images to an AAC app has never been easier. You can search the web for copyright-free images from within the app. 
  1. Powerful Keyboard Mode
Picture support for Text Mode: This helps users make a smooth transition from pictures to text. Phonetic Match: This feature helps early language learners and those with language deficits by performing a spell check on misspelt words.
  1. Low Tech Version of App Vocabulary (as a PDF)
You can take a printout of the entire Avaz vocabulary that can serve as a low-tech option for the user. This ensures that the user is not left without a voice in environments where high tech AAC use is not feasible.
  1. Comprehensive Communication Partner Training
Avaz Dashboard has a training module designed to help caregivers become fluent with the app. It  teaches them therapist-recommended strategies for communication, and suggests simple practical ideas that they could use to model words across different activities throughout the day. 5.Extensive Vocabulary for Boundless Expression Avaz offers three levels of inbuilt vocabulary sets (levels 1,2 and 3) that can be completely customized, depending on the user's needs. The vocabulary sets are pragmatically organized - to facilitate a wide range of pragmatic communication and expression such as greetings, expressing an opinion, asking a question, giving a response, commenting, protesting, etc. 6. Recent Updates Avaz AAC app now displays saved sentences that are assigned to keys so that the user can easily load these saved sentences.This ensures quick access to frequently used sentences and encourages users to employ them in common scenarios. The app has also included an auto clear option so that messages get cleared from the message box after they are spoken out. This speeds up communication without the user having to manually delete previous messages before constructing a new one. Avaz AAC app is now compatible with several more messaging and social media platforms including Text, Email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp  etc.  There has been much anticipation among the AAC community for the availability of Avaz AAC app on iPhones. Several SLPs and users had expressed how they would love to have such a full-featured app on a smaller device. The Avaz Inc. team is thrilled to have fulfilled your requests and is grateful for your overwhelming enthusiasm for the iPhone app. As always, your unwavering support motivates us to do more to make communication a reality for all.    
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Teaching Verb Tenses The Fun Way

If you ask native English speakers how many verb tenses there are in the language, chances are that most won’t get the number right. Yet they speak English fluently. It doesn't matter if they know that there are 12 verb tenses in English for them to communicate effectively. But ESL(English as a Second Language) learners and those with learning disabilities and language impairments may need more support to get a good grasp of such grammar concepts.To make things easier for such learners, we may need to find novel ways for teaching verb tenses that complement the conventional methods. Present progressive tense, Past perfect tense, Future perfect continuous tense - these can be intimidating terms for English learners. Truth be told, these terms can be confusing for any child. So, how can we teach grammar to children without scaring them away? Colour coded charts, tables, infographics, etc can definitely engage kids. But such resources can be labour intensive and can be found lacking when it comes to keeping children focused and interested. Do you wish there was an exciting way to teach verb tenses? Well, then you need not look further than Avaz FreeSpeech. Thanks to some amazing technology (that runs complex algorithms), Avaz FreeSpeech gamifies various aspects of grammar learning. Powered by the world’s first grammar prediction engine, Avaz FreeSpeech is a revolutionary app that helps learn grammar and build language in a fun way.

What are Verb Tenses?

Verb tenses in English is a combination of Time and Aspect. Time indicates when something happened (past, present, future). Verb aspect indicates whether the actions are repeated, continuous, or happen in a single block of time.  Here are the 12 verb tenses: 
  • Present Simple
  • Present Continuous/Progressive
  • Present Perfect
  • Present Perfect Continuous/Progressive
  • Past Simple
  • Past Continuous/Progressive
  • Past Perfect
  • Past Perfect Continuous/Progressive
  • Future Simple
  • Future Perfect
  • Future Continuous/Progressive
  • Future Perfect Continuous/Progressive

Present, Past, and Future

Let’s analyze how the app helps learn verb tenses: For example, you compose the sentence, ‘She do homework’, the app automatically recasts it to the grammatically correct sentence, ‘She does homework', which is in present tense. If the child is not sure of how to talk about the action in the past tense, all they have to do is to tap on the ‘PAST’ button. The message box immediately displays the sentence, ‘She did homework’. Similarly, tapping on the ‘FUTURE’ button displays the sentence, ‘She will do homework.’ 

More Verb Tenses

If you want to use Present Continuous, use the combination of ‘PRESENT’ and ‘CONTINUOUS’ buttons.  If you want to use Present Perfect, use the combination of ‘PRESENT’ and ‘COMPLETED’ buttons If you want to use Present Perfect Continuous, use the combination of ‘PRESENT’, ‘COMPLETED’ and ‘CONTINUOUS’ buttons Similarly, If you want to use Past Continuous, use the combination of ‘PAST’ and ‘CONTINUOUS’ buttons. If you want to use Past Perfect, use the combination of ‘PAST’ and ‘COMPLETED’ buttons If you want to use Past Perfect Continuous, use the combination of ‘PAST’, ‘COMPLETED’ and ‘CONTINUOUS’ buttons. If you want to use Future Continuous, use the combination of ‘FUTURE’ and ‘CONTINUOUS’ If you want to use Future Perfect, use the combination of ‘FUTURE’ and ‘COMPLETED’ buttons. If you want to use Future Perfect Continuous, use the combination of ‘FUTURE’, ‘COMPLETED’ and ‘CONTINUOUS’ buttons.  Here's the app in action powering through all the 12 verb tenses: As you can see, Avaz FreeSpeech provides a  simplified way of teaching verb tenses. It makes the task easier for the teacher or parent and lets the child learn at their own pace. What’s more, you can also create custom challenges so that children can get enough practice using all the tenses. There's a lot more you can do with Avaz FreeSpeech such as negation, questions, and other sentence manipulations. It can also help in expansion and recasting of language. The picture support and audio cues help in multi sensory learning and helps children of all abilities build language. Learn more about Avaz FreeSpeech here.          
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Avaz AAC User Stories: Why Nishant and his AAC System are Inseparable 

It's always a pleasure to catch up with our users to see what they are upto. We reached out to Akila Vaidyanathan, mother of long-time AAC user and a bright young man, Nishant, to find out more about his AAC journey. Talk to Ms. Akila Vaidyanathan and you can immediately gather that she has spent years working with children with special needs and learning about AAC implementation. Apart from  DSE Autism and MSc Applied Psychology, she also has several international certificates in RPM, PECS, AT Tools, FIE and Applied Drama. The Director of Amaze Charitable Trust, Coimbatore readily shared a few moving personal stories about Nishant and some key AAC strategies that she employs regularly.

Giving Them the Power

Akila says that she didn't have to do much to teach Choice-making to Nishant, who was diagnosed with Autism when he was 3. He had always been particular about the things he wanted and wouldn't settle for anything else. This fit well into the family’s plan for raising an empowered child.  Choice-making is an intervention used in children with Autism that allows them to dictate their preferences and have control over the environment. For beginning communicators, providing choices between a much preferred item and something else is a great way to get them to communicate.

Paving the Way for Communication

Akila rightly warns about the consequences of parents preempting a child's needs. When parents assume a child’s needs and wants, it can lead to them developing a learned behaviour of showing no communicative intent. Parents should instead encourage the child to express their ideas. To facilitate this, we may have to constantly create communication opportunities around the house. Sabotaging the environment is one of the strategies Akila employs as a motivator for communication. It involves keeping the things that a child regularly uses out of their reach or hidden. This creates a scenario where children reach for their AAC systems to request their favourite things. She also talks about the efficacy of reinforcer checklists, which gives caregivers an idea of things to use for rewarding desired behaviour. Reinforcers can be anything that a child enjoys such as cookies or  playtime. Akila has a Effective Reinfocers list that includes Indian snacks and desserts. Here’s another  sample reinforcer checklist that parents can use to assess what works for their children.  

Family that Models Together

While Nishant is a young adult now, fluent with AAC, and has admirable literacy skills, it was not easy getting here. The family experimented with several speech-generating devices (SGDs) and consulted several professionals to support his AAC journey. Nishant instantly took to Avaz because it gave him a voice. He found symbols easier to communicate with, although he had good language skills.The family consistently modelled on the AAC system which had an instrumental role to play in enabling his AAC proficiency. Getting all family members on board can make a world of difference in how an AAC user perceives the AAC system. Especially for emergent communicators, watching their family members use the AAC system for communication can be a major motivator to explore the AAC device.

Find fun ideas for using AAC in everyday life here

Respecting Their Emotional Intelligence

One of the myths surrounding people with Autism is that they can be indifferent or that they are devoid of emotion. Akila shares a few anecdotes that busts these misconceptions. 
  • The Sibling Connection
Nishant and his younger sister are like any other siblings in that they have a few shared interests and a few things that they can't agree on. Nishant had never expressed how much he enjoys hanging out with her. But when she had to leave home to pursue her college education, he wasn’t too pleased about it. He was mad at his parents for sending her off to college. It took some convincing from his sister for him to be okay with her being away from him. 
  • Source of Solace
It was a sad time for the family when Nishant’s grandmother passed away. Seeing his loved ones crying did not sit well with Nishant. It made him anxious. He went over to his mom and used AAC to say,“Don’t cry. Grandma is ok. The universe will take care of her.” Some profound words indeed. More importantly, these are kind words from an empathetic child who couldn’t see his family in despair. So, why is Nishant inseparable from his AAC system? Because he, like his peers, has a potent mind filled with thoughts, ideas, opinions and feelings.  Thanks to supportive parents, learned professionals, and cool technology, he has discovered the power of communicating his ideas. He has so much to say -  to communicate with those around him. His AAC system is his means of expression. It is a tool with which he offers words of comfort to those who need them, talks about what’s bothering him, and expresses his disagreements and reservations. Nishant is a prime example of how access to early intervention, resources and support systems can do wonders for self-advocacy and the self-worth of children with special needs.  
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Downloadable Low Tech Communication Boards

Parent using communication board with childCommunication boards are an excellent resource to facilitate communication for people with speech and language deficits. Children and adults who have complex communication needs can use these boards to express their wants and needs. It can be used to augment communication in case the user has partial speech or as an alternative mode of communication for those who are non-verbal. You can find COVID-related downloadable communication boards here. You can find story-related Communication boards for shared reading here. Why use Low Tech AAC Boards? People with communication challenges due to Autism, Apraxia, stroke,  can use AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) boards to communicate to their loved ones and during social interactions. Even AAC users who use robust high tech AAC systems can use low tech boards in physical environments where high tech AAC use may not be feasible. For a child getting started with AAC, low tech boards can be used to build language as they develop their communication skills. While the boards have their limitations in their range of vocabulary, their low cost and ease-of-use make them handy tools for communication. They can also be easily carried everywhere providing the user access to communication at all times. Here's a great example of  how to use low tech boards to encourage AAC use. Hang the low tech board with food vocabulary near the refrigerator or dining table so that the communicator can request the food they'd like to have. Once the AAC user gets familiar with the vocabulary on the low tech board, they can use the same on their high tech AAC systems too. Low tech board used by an AAC user Here are a few downloadable low tech boards of Avaz AAC app. Please note that these boards have a grid size of 40. If you want other grid sizes, you can download them as PDF from Avaz AAC app.

Download a free trial version of Avaz AAC here for iOS | Android.

Avaz AAC(English)
  1. Avaz AAC Core Board                                                 File size:659 KB
  2. Avaz AAC Core Vocabulary​(More Core Words)            File size:1060 KB
  3. Avaz AAC Feelings                                                     File size:1370 KB
  4. Avaz AAC Questions                                                  File size:1240 KB
Download a free trial version of Avaz Francais here.
Avaz Francais (French)
  1. Avaz en Français Mots de Base                                 File size:1277 KB
  2. Avaz en Français Questions                                      File size:339 KB
  3. Avaz en Francais réponses et commentaires           File size:1180 KB
  4. Avaz en Francais Rapide                                           File size:3540 KB
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Avaz India
  1. Avaz India_Core                                                        File size: 417 KB
  2. Avaz India_Breakfast                                                File size:356 KB
  3. Avaz India_Lunch/Dinner                                         File size:1550 KB

Download a free trial version of Avaz Danish here

Avaz Danish
  1. Centrale Ord Avaz bog                                              File size:340 KB
  2. mine følelser Avaz bog                                             File size:237 KB
  3. frokost Avaz bog                                                       File size:303 KB
  4. morgenmad Avaz bog                                              File size:453 KB
  5. aftensmad Avaz bog                                                  File size:371 KB
        Hope you use these communication boards in your AAC journey. If you have any ideas for DIY communication boards, please share them in the comment section below.
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How Knowing Word Families Helps in Achieving Reading Proficiency

word familyTeaching reading to young children can be an arduous task given that the English language follows numerous patterns and has irregular spelling. Read on to learn about how word families can help simplify reading instruction and improve reading comprehension.

What are Word Families?

According to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries, word families are a group of related words that are formed from the same word or a group of words with particular features in common. Here are the two word families that are commonly used in reading instruction for beginning and struggling readers:
  • Rhyming Word Family
Words belong to a rhyming word family if they have a similar ending sound.  For example, the words, cake, ‘make’, ‘bake’, and ‘take’ have a similar combination of words at the end - which also sound similar.
  • Morphological Word Family
Words belong to a morphological word family if they share a common structure and meaning. For example, the words, ‘read’, ‘reading’, ‘reads’, ‘reader’, ‘misread’, and ‘reread’, belong to a word family because they share a common root word, ‘read’, with different prefixes and suffixes added.

Why Focus on Word Families?

Knowledge of word families helps children build vocabulary. Instead of memorizing spellings and meanings of all words, they learn how to spot patterns, identify root words, and understand their common meanings or sounds. This helps in word recognition leading to the development  of their reading fluency. Studies suggest that children learn to connect what they have already learned to what they are currently learning through by observing word similarities. Understanding the concept of root words and their derivatives can help children deduce the meaning of other words in the word family. Experts also say that children tend to read quicker because of the familiarity of the words in word families. They learn to analyze language and understand common grammar rules.  For example, knowing that the prefix ‘un’ can indicate negation - this knowledge will help children infer the meaning of words with this prefix, as long as they know the root word.  They will understand that ‘unhappy’ is the opposite of ‘happy’ and that ‘untrue’ means ‘not true’ Similarly, understanding that the suffix ‘er’ can indicate more of something, will help them deduce that ‘easier’ means ‘more easy’ and ‘happier’ means ‘more happy’.

How to Teach Word Families

Encouraging children to identify rhyming words in a text is at the core of teaching about rhyming word families. Word family charts and games can be useful tools in this effort. For emergent or dyslexic readers, it may not be easy to identify rhyming words. In such cases, the teacher can guide them by emphasizing the similar sounding portions of final syllables in the words being taught. For example, the teacher can take a keyword such as 'cat', and ask the children to find words that end with ‘at’.  For morphological word families, classroom instruction should focus on developing the child’s awareness of morphemes, which are the smallest units of language that have meaning. As children grow, they come across academic vocabulary with prefixes or suffixes, such as the prefix ‘hydro’ which means ‘water’ or ‘hydrogen’. So, morphological awareness has a major role to play in comprehension and thus, literacy. 

MDA Avaz Reader And Word Families

Reading instruction can be a complex process and teachers might not have the bandwidth to attend to each child and customize the lesson plans for their individual needs. Assistive tools such as MDA Avaz Reader can be great teaching aids and assist teachers in providing tailor made instruction. The reading assistance app can also be used at home to help children while they read as part of their homework or while reading as a hobby. [gallery size="medium" ids="4385,4384"] MDA Avaz Reader has several exciting stories that give children their daily reading practice. You can also import a PDF into the app or take a photo of the storybook or textbook the child wants to read. In case the child needs help with a word, they can tap the ‘Hint’ button to get rhyming and prefix/suffix hints. Please note that the app also provides additional hints such as syllable, picture and audio hints to help children comprehend a word effectively. [gallery size="medium" ids="4383,4382,4381"] Word families can accelerate vocabulary acquisition by significantly increasing the number of words children have at their command. To achieve reading proficiency, instruction must also focus on teaching other reading strategies concurrently. More importantly, giving ready access to help with digital assistive tools reassures children. It also encourages them to immerse themselves into reading, resulting in improved reading skills and literacy.    
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Love as a Source of Strength and Joy for Special Needs Families

Avaz AACValentine's Day is upon us.  A day to celebrate love - because it is truly what makes the world go round. Special needs families derive strength from the unconditional love they have for their family members. Love comforts and reassures. It invigorates them as they navigate life's various challenges. It is the profundity of love that helps in appreciating the small pleasures of life despite the struggles. With school projects, therapy appointments and other responsibilities consuming your time, you may not have been able to tell your child how much they mean to you. Not just heart shaped balloons, chocolates, flowers, greeting cards, and gifts - there are several ways to show love to people you care about. Here are a few more thoughtful ways to express your love: Handwritten Notes Special needs children may need reassurance and support from family members to deal with their challenges. The more they know how loved they are, the better it is for their confidence. Consider doing a little extra as a family this Valentine’s day, besides the daily ‘I love you’s. Get together as a family and write handwritten notes for each other. No need to worry too much about the choice of words or language proficiency. Simple words suffice to express gratitude and affection. During this activity, you can encourage the child to participate by expressing their love in whichever way they communicate best - be it sign language, a hug, or using their AAC system. Whip Up a Treat Together Know your way around the kitchen? Well, then it's time to put your apron on and get baking. What can profess true love more than home baked cookies or warm scrumptious brownies? Bake something as a family. Each member can pitch in with one aspect of the prep. And children love mixing batter and cutting out cookies. And decorating the baked goods is a fun activity too! Personalize the treats by writing sweet messages with icing or snazz it all up with some frosting & sprinkles :)  Get Crafty DIY gifts are not only easy to make but are easy on your wallet. They also are an excellent way to engage your children in an exciting activity. So get out the glue stick, coloured markers, crayons, glitter and your craft box to create something spectacular together.  Do Their Favourite Activity If your child has an activity that they’ve been pestering you for a while to indulge in, Valentine’s day is the best time to do it. Whether it’s reading their favourite fiction or building a lego toy, there can be nothing more that can delight your child than doing it with you. Watch their favourite movie together or play pictionary, charades, or board games for some family fun. Take a Nature Walk Want to make of the pleasant weather? Go on a nature walk with your family. Research suggests that group nature walks promote social interactions and also relieves stress and anxiety. Your child can also learn about biology and geography during these walks. So, ditch the indoors on Valentine’s day and spend time with nature by watching birds and trees.  Avaz Inc. is grateful for all the love you have continued to shower us with. Here’s wishing you all a wonderful Valentine’s Day. May all your days be filled with love, light and loads of laughter.   
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Have you Backed Up your AAC Vocabulary Yet?

AAC vocabulary backupYou add personalized vocabulary in the AAC user's system and are happy with the progress they are showing. You add more words as their communication skills develop and have high hopes for them to flourish into proficient communicators. And then one fateful day you learn that their device has died, leaving you and the communicator feeling helpless. Wouldn't it be tragic for the AAC user to lose their voice, albeit temporarily, due to a system failure? It isn't as if we aren't aware that the best of electronic systems can fail. We also know that children, especially, can drop devices, and protective covers can only do so much. To make things worse, such accidents come unannounced and it might take a while before you configure a new system with the necessary customizations. Thankfully, robust AAC systems such as the Avaz AAC app have powerful backup features which help you salvage the situation. Just remember to back up the user's vocabulary periodically. In the event of unforeseen circumstances where their AAC system becomes unavailable, you can restore the vocabulary into another system in a jiffy. The user will continue to have access to their personalized vocabulary and customizations, thanks to your forethought and prior planning.

Reasons You Need to Take a Backup

Without customizations, AAC users can struggle to communicate. Customizations help them with motor planning and also give them quick access to frequently used phrases. Backups are essential to safeguard customized AAC content from being lost.  Here are a few scenarios where backups can come in handy
  • A child forgets to bring their device to school.
Say the child leaves their device at home or forgets to charge the device. No need to panic as long as you have an extra device at school. Restore their AAC content from the cloud and the child is all set to communicate. Don't forget to instruct the child and their parent to avoid such a scenario in the future.
  • Child Moves to a Different School 
In case the child moves to another school and they use a device provided by the school, their AAC system will need to be configured from scratch. If a backup is available, the new school can easily configure any AAC system with the child’s personalized vocabulary.
  • Device Failure
A child can lose, misplace, drop their device while carrying it to school or back home. The device may also die or become non-functional. In such circumstances, you can use any replacement device and load the child’s AAC vocabulary from the backup. 
  • Inadvertent Deletion of App
An AAC user can delete the AAC app by mistake. There’s nothing to worry about as long as they have a backup of their AAC content.
  • Physical Environment where High Tech AAC use is not Feasible 
Going to the beach? A low tech backup of AAC vocabulary such as laminated chart can help AAC users communicate in demanding physical environments like beaches and pools. With Avaz AAC app, you don’t have to take endless screenshots. You can print the user’s vocabulary as pdf from within the app and also share it with others.

Effortless Backup with Avaz AAC

The Avaz backup includes the entire environment of the app in its current state. This includes: 
  • the entire picture vocabulary (including custom images added)
  • the audio recording (if any)
  • all the settings that have been set in the app
  • the Saved sentences
  • the history of recently spoken sentences
Avaz AAC backupFor iPad: You can transfer Avaz content very easily from one iPad to another via AirDrop.  This is the most recommended option to transfer content, since it is much quicker and easier to do this. Besides, this does not require internet connectivity, nor cables to connect between the devices.  You can also transfer Avaz content using iTunes or Dropbox. For Android: You can easily transfer Avaz content from one Android device to another using Dropbox. This saves your backup in the cloud and can be retrieved when needed. Avaz also offers cross-platform compatibility - you can sync content (backups) between your iPad and Android devices seamlessly. If you have customized the app and wish to transfer it to another device, without having to redo the changes, you can do so, using different methods. Note that these methods transfer only the app content (vocabulary and settings). 

How Often to Take Backup

There is no one backup schedule that can be optimal for everyone. For some users you may add vocabulary more often than others. So, it's always a good idea to back up the AAC app content every time you make significant changes. This way, if you need to restore vocabulary, you'll be able to do so with minimal effort.  Regular backing up of AAC content saves you the trouble of having to frantically customize a an user’s AAC system in the event their current AAC system becomes unavailable. It also ensures that the AAC user has continued access to their vocabulary and customizations, thus facilitating uninterrupted communication.  
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Revisiting Most Loved Avaz Features: Phonetic Match to Support Unrestricted Communication

AAC spell checkSpelling is an important aspect of the written language and it is essential for accurate expression of your ideas. Misspelt words can often lead to hilarity, confusion, and misunderstandings. But insisting on correct spelling for early learners and people with language deficits can get in the way of communication. Learners might get conscious while communicating if there is overt focus on spelling. This may even discourage them from communicating altogether. At Avaz, we believe that any intervention in this direction needs to be one of nuance and understanding. To enable the user to communicate should be the priority. Other learning objectives will follow organically as a consequence. Avaz AAC app's Phonetic match is an excellent feature that allows users to communicate without their expression being inhibited by a lack of spelling awareness. With Phonetic Match, Avaz AAC app predicts relevant words as the user is typing, even if the typed spelling is incorrect. This feature speeds up communication without the user being forced to rectify their spelling. It also plays an instrumental role in language development because it gives the user the opportunity to play with more words without emphasizing too much on correct spelling.

Importance of Encouraging Invented Spelling

Children and early learners go through several stages of spelling development. They gradually transition from associating sounds with words to learning spelling by paying attention to visual representation. Experts suggest that children can use something called invented spelling as they are progressing through the various stages. Invented spelling is when they create their own spellings depending on their knowledge of sounds, words, and spelling patterns.   The significance of invented spelling was not understood until recently. While incorrect spelling was discouraged earlier, it is now seen as a part of the developmental process. According to experts, one of the main benefits of invented spelling is that communication is not stalled due to wrong spelling.

Phonetic Match in Avaz AAC App

Avaz AAC app has word prediction features to facilitate faster communication. Phonetic match is a part of the app’s much appreciated prediction capabilities. It is a way to spell check so that the user’s incorrect spelling does not hold back their communication. A user can type the phonetic spelling, which is the spelling based on the correspondence between letters and sounds. The app prompts with related words that are spelled correctly. The user can choose the appropriate word from the prediction bar and continue to communicate. When the user comes across the correct spelling a few times, it increases the chances of them picking up the right way to spell. 

How to Use Phonetic Match

In the Avaz AAC app, Tap Settings > Prediction and turn ‘Phonetic match’ to ON to enable this.  AAC word prediction AAC spell check Here are a few examples of how phonetic match predicts words related to the typed words: Phonetic match AACHere you can see that when the user types the word ‘joos’, the app prompts the words, ‘just’, ‘justice’, ‘juice’, ‘jasmine’, ‘Jesse’, etc. If the user intended to say, ‘want juice’, then they can tap on the right word instead of having to correct the spelling. Phonetic match AAC In the above example, you can see that when the user types ‘lyk’, Avaz AAC app prompts with the words, ‘like’, ‘look’, ‘likely’, ‘looking’ etc on the prediction bar.

Phonetic Match and Communication

The importance of spelling cannot be ignored. But it is crucial to make sure that it does not impose any limits on communication. Avaz AAC app prioritizes unrestrained communication and phonetic match is a useful feature that makes way for that. Therefore, it can be seen as a nifty tool that provides opportunities to explore language while ensuring that communication does not suffer due to the scrutiny of spelling.  
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Avaz Inc: Moving Towards an  Integrated Vision of Assistive Technology

Avaz began its journey in 2009 with the Avaz AAC system, a hardware-based AAC solution. Since then, Avaz AAC has grown from strength to strength, thanks to valuable inputs from users and experts across the globe. Today Avaz AAC powers the communication of over 60,000 users in 15 languages, worldwide. Our priority has always been to empower people with disabilities and enable a level playing field for all while holistically building capacities in the support ecosystems around them. Our constant endeavours in this direction led to the creation of Avaz Communication Adventures (2015) a game app to train AAC communication partners with communication strategies; Avaz FreeSpeech (2016), a language and grammar learning app and MDA Avaz Reader (2019), an app that enables independent reading. The addition of these products to our portfolio significantly bolstered the company’s standing as an AT powerhouse providing diverse solutions.  As we continue to expand our horizons, we are consolidating the Avaz brand in line with our larger vision - one that reflects the company’s evolution in the field of assistive technology while reaffirming our commitment to inclusion. We are thrilled to announce that henceforth our company will be called Avaz Inc.  Avaz Inc will be the parent brand of three world-class assistive technology products - Avaz AAC, MDA Avaz Reader, and Avaz FreeSpeech.

The Avaz Inc. Logo 

We are proud to unveil the new Avaz Inc. logo to accompany brand consolidation. The logo symbolizes all that we stand for as a company.  Avaz Inc. Logo We believe that inclusion and empowerment involve the fulfillment of several components and processes. True inclusion cannot be achieved without laying the groundwork for the same in all spheres of life. The Avaz Inc. logo is a confluence of all the elements that are essential to the achievement of inclusion and empowerment. Here is a breakdown of the logo and  what each element represents: [metaslider id=4045]

What this Change Means for Us

Avaz Inc. believes in the power of technological innovation to achieve inclusion and empowerment. All our efforts focus on removing socially imposed barriers to enable people with disabilities to realize their potential.  Our company's vision is to create an inclusive society through technology innovation. Our new tagline succinctly captures the essence of the company vision.

Innovation. Inclusion. Empowerment.

The new tagline is a call to action. A constant reminder of why we do the things we do. One that pushes us to work harder towards our goals. This encapsulation is at the heart of this brand integration exercise. This effort provides a clear definition of who we are and what we do. It provides a common direction for the company. It allows us to bring together our diverse efforts towards our stated goals under a unified umbrella. Avaz Inc becomes the common thread running through all our products, infusing our shared values and vision into everything we create and do. It enables us to do more of what we do best, with greater impact. 

What this Integration Means for you

As Avaz Inc. forges ahead with this rebranding, one thing remains unchanged. It is our commitment to our users and stakeholders. As always we will continue to work towards creating world-class, holistic,  technology solutions for people with disabilities. All our endeavours will be focussed on developing products that make the world a better place for everyone. For Avaz Inc., our users come first, always. It is your constant love and support that has encouraged us to venture into new territories in assistive technology. The years spent on research on these new technologies has armed us with a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by people with disabilities. It has endowed us with greater empathy and a renewed determination to create better solutions. The integrated vision and voice of Avaz Inc. will not change anything about Avaz AAC, Avaz FreeSpeech and MDA Avaz Reader - the products that you have grown to know and love. If anything, this move enables us to keep working to make your beloved apps even better! The Avaz Inc. team will continue to put our hearts and souls into fine tuning our existing products. We are coming up with several updates and improved solutions because you deserve nothing but the best. Collaborations with governments and other stakeholders are in the pipeline to ensure that no individual is left without access to the resources they need. All of us here at Avaz Inc. look forward to working with you to bring about access, inclusion, empowerment & equality.        
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The Many Benefits of Independent Reading for Young Children

Reading independentlyRegular reading enriches a child’s life. Children learn about ethics and virtues from moral stories while biographies can inspire them to follow in the footsteps of their idols. Fictional books can stir their imagination and spur their creativity while non-fiction books can educate and entertain. Reading independently,especially, can benefit children by improving their reading proficiency. Read this post to learn more about the benefits of independent reading.

What is Independent Reading?

Independent reading is a practice where children read text with very little or no assistance from others. It involves children choosing books that they love to read. Since choice is an integral part of this practice, children can be motivated to read more.  Children can read voluntarily as a hobby or as part of their homework, and build their literacy. Teachers and parents can offer them guidance in choosing books according to their reading level, and in constructing responses to the text they read.

The Road Map to Better Reading

Young children get familiar with the print form of language when parents and teachers read to them. Reading aloud helps them get familiar with the concept of words and their associated meanings. In school, children get exposed to shared reading, where the teacher reads a book and encourages them to answer relevant questions. This strategy helps them comprehend text they would have otherwise struggled to understand. In shared reading, the child is actively involved in making predictions or arriving at conclusions about the story being read. Guided reading is a strategy where there is more participation from the children while the teacher acts only as a facilitator. The teacher may provide them a basic understanding of the story but children are expected to do most of the thinking and analyzing. The teacher also prompts the children to give appropriate responses to the text. All the above reading strategies support the reader in developing comprehension and fluency, and prepare them for independent reading.

Benefits of Reading Independently 

Reading in groups may not benefit all children. Those who are easily distracted can miss key points of the book being read. Children who struggle to decode text also may not be able to keep up with peers. These difficulties can discourage them from reading. Independent reading, on the other hand, gives them enough time to focus on words they are not familiar with. This makes reading a positive experience for them. Reading assistance apps such as MDA Avaz Reader provide reading support and enables children to read independently. Since help is just a tap away, children can choose books that they might have been hesitant to pick. This constant availability of help can be comforting, and make reading a rewarding activity. Here are some of the benefits of independent reading:
  • Cultivates a Reading Habit
Since children get to pick the book of their choice, they are more likely to develop a daily reading habit. For instance, children who are into automobiles can pick books on cars and trucks. Reading will not feel like a chore for such children because they are reading on their topics of interest.  With MDA Avaz Reader, you can download exciting stories with captivating images. These fascinating stories motivate young children to read regularly and provide them with daily reading practice.
  • Develops Reading Stamina
Each child is unique and so will be their interests and reading preferences. In most cases, it may not be the reading that children are averse to. It's the topics that fail to capture their interest. A book about the big bang theory, asteroids, and meteorites can fascinate a child who is a space enthusiast. However, for a child who loves reading about fire breathing dragons, getting through an astronomy book can be a laborious task. On the other hand, when children read on their own, they tend to read for a longer period of time. Since there is a high level of engagement with self-selected texts, children find it easier to concentrate on reading. MDA Avaz Reader has a Focus button which helps children focus on a single line at a time. Since they know that there is help readily available, it allows them to read for longer even as they are reading on their own.
  • Enhances Comprehension and Fluency
According to experts, children read more when they engage in independent reading. Reading volume has been found to have a major impact on reading proficiency. As children read more, they expand their vocabulary and comprehension capabilities. The increased reading volume also makes them more fluent readers.  Learners with English as a second language and struggling readers may be put off by their reading difficulties. Without addressing their difficulty, it may be unfair to expect them to read more. MDA Avaz Reader has a useful Build tool  with which children can re-read texts while paying attention to highlighted words. This improves their comprehension immensely. With better comprehension, they may be more inclined to read, building fluency as a result.  Reading is not only a leisure activity but is an excellent way to gain knowledge on a variety of topics. Independent reading can benefit children by allowing them to read at their own pace. Assistive tools such as MDA Avaz Reader offer reassurance to children because help is readily available. This results in children gaining confidence which can dramatically improve their reading proficiency.   Avaz Inc. is offering a flat 50% discount on all its assistive technology products that support communication and learning. Avail the discount here.  
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Liking, Sharing, Commenting, and Posting: Benefits of Social Media for AAC users.

AAC communicationSocial media is a dynamic tool that can be used for social activism, movie promotions, business connections, or to simply announce to your followers and friends that you are having a bad day. As the positive and negative impacts of social media are being debated, it is undeniable that it has become an integral part of our lives. While it benefits different people in different ways, social media platforms can provide an especially excellent space for self-expression to AAC users. Here’s a look at some of the benefits of social media for AAC users:

Communicative Temptations

Several AAC users are keen on using social media just like their peers do.Young adults, especially, are inclined to know what their friends are up to. They want to comment on their friend’s new profile picture or Instagram story. The thrill of being able to participate in the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram conversations their friends are having incentivises AAC use for them.  The compatibility of high tech AAC systems with messaging platforms has also been a major motivator. AAC users can use the keyboard or use symbols to create messages that can be instantly shared with friends and family.  AAC social media sharing

Societal Participation

Social media has evolved into a place where important discussions about politics, economy, human rights, and other key social issues take place.  AAC gives users an opportunity to be part of the social discourse. It allows them to be an active participant in society by letting them register their opinions. It also enables them to become more aware of their social responsibilities which helps them become responsible global citizens.

Establishing and Maintaining Relationships

It can get difficult for people with complex communication needs to stay connected to their friends and family. They may miss out on opportunities to engage in conversations due to their speech and language difficulties. People with physical disabilities too may not be able to go out and meet their friends as often as their peers. Social media helps such individuals foster and maintain their relationships by connecting virtually. People with developmental disabilities may have social communication problems which can affect the quality of face-to-face interactions. However, with social media, they may not feel as anxious about saying things that may be considered socially inappropriate. Since they need not worry about picking up social cues, or controlling their responses, they can feel less inhibited while interacting with others.

Getting Support

Support groups on social media can be a major help for individuals with communication deficits. For those with accompanying disorders, these groups can be valuable resources for understanding their condition. Although suggestions given by non-experts are frowned upon and cannot be a substitute for expert advice, social media groups can offer emotional and psychological support. Adults with communication difficulties can also find suitable caregivers and get opinions on affordable healthcare plans. 

Easier Communication

Social media messages are informal and forgiving on spellings and syntaxes. This relieves AAC users with language difficulties of the pressure to construct grammatically accurate sentences. Face-face interaction can also be difficult for those with processing delays. With social media, they get enough time to form their responses without any pressure. 

Fitting In

Social media can make adolescent and adult AAC users feel included. Communication deficits can make them feel alienated and they can become reclusive. Social media gives them a way to engage with others. Since that’s the way others around them seem to be communicating for the most part, AAC users can feel like they belong while using social media.

Controlling the Narrative

Social media for people with disabilitiesIncreased social media visibility of people with disabilities helps them take control of their representation in media and society at large. It helps them present a more accurate picture of their various facets, instead of being defined by their disabilities.  People with complex communication needs may not be able to speak. But they can express their humour with memes, convey their protest with hashtags, and show off their multidimensional personalities on social media. AAC users regularly engaging in social media helps in educating others about their rights. It can also spread awareness about disabilities and promote acceptance. Although social media has several advantages, it has its pitfalls that we must carefully consider. It can discourage real-life engagement and result in a lack of personal connection with others. Catfishing and other cybersecurity threats also need to be managed to avoid being duped. AAC users must have necessary privacy settings to avoid having to deal with vile online comments. Since young AAC users may be exposed to more social media risks, parents must ascertain if they are ready for it. They may also have to regularly monitor their social media usage patterns, at least at the outset, to buffer against or prevent negative experiences. Caregivers must enable young AAC users to engage on social media with caution and a bias for self care. Discreet use of social media can provide AAC users a channel for expressing themselves. It can also give them more independence in communication. So, AAC users must be educated and supported so that they can make their voice heard in issues that matter to them.  
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Avaz Adda: Play, Learn, Communicate!

What happens when you get a bunch of curious, enthusiastic kids together in one place, on a non-school day? Throw in their favourite music, some cool toys, and delicious snacks - and you have yourself a roaringly fun time!  Avaz Adda was this and a whole lot more :) Our primary goal in organizing Avaz Adda, a casual get together for Avaz AAC users, was to provide a space for communication FUN!! And the biggest bonus of this event was all the AAC learning that the kids and parents took back.

Avaz Adda: AAC gamesThe Idea Behind Avaz Adda

Let's get to the name first. Avaz Adda!! The Indian word ‘Adda’, which found its way to the Oxford English dictionary, means ‘a place where people gather for conversation’. There isn’t  a better word that captures the essence of what we intended to do with Avaz Adda. We simply wanted to create a space where AAC users can converse and interact with each other. Between speech therapy, school, and other daily activities, children rarely get time to have an informal conversation with fellow AAC users. Avaz Adda gave them an opportunity to hang out with other AAC users, observe them, interact with them, and pick up valuable skills along the way. We believe that there’s a lot children can learn from being around other AAC users. Many of these learnings may not even be immediately apparent, but are vital nevertheless. Most importantly, such interactions can normalize AAC use, and give AAC users a sense of belonging. 

Our First Avaz Adda - The First of Many!

Lalitha Nagarajan, our Director of Community Relations, spearheaded the arrangements, meticulously putting together a list of activities where we could incorporate AAC use while making it fun for the children. The Avaz team ensured that there was no stone left unturned to ensure that the event was exciting for the children. [caption id="attachment_3883" align="alignright" width="372"]Low tech AAC Avaz low tech board[/caption] Parents were provided with an outline of the planned activities beforehand so that they could prepare their children for the event. The venue was easily accessible. Arrangements were made for an assigned safe space for children to calm themselves in case they got overwhelmed. Low tech boards printed out from the Avaz app were kept handy at various locations so that no communication opportunity was missed.

Avaz Adda Activities and AAC Strategies 

Since there were a few AAC beginners, there was a brief pre-event session explaining AAC best practices for prompting and modelling. Once we ensured that all the Avaz AAC systems were customized and ready, we kickstarted the event with our first activity.  Here is the list of all the fun activities and a brief view on the strategies behind each activity: About Me: [caption id="attachment_3868" align="alignright" width="365"]Generalization of AAC Avaz AAC users introducing themselves to unfamiliar communication partners[/caption] This ice breaker activity was designed for the AAC users to introduce themselves to others. The children had conversations with Avaz volunteers using their respective AAC apps. Here are the AAC strategies behind this activity 
  • Generalization of Skills
Interacting with a wide range of communication partners helps children become comfortable with social interactions. Applying the AAC skills they learnt at therapy or school in a different setting, helps them understand that these skills can be used across various contexts.  This activity involves the following communicative functions:
  1. Answering Wh questions such as ‘What’ and ‘Who’. 
  2. Greeting people  
  3. Sharing information 
Music Corner [caption id="attachment_3870" align="alignright" width="355"]Avaz Adda Avaz AAC user enjoying his favourite music played on his request[/caption] For this activity, each child’s  favourite music was played on their request. As and when they requested a song using the Avaz AAC app, it was played over their headphones by an Avaz team member. From devotional songs to Beethoven, from flashy Indian movie numbers to classical renditions, the musical tastes of the children were truly diverse. It underscored the fact that each child was their own person, with their individual preferences, ideas, opinions, and thoughts.  Here are some of the AAC strategies at play in this activity.
  • Communicative Temptations 
This involves setting up an environment that tempts the child to communicate. The rationale for using a temptation is also a pretty simple one: a child is much more likely to communicate if they have a reason for doing so! 
  • Expansion of Communicative Functions (Pragmatics)
  1. Choice making (expressing a preference)
  2. Requesting
  3. Commenting 
  4. Asking Questions
  5. Rejecting - STOP
  6. Pursuing an activity - MORE
Shopping Fun [caption id="attachment_3869" align="alignright" width="381"]Avaz AAC app Children shopping using Avaz AAC[/caption] The children had a chance to play ‘shopkeeper’ and ‘customer’ with the Avaz team guiding them through the activity. This was one of the activities that the children couldn’t get enough of. They used their AAC apps to purchase the items on their list and got to use real money for the transactions. The parents too enjoyed watching their children fill up their totes while learning to shop for essential things such as personal care items and groceries. Here are some of the AAC strategies behind this activity.
  • Life Skills
To navigate the world around them, children need to learn essential life skills. Mock shopping sessions give them a taste of what to expect during an actual shopping trip. Once they get familiar with the sequence of events, they can apply these skills in real life shopping scenarios. Children learn to greet and use polite words such as ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’. They also learn to be patient by understanding that they have to wait for their turn.  [caption id="attachment_3878" align="alignright" width="382"]sensory play Child playing rhythmic patterns on the Djembe[/caption] Sensory Play Zone Just like we had anticipated, this was an activity that children were very thrilled to participate in. They had fun playing with the sensory toys which they requested using their AAC apps. While some enjoyed blowing bubbles, others showed interest in playing with soft, crocheted balls of various sizes. The Djembe, especially, was a huge hit among the children who were keen to try their hands at playing the musical instrument. There was also an opportunity for interactive play with children taking turns blowing bubbles, and playing rhythmic patterns on the Djembe.  Here is why sensory play is important for children with special needs:
  • Emotional Regulation and Stimulation
Sensory play activities stimulate the brain and help children become aware of their surroundings. Activities that stimulate all of the five senses – touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing can calm children when they experience a sensory overload. [caption id="attachment_3880" align="alignright" width="284"]AAC games Avaz Adda Activity checklist with star stickers for positive reinforcement after successful completion of each activity[/caption] Once we were done with all the activities, and the children were gleefully devouring the snacks (that they had requested with their AACapps), we spoke to the parents of Avaz AAC users. We were delighted to hear the nice things they had to say about the event. “Very useful and informative. Learnt screen arrangements and modelling.” “ I was really scared to join the workshop since the place and persons were new to my child. But at the end I was really happy. We had a good time. Thanks to Avaz team .Looking forward for more such workshops” “Thanks Lalitha and Avaz Team for the initiative and ground work. Thanks friends for making it, it's really a very good exposure.” For a few children, this was the first time they had used Avaz AAC app to interact with a communication partner other than their parent or therapist. While there was some hesitation initially, it was promising to see how they were willing to communicate with others with a little encouragement. This proved that given the right support, AAC users can become confident about using AAC as their mode of communication. More than all these positive signs for AAC use, the happy smiles and  joyous laughter at the very first Avaz Adda was what meant the most to our Team!  Here are a bunch of photos from Avaz Adda that have captured all the excitement and fun [metaslider id=4103]
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A Fun, Exciting Read for Children: ‘Trey the Chef’

Child with autismIn today's post, we want to talk about 'Trey the Chef', a lovely book written by Kira Parris-Moore. This book is inspired by the cooking adventures of the author's son Trey, a curious and playful boy with autism. The riveting story of Trey as a celebrated chef attempts to drive home the point that an autism diagnosis does not necessarily mean a lack of talent or intelligence.  Children with autism may struggle with several aspects of their life including social communication and sensory responses.They may also have repetitive behaviours and obsessive tendencies. However, it is wrong to presume that these behaviours can only be detrimental. With the right kind of support, children with autism can overcome their challenges and channel their obsession to hone their individual talents. Trey, for instance, loves the culinary art. Much before he tried his hand at cooking, he enjoyed watching family members put together delicious meals in the kitchen. He diligently pursues his interest in cooking by watching several cooking shows. He is fascinated by elaborate recipes and exciting cooking techniques. His family actively encourages his interest by enrolling him in a cooking class. Focusing on his strengths gives Trey a chance to explore his creativity and potential. It also boosts his self-esteem and motivates him to get better at the skill of his choice.  children with autismThe story of Trey’s exceptional culinary skills serves as a great motivator for all children. It also reminds parents that every child is capable of excellence if they are adequately supported. Get your copy of ‘Trey the Chef’ now at Books2inspire.com. Reading stories such as 'Trey the Chef' enriches a child’s life by stimulating their imagination. For readers who struggle with fluency or comprehension, assistive apps such as MDA Avaz Reader can help discover the joy of reading. By offering reading support such as picture, syllable and word family hints, the app can be a digital reading buddy that motivates a child to expand their vocabulary and enhance their language skills. About the Author: Kira Parris-Moore is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist, with years of experience in the Mental Health field. A mother of two young boys, she is passionate about helping children with developmental and behavioural issues. She loves poetry and has a knack for creative writing. She hopes that her story will provide inspiration to several families that are struggling to deal with the challenges of their children with special needs.  
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Causes, Types, and Management of Stimming Behaviours in Autism

What is stimming?

The term 'stim' is an abbreviation of self-stimulatory. It refers to the repetition of  body movements, words, sounds, or movement of objects. Stimming, also called stereotypic behaviour is one of the most obvious characteristics of developmental disabilities, and is one of the diagnostic criteria for autism.

Nail BitingHow is Stimming Different in those with Autism?

Neurotypical individuals too can engage in stimming. Biting nails, twirling hair, drumming fingers on a table or jiggling legs are subtler forms of stimming seen in most people. The main differences between typical stimming and stimming in people with autism lie in the quantity, type and the obviousness of the stereotypic behaviours. Behaviours can also be labelled as stimming based on whether they are socially or culturally acceptable. Fidgeting with an object while you are anxious or bored can be considered a more tolerable behaviour than flapping hands or rocking the whole body back and forth. Moreover, people with autism may not be adept at picking up social cues and gauging whether their behaviours are being disruptive.  For instance, a neurotypical individual can stop tapping their foot if they notice the negative attention it draws. Those on the spectrum may not only be unaware but also may have less control over their stimming.

What Causes Stimming?

The exact causes of stimming are still unknown. There are a variety of emotions that can trigger stimming. Children with autism can stim when they are excited or happy. Boredom, fear, stress and anxiety can also trigger stimming. The intensity and type of stimming can vary from individual to individual. For some, the behaviours may be mild and occasional, while others may engage in stimming more frequently. Some experts are of the opinion that stimming can be a way to stimulate the sensory system when there is a lack of adequate sensory input. Others suggest that people with autism may use stimming as a diversionary tactic for relaxation when they are overwhelmed.

Types of Stimming Behaviours

Stimming can involve all the senses including visual, auditory, balance and movement, touch, smell and taste. Here are some of the common types of stimming:
  • Self-stimulatory behaviourVisual 
Staring at lights. Repetitive blinking. Shaking fingers in front of the eyes. Staring at spinning objects. Gazing at objects such as screen savers ceiling fans.  Turning lights on and off. stimming in autismHand-flapping. Eye tracking.  Peering from the corners of the eyes. Flipping through books.
  • Auditory
Listening to the same songs or noises. Making vocal sounds such as tapping ears, snapping fingers, humming, grunting, or squealing. Tapping on objects.  Covering and uncovering ears.
  • Tactile 
Rubbing or scratching the skin with hands or with another object. Repetitive hand movements such as opening and closing one's fists. Finger-tapping. Grinding teeth.  Biting fingernails.
  • vestibular stimmingVestibular 
Rocking front to back or side to side. Spinning. Jumping. Pacing.
  • Olfactory 
Sniffing or licking people or objects. Chewing on things that aren’t edible. Placing body parts within mouths. 
  • Proprioception
Rocking whole body. Swinging. Jumping, pacing, running, tiptoeing or spinning. 

Should Stimming Be Controlled?

Stimming can be a harmless behaviour that people with autism use for self-regulation. It can help them reduce their anxiety. It can also be a way to calm themselves when they experience a sensory overload. So, many feel that stimming should not be controlled because it can take away a person’s coping mechanism for stressful situations.  stress ballHowever, some stimming behaviours can be self-injurious and unmanageable. Head banging, excessive scratching, and pinching can cause serious physical pain. Stimming can also interfere with a child’s learning and social interactions. If a child is staring at objects, it takes their attention away from classroom instruction. In such cases, stimming can be managed by appropriate interventions. Stimming is typically considered to be a response to insufficient sensorimotor stimulation. So, providing replacement behaviours such as squeezing a stress ball or engaging in sensory play activities that involve fine motor skills can help manage stimming. Stimming should not be looked at as an embarrassing or inconvenient behaviour. Nor should it by any means be punished. One of the ways to manage stimming behaviours is by helping people with autism become aware of their triggers. Giving them alternative coping strategies and offering psychological support can also enable them to deal with their emotions in a more positive an safe manner.  
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Understanding Sensory Seeking and Avoiding Behaviours in Autism

People with Autism can have sensory processing issues. They may display hypersensitivity, hyposensitivity, or both at once. This may manifest as sensory seeking or avoiding behaviours. Read on to learn about the different senses, and strategies to address challenges of those with sensory issues. [caption id="attachment_3799" align="alignright" width="232"]sensory processing issues Sensory challenges can cause children to throw tantrums[/caption]

Significance of The Eight Senses

If we take a moment to study the world around us, we can notice the different sensory stimuli we are constantly exposed to. These senses dictate how we experience our environment, and help us interpret the space we inhabit.  Here are the eight senses and the information they provide about our surroundings:  
  1. Visual
The sense of sight helps us identify the shapes, colours, and sizes of things. It helps us distinguish between darkness and brightness.
  1. Auditory
The sense of sound helps us listen to the noises we hear. We try to derive meaning from the sounds, which helps in understanding the words spoken. We also focus on noises that matter to us, while choosing to ignore background noises. 
  1. Tactile
The sense of touch helps us feel pain, pressure, and temperature. It also helps us experience the different textures of an object. Receptors in our skin help us ascertain if something is safe or dangerous (too hot or too cold).
  1. Gustatory
The sense of taste helps us pick foods according to our individual preferences. It also protects us by helping us identify spoiled or contaminated food.
  1. Olfactory
The sense of smell is closely related to that of taste. Both senses work in tandem to help us determine the foods that are good or bad for us. Our brains process smell in relation to emotions. That’s why we tend to associate certain pleasant smells with favourable emotions, and foul smells with negative reactions.
  1. Vestibular System
The vestibular system in our inner ear helps the body maintain balance. It helps us be aware of our orientation in space, and position of our body in relation to gravity. 
  1. Proprioception
This sense of body awareness gives us the ability to know where our body parts are without having to look at them. Unlike the vestibular sense which lets us know where our whole body is in space, proprioception sense comes from the ligaments, muscles and joints of individual body parts. 
  1. Interoception
This is a recently identified sense, which is the awareness of the internal state of your body. You can recognize your physiological needs and functions such as hunger, toileting, and breathing through this sense.

Tactile sensory issuesSensory Seeking Behaviours

Some individuals with autism may have under-sensitivity, and can seek out sensory input constantly. They can appear to be excitable and very active. They may look for intense sensations but can get disorganized due to random sensory inputs. Their quest for sensory stimulation can make them look clumsy and disruptive. Here are some of the seeking behaviours that can be seen in people with autism:
  • Visual
Seeking shiny objects and sunlight Staring at spinning objects
  • Auditory
Listening to loud music Making loud noises in quiet places
  • Tactile
Biting their own skin Sucking or licking objects frequently
  • Gustatory and Olfactory
Smelling objects to get comfortable with them Tasting toys and other objects
  • Vestibular
Rocking body Moving arms more frequently
  • Proprioceptive 
Enjoying rough play more than usual Rolling and moving frequently

Auditory issuesSensory Avoiding Behaviours

Some individuals with autism may have oversensitivity. They can have exaggerated responses, and can respond too much or too soon. They can be resistant to change and may prefer sticking to familiar places and activities. Their avoidance behaviours are a way to reduce the intensity of stimulation they receive. They can have rituals and fixations that help create a predictable environment for them. Here are some avoidance behaviours that can be seen in people with Autism:
  • Visual
Making no eye contact Turning away from the person talking to them
  • Auditory
Covering ears when there is loud music Getting agitated when more than one person is talking
  • Tactile
Getting startled at the lightest touch Avoiding touching of objects with certain textures such as fabrics with tags or hems.
  • Gustatory and Olfactory
Gagging when asked to eat food they don’t like Intolerance of certain scents and odours
  • Vestibular
Getting annoyed when position is changed Rough handling of toys and objects.
  • Proprioceptive 
Avoiding climbing or swinging Holding on to parents and loved ones

Sensory Issues vs Behavioural Issues

Sensory challenges can cause people with autism to indulge in what can be perceived as problem behaviours. Some children may flee a room when they are overstimulated, while others can throw tantrums. Analyzing the cause of such behaviours and identifying triggers can help caregivers to support the child in coping with their sensory issues. Sensory seeking and avoidance behaviours can also interfere with a child’s regular activities and social interactions. Parents and teachers can give the children a ‘sensory diet’, which is a set of activities designed to provide necessary sensory input. Regular sensory diet routines can not only help the child focus on productive tasks, but also help them become more self-aware and confident.  
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Here’s a Fun Way to Engage AAC Users

Teaching core vocabulary or complex concepts to children with special needs can be tricky. Activity-based teaching strategies and visual representation can help them understand abstract ideas better. With several digital educational tools available these days, we can find innovative ways to impart knowledge to AAC learners. Genial.ly is one such free-to-use web-based tool with which you can upload any image and make it an exciting teaching aid. Here, we have taken the image of Avaz AAC app and added interactive elements to the image. Each interactive element associated with a word has been hyperlinked to an YouTube video that explains the word.  All you need to do is click on the interactive elements to watch the videos. Parents and teachers can use such interesting tools to make the learning experience fun for AAC users. You can also upload audio,  hyperlink the interactive elements to any URL or text, or insert your own photos or videos. Here are some of the concepts that can be taught through this interactive image:
  1. Less and more              - hyperlinked to the word more
  2. Turn taking                    - hyperlinked to the word turn
  3. Waiting in line              - hyperlinked to the word wait 
  4. Same and different    - hyperlinked to the word different
  5. Emotions                        - hyperlinked to the word sad
Many Thanks to Carole Zangari for sharing this lovely idea.
      Hope you found this resource useful. Please share other simple and exciting ideas to teach core vocabulary in the comment section below.
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Why Should You Prioritize Reading Fluency in Children?

Whether your child reads for pleasure or for acquiring knowledge, reading fluency is a major factor that affects their comprehension. Without comprehension, the child will not be able to get the most out of their reading time. Read on to learn how building up a child’s fluency maximizes the benefits of reading.

Reading in classroomWhat is Reading Fluency?

Contrary to popular belief, fluency does not necessarily indicate reading speed alone. A child can read fast without being fluent. So, what does fluency really mean? There are multiple, interdependent components to fluency, such as the ability to read with accuracy, reading rate, and meaningful expression. 
  • Accuracy is reading without making too many mistakes. 
  • Reading rate is how fast your child reads
  • Expression is reading with the right stress and intonation. 

Why Focus on Fluency?

So what if the child doesn’t read fast? How does it matter if they make a few mistakes while reading? What difference does it make if they don’t read with accurate expression? Fluency has a much bigger impact on a child’s overall reading experience than we might think. When children struggle with reading, they are less likely to enjoy it. This can lead to them look at reading as more of a chore than a fun activity.  Fluency also significantly affects reading comprehension. The child might have trouble with making inferences, predictions, and conclusions accurately. Inadequate comprehension also means that the child is unable to make accurate interpretation and evaluation of text. This results in them providing incorrect responses to the text they read.

Can Reading More Lead to Fluency?

It’s definitely a good idea to encourage children to read more. For children who do not have trouble decoding text, reading more can immensely improve their fluency. However, for those who have underlying difficulties, more reading may not be an optimal solution. It’s more important to address the root cause of their problems.  According to experts, it all boils down to the mental energy spent in reading. Children who spend most of their mental power decoding text might have very little mental capacity left for comprehension. So, reading more without appropriate intervention only results in more time dedicated to decoding text, with very little scope for improvement in comprehension.  [caption id="attachment_3763" align="alignright" width="300"]peer assisted reading A reading buddy can motivate a child to read[/caption]

What can You do to Develop Your Child’s Fluency?

Here are a few strategies that can be used to help children become fluent in reading.
  • Reading aloud to a child and having the child read along.
  • Breaking larger text into smaller chunks.
  • Encourage the child to track the words they read with a finger so that they don’t skip words.
  • Assigning a reading buddy so that the child gets the help they need.
  • [caption id="attachment_3762" align="alignright" width="300"]parent assisted readig Parent assisted reading can help a child become fluent[/caption] Making sure that the child understands the meaning of each word. 
You can do this by marking words that are unfamiliar to them and discuss their meanings ahead of reading. This helps the child’s comprehension when they encounter these words in the text.
  • Providing visual representation which helps young children understand the meaning of words better.
  • Teaching children to identify phrase boundaries.
A good place to start is helping them notice punctuation marks such as commas and quotation marks. When children read word by word, the meaning is often lost. For example, take the phrase ‘as a matter of fact’. When a child tries to understand the meaning of each individual word, they might end up failing to understand what the entire phrase means. 
  • Building a child’s vocabulary. The more words a child is familiar with, the less they get stuck with new words. 
  • Repeated reading can help the child notice details they may have missed during earlier reading attempts.

The Role of Assisted Reading

Parent assisted reading, peer assisted reading or technology assisted reading can play a major role in improving fluency and comprehension. Assistive technologies, especially, can amplify opportunities for fluency development primarily because of their 24x7 availability. Moreover, the availability of a wide range of reading supports in these technologies pave the way for children to read without difficulty. [metaslider id=3766] Assistive reading apps such as MDA Avaz Reader enable children to read independently. This promotes their confidence and serves as a great motivator. Children find reading to be a positive experience and tend to read more, because they have a digital reading buddy with them all the time. The resultant reading fluency tremendously improves reading comprehension, laying the foundation for their academic success and knowledge expansion.    
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Looking Ahead- 2020

AAC Goals I would like to begin 2020 with a note of gratitude.  Every member of the Avaz team is humbled to have been given an opportunity to play a small yet empowering role in each of our user’s lives. We are eternally grateful to the community of users, parents, educators, SLPs and other caregivers spread across geographies, that believes in us and keeps inspiring us.  As Avaz Inc. continues its  journey into the new decade, the entire team and I promise that YOU and your priorities will always be at the center of all our work. Be it new features, updates or new product lines, you will forever be our constant.

What’s in store for 2020?

As we begin the year with renewed energy and an even stronger sense of focus, here is what we as a team are envisioning for 2020.

Breaking Down Accessibility Barriers

Avaz is determined to ensure that language is no longer an obstacle that restricts an individual from expressing themselves. We will continue to work towards providing users access to AAC in multiple languages. We already support 15 on Avaz AAC and will add new ones soon. Did you know that we added 2 very contrasting languages in 2019 - Faroese and Bangla This is what we love to do and are good at :) We partner with folks from across the globe and work together to create Avaz AAC - which will provide a voice for thousands of people in the language that their loved ones speak. Drop me a note to collaborate with us to support a new language - narayananr@avazapp.com In late 2018, we released the Avaz AAC for Android phones and people loved it. Parents could use it as a companion app while their child used the tablet. Or they could trial Avaz on an Android phone before investing in an expensive tablet. One of our most frequent customer requests has been for an iPhone version of Avaz. I am very excited to announce that we will be releasing Avaz for iPhones in early 2020. 

Keep getting better everyday

In 2020, and throughout this decade, we will continue to add exciting features to our set of products. In 2019, we released our first product in the space of assistive reading – MDA Avaz Reader. We have received great feedback from our users and will continue to add some state of the art speech and analytics related features to the product in 2020.   We have a great set of small yet handy features coming out soon for Avaz AAC – thanks entirely to customers and experts who have shared feedback with us over the years. Keep watching this space for more on that! Leave us a comment if you would like to tell us what we can improve in our products.

Empowering Parents as Communication Partners

Communication partner training has been a central focus at Avaz for the last few years and will continue to be so. We are getting closer to an inflection point - a day when modeling AAC will not be “jargon” any more.  We did weekly webinars talking about communication and Avaz this year and it was heartwarming to see the response. It helped us spread the word about AAC in the remotest of places! It only strengthened our resolve to scale this further in 2020.  Experts play a critical role in spreading the word about AAC in geographies where the awareness is still growing. Hence, collaborating with experts like Lauren Enders, 2020 will see us sharing knowledge in different ways with parents, educators and speech therapists.  

Beyond AAC

Our vision is to create a world where every learner is empowered to fulfill their entire potential. Having started our journey in the assistive technology space with the Avaz AAC app, we have evolved our product portfolio with newer products over the years. Our portfolio now includes Avaz FreeSpeech for language development, Communication Adventures for communication partner training and Avaz Reader for helping children with reading disabilities.  This journey has just started. This year and the coming decade will see many further advances in technology and product development from the Avaz Inc.  In 2020, we are actively seeking collaborators to solve some of the hairiest problems in the special education space. Drop me a note here - narayananr@avazapp.com

<<My Wishlist to Make 2020 More Inclusive>>

1.Busting myths like “Will AAC impact Speech development?” once and for all! The research says – Definitely No. AAC myths like these are so 2019! 2.An honest conversation about screen time – Yes, WHO has recommended limited screen time for young children. However, if a child can’t communicate their thoughts, their needs – isn’t it unfair to deny them a voice on the assumption that they might get “addicted” to it? Besides, research suggests that not all screen time is bad. It’s important that we distinguish between active screen time which may have positive effects, when compared to passive screen time where children are sedentary. AAC falls under active screen time because there is two-way communication, interaction with a communication partner, and language use. It leads to children being more confident – because they can communicate what they want! They are able to access knowledge the way that they understand best. This is why AAC experts believe that screen time limits should not apply to AAC systems. However, the concern of “addiction” is real. And there are ways in which this addiction can be mitigated. - Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. 3.Can we see more people using AAC in public places? Events like these should be mundane and should not deem a second glance! - 4.India embracing assistive technology to empower children with learning disabilities!  The RPwD Act 2016 has been a step forward for India. It will be fantastic to see new policies being crafted and funding being allocated for assistive technologies. The Inclusive Education policies under the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan are also a great addition. There are encouraging signs with various state governments in India showing interest in including technology interventions to make schools inclusive. We are looking to partner with the government to create policies that will address challenges in the assistive technology space.    Here’s wishing you and your family a wonder-filled, adventurous and healthy 2020!! Love Narayanan  ________________________________________________ Narayanan “Nadu” Ramakrishnan is CEO, Avaz Inc. He's deeply passionate about making technology work for inclusion and access. A compulsive collector of stationery, lover of long road trips, biryani and podcasts, when not busy coding. Follow him on LinkedIn          
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The 2019 Avaz Round-Up

2019 has been a truly eventful year for Avaz. As the year draws to a close, it's time to reflect on all that transpired in the past 12 months. We may be a tech savvy bunch, but our focus is more on the human impact our technology solutions create. This year too, we strove to create better products that meet the high standards our customers have come to expect from us. This customer-centric approach is what we believe makes Avaz a cut above the rest in the AAC & the Special Education tech space. Here are the highlights of year 2019 for Avaz Inc.:

New Products, Strengthening Partnerships

Avaz Inc. is a huge proponent of ensuring AAC vocabulary access in users’ own native languages. This year, we were thrilled to release Avaz in two more languages, namely Bangla and Faroese. We also launched MDA Avaz Reader, a reading assistance app that enables children to read better. This is our endeavour to provide reading practice and support to children so that they can discover the joy of reading.
  • Avaz AAC Bangla
MDA reading app Our team visited Bangladesh in July 2019. Here we realized the urgent need for a Bangla app that allowed children with complex communication needs to communicate in the language their parents and teachers spoke. We were also inundated with requests from special educators and speech pathologists in Bangladesh for an AAC app with Bangla vocabulary.  We released Avaz Bangla in November 2019 to address the needs of Bangla people with communication deficits. Avaz Bangla comes with an extensive Bangla vocabulary that reflects the culture and traditions of the region. It has a powerful Bangla keyboard that equips people with communication challenges to communicate in their native language. This not only expands their communication possibilities, but also breaks down barriers to their literacy. We conducted several training sessions in Bangla speaking regions to educate all the AAC stakeholders including parents, special educators, and speech pathologists. We have a lot more planned in the upcoming months to illustrate the benefits of AAC, including live demos and webinars.
  • Avaz AAC Faroese
[caption id="attachment_3679" align="alignright" width="385"]Avaz Faroese app Avaz app with Faroese vocabulary[/caption] Avaz is a firm believer that no individual should be deprived of the opportunity to realize their full potential due to their disabilities. Nor should lack of access to adequate resources be an obstacle. So, when we learnt about the requirement for an AAC app in Faroese, we felt privileged to be part of the AAC journey in Faroe Islands, a North Atlantic territory with a population of around 51,000 people.  We released Avaz in Faroese in August 2019, with the support of assistive technology enthusiasts and disability inclusion advocates from Faroe Islands and Denmark. We worked closely with the Faroese team to create extensive vocabulary that included appropriate gender inflections, and other nuances of the Faroese language. We are excited to see people having communication deficits in the region find their voice and express themselves through the Avaz app.
  • MDA Avaz Reader
[caption id="attachment_3678" align="alignright" width="285"] Download exciting stories that motivate young children to read[/caption] Avaz created MDA Avaz Reader in collaboration with the reputed Madras Dyslexia Association (MDA), which has more than twenty years of experience in dyslexia education. MDA Avaz Reader is a reading assistance app that promotes independent reading in children of all ages, and enables them to read better. Reading regularly enriches a child’s life by stimulating their imagination and enhancing their knowledge on various topics. MDA Avaz Reader has exciting stories with rich vocabulary and captivating images, that motivate young children to read. It also offers reading support such as syllable hints, rhyming hints and pronunciation help so that readers do not get stuck on unfamiliar words. Reader also has the option to import PDF or add images of text so that the child can get help with reading texts they are currently studying.  Fluent readers typically perform well in academics because reading is an essential component of classroom instruction and standardized tests. MDA Avaz reader incorporates proven strategies that help develop reading fluency and reading comprehension in children, setting them up for academic success. 
  • Avaz AAC in Tamilnadu 
This year 283 Avaz AAC installed devices were distributed in Government schools across Tamil Nadu. This was part of our continuing partnership with the Government of Tamil Nadu which began with the distribution of 197 Avaz AAC installed devices in 2017. With this, the biggest AAC / AT intervention in South Asia, got even bigger! Avaz is honoured to be associated with the state government's endeavours to facilitate AAC implementation in schools across Tamil Nadu. Thanks to this continued partnership, children with communication deficits in underserved communities are getting access to a robust AAC app so that they get a voice of their own. We aspire to be involved in more such projects so that all children get a chance at gaining literacy skills and developing their communication abilities.

AAC Awareness Activities:

Even with all the advancements in AAC technology, it is disheartening to see that several people with complex communication needs do not get to realize their full potential. There are three main underlying causes for this:
  1. A lack of awareness about AAC
  2. Unfounded fears and unsubstantiated myths about AAC
  3. Inadequate access to AAC resources
Every year, Avaz works tirelessly to combat these challenges, and to propagate the merits of AAC. Here are the AAC awareness events we were part of this year:
  • Webinar Sessions
AAC awareness webinarsThis year, we had a 4- part webinar series with Lauren.S.Enders, world-renowned speech therapist and AAC expert. The well-received webinars contain a wealth of information, with practical examples, and demonstrations of AAC use. Lauren did a splendid job of busting AAC myths, addressing the concerns of AAC beginners, and explaining vital AAC strategies. 
  • AAC Awareness Workshops
AAC awarenessWe conducted several Avaz workshops across India to spread AAC awareness. We  trained parents, special educators, and users in many special schools across India including in Bangalore, Noida, Delhi, Mumbai, Kerala etc. Here are some of the prominent events we were privileged to be part of in 2019:
    1. We were part of AAC awareness week events conducted in All India Institute of Speech and Hearing (AIISH), Mysuru during October. We spent an entire day emphasizing the benefits of AAC. We had live interactive sessions with parents, who were thrilled to participate in all the activities. Parents were split into teams and given a few communication scenarios. They were then asked to create relevant  folders and icons in Avaz for the same. Parents showed great enthusiasm taking the stage to explain how effortlessly they were able to customize Avaz.
    2. We conducted workshops for students and members of faculty in several organizations including NIEPMD(Chennai), SR Chandrashekar Institute of Speech and Hearing (Bangalore), CMC (Vellore), V-Excel (Chennai) etc. 
    3. We trained Speech therapists from Speech clinics / organisations like NISHTA (Chennai), Magpie (Bangalore), CFORAT and Therapy Abroad (California, USA).
    4. We attended the EMPOWER Conference at Delhi where we reiterated the importance of training parents and caregivers for successful implementation of AAC.  

App Updates

It has always been our quest to do better, not only for ourselves, but especially for our incredible customers. We constantly look to make improvements so that Avaz users make the best use of the app. Avaz  AAC app now displays saved sentences assigned to keys so that the user can easily load these saved sentences. This ensures quick access to frequently used sentences and encourages users to employ them in common scenarios. We have also included an auto clear option so that messages get cleared from the message box after they are spoken out. This speeds up communication without the user having to manually delete previous message before constructing a new one.  As we approach yet another exciting year, it’s time to  celebrate our successes because they reinforce our faith in team work and diligence. It is also time to look back at things that didn't go according to plan. We choose to remember these as lessons learnt, and forge ahead based on the knowledge gained. Most importantly, it is time for gratitude. We are grateful for your continued support and express our thanks for your constructive feedback. Your confidence in us gives us the impetus to push our boundaries and create even better technologies that enable inclusion, access, dignity, equality & empowerment.
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The Importance of Classroom Accommodations for Students with Dyslexia 

Children with Dyslexia can struggle to read and comprehend written text. Since reading is an indispensable part of classroom learning, they may underperform and fall behind in school. Accommodations for students with dyslexia can ensure that they get a fair shot at academic success just like their peers do.  Children with dyslexia can also struggle with writing, spelling, and comprehension, in addition to their reading challenges. It may be unreasonable to expect them to do well on standardized tests, and get good grades without adequate support. Classroom accommodations can reduce their stress and give them equal opportunity to achieve excellence in schools. Here are some of the accommodations that can help children with Dyslexia:
  • Instructional Materials

Textbooks, handouts and other instructional materials are full of text and can intimidate a dyslexic student. As a crucial part of the learning process, it is essential that students are supported to feel comfortable with the materials. Some of the steps that can be taken include -  Simplifying written directions : Large chunks of text can be overwhelming for some students with dyslexia. Teachers can format the text by underlining or highlighting important parts of the text. If they notice a child struggling to comprehend directions, they can also clarify or rewrite the instructions as required.  Oral Instructions: Reading instructions out loud as an alternative, or to supplement written instructions. Students with dyslexia can comprehend better when they are read to. Bookmarks: Providing bookmarks or coloured strips to help focus on a part of the text like a line or a small paragraph, because background images and stylized formatting can be distracting. [caption id="attachment_3642" align="alignright" width="443"]Assistive technology for dyslexia Assistive apps such as MDA Avaz Reader can improve comprehension[/caption] Other ideas: 
  1. Using large font sizes and increasing word spacing of printed text.
  2. Using audiobooks during reading sessions. 
  3. Using alphabet strips for reinforcing alphabet recognition.
  4. Providing additional practice activities such as educational games.
  5. Using number formation prompt strips for independent writing 
  6. Using assistive tools including reading apps such as MDA Avaz Reader, and speech-to-text software to help with writing.
  7. Providing books for all levels of reading, on varied topics of interest.
 
  • Assignments

    [caption id="attachment_3640" align="alignright" width="446"]assignment Highlighting keywords helps students focus on important details[/caption] Assignments are essential to reaffirm classroom learning and gauge how much the child has learned on an ongoing basis. Here are some of the ways in which dyslexic students can be supported to do their assignments - 
    1. Providing samples of completed assignments to show them what needs to be done.
    2. Providing a rubric explaining how the assignment will be graded.
    3. Providing a glossary of words in the assignment.
    4. Highlighting key words on the worksheets so that the students do not not miss out key information.
    5. Giving smaller assignments. If the child needs to finish a project, breaking it into smaller assignments so that the child is not discouraged by the huge amount of work to be done.
    6. Grading the assignments based on comprehension of concepts, ignoring spelling errors.
    7. Giving them alternate ways to present assignments such as oral reports, or PowerPoint presentations.
     
  • Tests

    [caption id="attachment_3643" align="alignright" width="407"]Taped tests Taped tests are a great alternative to written questions[/caption] Tests are another crucial component in the learning process. Here are some ways in which tests can be made more accommodating for dyslexic students -
    1. Providing additional time for taking tests.
    2. Providing a quiet room for taking tests, and blocking out external stimuli.
    3. Allowing use of tablets and other assistive devices to take tests.
    4. Giving taped tests, where students can listen to the audio format of the questions.
    5. Announcing the tests in advance so that the students get enough time to prepare.
     
  • Classroom Instruction

    [caption id="attachment_3641" align="alignright" width="402"]Learning partners Learning partners help peers understand the school curriculum[/caption] The classroom can be an intimidating space for a child with dyslexia. If the classroom experience is made dyslexia friendly, dyslexic students can make the most of it. Here is how that can be done -
    1. Giving typed or written notes of lessons before teaching them.
    2. Using visual representation while teaching new concepts 
    3. Explaining theory using relevant practical experiments, wherever applicable.
    4. Assigning learning partners and reading buddies so that they can get help from their peers.
    5. Writing significant terms on the board so that the student pays attention to them.
    6. Using audiovisual instructional methods to explain the concepts 
    7. Encouraging daily review of lessons so that they can follow the lesson the next day.  
     Dyslexia is a learning disability that can affect the academic performance of students. Several children with the disability suffer from low self-esteem due to their low grades, and get discouraged from pursuing higher education. Accommodations for students with dyslexia gives them the platform to play to their strengths. Consequently, the students get an opportunity to nourish their individual talents, hone their skills, and attain success in life.  
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All I Want for Christmas.. Is to be Heard!

Of course, your child wants the Frozen 2 singing doll, Baby shark song puppet or one of the hottest toys of the season. But to truly be part of all the festivities, it is more important for them to have their AAC system handy at all times. So, right from the day you decide to put the tree up in the house, all through the holidays, ensure constant availability of the AAC system. Don't we always talk about communication opportunities in AAC? The holidays are the perfect time to get your child to use AAC and participate in all the fun Christmas activities.

Christmas Decorations 

Tree decorating is an art, they say. It's more an art project. And the more help you get, the better. Get your child involved in decking up the tree. Gamify the task so that children are excited about it. Here are 3 fun ideas to use AAC for tree decoration:
  1. Create a list of ornaments and load the vocabulary in the child's AAC system. When the child chooses an ornament, the first family member to find the ornament from the box, gets to add it to the tree. This can be an exciting game to play with siblings and cousins.  Alternatively, you can also have family members take turns decorating the tree.
  2. Let your child request their favourite ornaments using the AAC system. Hand them the ornaments one by one as your child requests it, and soon you will have a gorgeous looking tree.
  3. Pick any ornament from the box. The family member who names it first gets to add it to the tree. Play this game with a limited set of ornaments, so that your child does not have to navigate much in the AAC system to name the ornaments. 

Christmas Cards

[gallery size="large" columns="2" ids="3621,3620"] Each family has their own Christmas traditions, be it ice skating outdoors, or visiting a holiday fair. If your family sends out christmas cards every year, how about giving the tradition a nice AAC twist?  Create relevant icons in the child’s AAC system so that they can send greetings to loved ones, by sharing them on social media. Your friends and family will be more than thrilled to receive personalized greetings from your child. You can share messages created in Avaz AAC app through several social media and messaging apps including Whatsapp, Facebook, and Hangouts.

Christmas Fashion

Whether you are one of those families that rock hand knit sweaters or matching pajamas, let your child participate in deciding the family’s Christmas outfits. Candy canes, snowflakes, reindeer, or star wars? Onesies or collared Pjs? These are important decisions that determine your style quotient during Christmas. Make sure that your child gets a say in them through their AAC system. If you prefer shopping online, have your child sit next to you, and pick the pattern and colour the whole family can agree on.  Christmas is all about getting together as a family and appreciating life's blessings. This Christmas, switch up the fun by including your child in every holiday activity. If you are hosting a party or attending one, read this post to learn useful tips for a magical Christmas.   Team Avaz wishes everyone a Merry Christmas. May love, peace, hope, and joy fill your hearts and homes!!!    
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Visual Schedules for Children with ASD

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may struggle with time management. They may also find it difficult to cope with sudden change of plans. This is where visual schedules can make a huge difference. Parents and teachers can use these tools to enable children on the spectrum to enhance their organizational skills.  Schedules use pictures, written text, or material cues to indicate the sequence of activities.These provide structure and support children with ASD to prepare themselves for upcoming events and activities. How do Visual Schedules Help? Several parents and teachers vouch for how effective visual schedules have been for their children. Experts too recommend the use of schedules due to their various benefits, some of which are listed below.
  • Clarity
Visual schedules provide clarity and a definitive order of events. The child is not left guessing about what activity to do, and when to do it.  By letting them know what's coming up, schedules offer them reassurance. This can help in reducing their anxiety, and in managing problem behaviours.
  • Makes big tasks manageable
Schedules break down tasks into manageable chunks so that the list of activities do not overwhelm the child. You can set small goals for the child, which encourages them to accomplish the task within a deadline. This helps them develop discipline and self-confidence.
  • Independence
Schedules can foster independence in children with ASD. They may go on to follow instructions and complete tasks without the intervention of others.
  • Comprehension
Graphic representation and concrete cues can be easier to comprehend for some children over verbal instructions. This can also improve their focus and help in avoiding distractions. 
  • Supports caregivers
The child can look at the schedule and understand what they are expected to do. This eases the workload of parents and teachers who do not have to repeat the instructions.

Types of Visual Schedules

There is overwhelming evidence suggesting the effectiveness of visual schedules for children with ASD. However, we see that not many parents and teachers use them regularly. They assume that creating a schedule is a laborious task. But the truth is that schedules need not be complex. You can set up a schedule with very little effort by using simple things lying around the house. Different children respond well to different types of visual representations. You can try out the different types of schedules and choose the one that works best for the child. Here are the common types of visual schedules:
  • Object Schedules: 
These may be one of the simplest schedules you can make. These are best suited for early learners and children with visual impairments, cognitive deficits, and language difficulties.  You can use an object as a cue for the child to start an activity. Choose an object that the child can easily identify with the particular activity. Here is a list of objects that you can use as cues for related activities: Spoon: Mealtime Favourite Toy: Indoor Play Ball: Outdoor Play Tote bag: Shopping Swimwear: Swimming Towel: Bathtime Remote: TV time Sensory Toy: Therapy visit Helmet: Bike riding You can also use objects that represent the activity, although they might not be actually used in the activity. This can be particularly helpful when you are outdoors. For example, you can carry a hand towel with you, and use it to indicate that it is time to go to the toilet. 
  • Picture Schedules:
A picture schedule might seem elaborate, and difficult to create.  But there are many printable resources available online, and you can easily print out images and arrange them on charts or boards. You can also use real photographs or create your own drawings if you find your child responds to them better. Use magnetic boards and clips, velcro, or binders to hold the pictures. Some children may not be able to make the connection between the picture and the activity at the beginning. However, as you keep using the schedule with them, they may be able to recognize the picture and associate it with the corresponding activity.
  • Written Schedules: [caption id="attachment_3594" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Add smileys or stickers to make the schedule exciting[/caption]
Written schedules are fairly simple to create. All you need is a pen and paper, or a whiteboard and marker. These schedules are suitable for children who can read and comprehend written language. If your child is just beginning to read, you can use a combination of symbols with words. [gallery size="large" columns="2" ids="3598,3599"] As the child finishes each activity, you can strike the corresponding written instruction out. This will help the child keep track of the activities completed. Once the child is done with all the activities specified in a given paper, you can ask the child to crush the paper, and throw it in the trash can. For picture schedules, you can move them to a ‘Completed’ or a ‘Good Job’ section. Object schedules can also be put in a separate bin to indicate completion of tasks. This will denote that they have successfully completed all the assigned tasks, giving them a sense of accomplishment. Visual schedules can be a fun way to improve concentration in children with ASD. The systematic instructions gives them a heads up about events to come. This helps them relax, and focus on the task at hand. Schedules also help in making transitions between tasks easier. This, in turn develops their self-regulation, enabling them to make the best use of their time.  
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Avaz FreeSpeech: An Exciting Way to Develop Language Skills

Language is primarily a tool for social communication. We use it to convey our ideas and to transmit messages. Every language is composed of smaller units that are arranged according to rules that govern them. These finite number of smaller units such as sounds and letters, can be used in multiple permutations and combinations to form an infinite number of larger units that have meaning.  Sounds complex, right? What if there was an app that lets you learn grammar without having to read volumes of written text about semantics and syntax? Wouldn’t acquiring language skills be a breeze, if there was a fun way to learn words and their appropriate usage in a sentence? Avaz FreeSpeech is a revolutionary app that lets you do just that! It uses gamified challenges to teach you the basics of grammar such as nouns, adjectives, verbs etc. It also lets you start with a single word, and build a sentence by prompting with relevant questions.  Here are a few underlying principles of Avaz Free Speech that are effective for language building:

Scaffolding: 

Scaffolding refers to the use of instructional techniques to help learners achieve better and deeper understanding of language. It involves providing assistance to learners so that they progress and go to the next level in their language capabilities. Scaffolding When the learner says, "eat pizza", Avaz FreeSpeech prompts them to add more details by asking the question "What kind?"

Recasting 

Recasting is the corrective reformulation of a learner’s utterances. Evidence suggests that students repeat recasts, thereby learning correct usage of language.  When the learner says, "He eat pizza", Avaz FreeSpeech corrects it to the grammatically correct sentence "He eats pizza".

Bridging 

Bridging is the technique of teaching new concepts by building up on the learner’s existing knowledge. For bilingual learners, this helps in developing fluency in a second language, while maintaining their proficiency of native language. [gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="3567,3568"]

Gamification:

Gamification is an educational approach that aims to maximize the engagement of learners using fun elements that promote learning. According to research, learners acquire and retain more information through gamification than conventional teaching methods. [caption id="attachment_3569" align="aligncenter" width="474"] Exciting challenges in Avaz FreeSpeech make learning grammar a fun experience. Parents and teachers can also create custom challenges based on the child's progress.[/caption]

Reward System:

Setting small goals motivates people to work towards achieving them. Subsequently rewarding them for successful completion of tasks gives them a sense of accomplishment. It also encourages them to put in more effort and reach for higher goals. [caption id="attachment_3570" align="aligncenter" width="515"] The learner gets instant reinforcement once they ace a challenge in Avaz FreeSpeech[/caption]

Multi-sensory Learning:

Multi-sensory learning refers to the engagement of more than one sense in learning environments. Since multiple senses of the learner are stimulated, it results in greater understanding. It also gives students of all abilities an alternative way to learn and process information.
  • Visual Learning
[caption id="attachment_3571" align="aligncenter" width="507"] The entire Symbolstix library of 15,000+ symbols in Avaz FreeSpeech promote visual learning. You can also add your own picture and add to the repository of picture vocabulary.[/caption]  
  • Auditory Learning
[video width="1920" height="1080" mp4="https://www.avazapp.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/FSAudio.mp4" autoplay="true"][/video]  
  • Tactile Learning
Tactile learners can learn better when they use their hands. Moving tiles around can stimulate such learners and engage them more. [video width="1920" height="1080" mp4="https://www.avazapp.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/FStactile.mp4" autoplay="true"][/video]  

Independent Learning:

Typically, a parent or teacher expands or offers corrective feedback to the learner’s utterances. However, when an individual is able to learn by themselves, it develops their metacognition and self-assessment skills. This instills confidence in them and boosts their self-worth. [caption id="attachment_3573" align="aligncenter" width="512"] Visual cues and question prompts in Avaz FreeSpeech guide users so that they can learn by themselves.[/caption] Avaz FreeSpeech is a unique app with grammar prediction and errorless modelling. These game changing functionalities help learners develop language skills. It is suitable for any learner who wants to build their language skills, be it a bilingual student or an individual with language impairments. With gamification and picture supports, the app complements conventional methods of language development, while offering a gripping way to improve language competency.  
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Revisiting Most loved Avaz Features: Dashboard for Caregiver Training 

Parents get excited about introducing an AAC app to their child because they are hopeful that it would open the door for the child’s communication. But many may feel lost while getting started with the app. They may require help understanding AAC fundamentals and all the app features. The AAC proficiency of a communication partner is vital to ensure the child's continuous and fluent use of the AAC system. This is why Avaz AAC has included 'Dashboard', a simple and comprehensive tutorial for caregiver training. This is inbuilt into the Avaz AAC system and is always just a tap away. Avaz Dashboard is packed with tips and practical scenarios to help you get familiar with the app. It guides you to look for, and create communication opportunities throughout the day. It even lets you practice a few sentences for each of those conversations, taking you through the steps to model the keywords of each sentence. The Avaz Dashboard was included in the app after realizing the importance of educating parents and other AAC stakeholders including teachers and SLPs. The tutorials in the Dashboard give the caregivers an understanding of the verbal layout and the salient features of the app.  You can find instructions for 10 possible AAC use scenarios, including mealtimes, circle time, reading etc.  training caregivers Here are some of the things you can do in the Avaz Dashboard :
  1. Practice modelling 
  2. Learn related AAC strategies 
  3. Model any sentence that you wish to model, besides those available for practice.
  4. Monitor the user's progress

Practice Modelling

Let’s take a look at ‘Playing a Game in the Park’ scenario.  You can practice 18 sentences related to this activity. Let’s choose the 6th sentence ‘It is your turn to throw the ball’, and see how the app guides you to model that sentence. These examples are given so that you get familiar with the layout and folder locations. If the child is a beginning communicator, you may want to model fewer keywords. The number of words you model  largely depends on the language competence and the cognitive abilities of the AAC user.   [metaslider id=3525] With that, you have just learned how to model keywords of a sentence in the Avaz app. Congrats!! 

AAC Strategies 

Now that you have learned to model sentences while the child plays at the park, it is important to understand the significant AAC strategies to employ. Understanding strategies will enable you to follow the do's and don'ts of modelling. What kind of questions to ask? How to expand and extend the child's vocabulary? How to encourage the child to communicate? These are some of the things that are covered in the AAC strategies tutorial.  [metaslider id=3543]

Learning to Model Your Sentences

The 'My Sentences' tab on the Dashboard lets you add any sentence you wish to model. [metaslider id=3537] It must be noted that Avaz AAC app lets you add multiple words to a particular category, at one go. Once all the words in the sentence are added, then the app shows you how to access these words through visual cues. 

Analytics 

Analytics helps you keep track of the child's progress. You can find out the length of sentences and percentage of core vocabulary used for a given period. The pictorial representation with charts and graphs will help you monitor the usage and make necessary changes for further improvements. Avaz prioritizes caregiver training because it plays a pivotal role in developing the communication skills of children with complex communication needs. For beginners, the tutorials serve as a great tool that introduces them to AAC fundamentals. For Avaz users familiar with the app, Dashboard can provide reinforcement for the strategies they are already employing.
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Get the Better of Reading Difficulties with MDA Avaz Reader

Children with Dyslexia may struggle in school due to their reading difficulties. Their academic performance may suffer due to their disability, causing them emotional distress. Assistive tools such as reading apps can do wonders by helping them manage their challenges. By giving  students the tools to work around their difficulties, these apps set them up for success both in schools and their social lives. download storybooksMDA Avaz Reader is a research-based app that incorporates proven intervention strategies to help struggling readers. The features of the app have been designed to address the most common challenges faced by students in schools. With MDA Avaz Reader, you can read any written text, be it from a storybook, magazine, newspaper or school textbooks. The app also allows you to download exciting books with captivating images that motivate children to read. Reading, writing, spelling, and comprehension problems are common in children with Dyslexia. In this post, let’s see how to help a child with reading difficulties with the ‘Hint’ feature of MDA Avaz Reader.

Syllable Awareness: 

Syllables are the smaller units that make up words and language. A single syllable has a vowel sound with or without accompanying consonant sounds. For example, the word ‘eagle’ has two syllables, while the word ‘time’ has only one syllable. The word ‘friends’ has more letters in it than ‘eagle’, but it has only one syllable. [caption id="attachment_3489" align="alignright" width="225"]syllable hint Syllable Hint[/caption] Children with dyslexia may find it difficult to identify the syllables of a word. A parent or teacher can help them by clapping out the individual syllables of the word. How does MDA Avaz Reader help? If the child wants help with a particular word while reading a text, they can tap on the ‘Hint’ button to get syllable hints. This helps them understand how the word is broken down into individual syllables. Since they do not need the assistance of a parent or teacher, the ‘Hint’ feature promotes their independence in reading.

Rhyme Awareness:

This is the ability to identify words that have similar or the same sounds in the final stressed syllable. Essentially, the end of the rhyming words sound similar. For example, the word ‘time’ rhymes with ‘lime’, ‘slime’, ‘mime’, etc. [caption id="attachment_3488" align="alignright" width="225"]Rhyming hint Rhyming words hint[/caption] Children with dyslexia can have trouble recognizing rhyming words. However, they can be taught to focus on the end syllables that sound similar. How does MDA Avaz Reader help? While reading the story, the child can tap the ‘Hint’ button to see words that rhyme with the current word they are reading. The hint even highlights the syllables that have matching sounds. This helps the child gain an understanding of the connection between the syllables and their sounds. As the child develops their rhyme awareness, they can go on to produce rhyming words. 

Vocabulary Acquisition

Due to the challenges they face, children with dyslexia generally have much less vocabulary at their disposal compared to their peers. One of the best ways to acquire a rich vocabulary is to read. However, children with dyslexia may avoid reading due to the strain it puts on them. The lack of adequate vocabulary affects their comprehension and expressive language. Their difficulties with pronunciation can also prevent them from actively using their existing vocabulary. [caption id="attachment_3490" align="alignright" width="144"]picture hint Picture hint[/caption] How does MDA Avaz Reader Help? Research suggests that visual representation is an effective technique for a child to learn new words and recall them. Attractive and colourful images can spark their curiosity, and can be more engaging than plain text. MDA Avaz Reader provides picture hints for words. While reading a word, the child can tap the ‘Hint’ button to see the picture hint. Looking at the image corresponding to the word helps them remember the word and what it represents. MDA Avaz Reader also provides audio clips to teach pronunciation. Children typically learn words with more enthusiasm with such multisensory techniques that include audio and visual clues. [video width="1920" height="1080" mp4="https://www.avazapp.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/MDA.mp4" autoplay="true"][/video]   Dyslexics who overcome their challenges and become successful in life, recall their traumatic school experiences caused by their reading difficulties. It is unfortunate that many such children do not achieve anything more than basic literacy. Poor academic performance resulting from their challenges stifles their confidence and stresses them out. Without adequate support, many children with dyslexia suffer from low self-esteem, leading to social and emotional issues. MDA Avaz Reader app is a handy tool that enables children to read independently. This boosts their chances of academic success, and elevates their sense of self-worth.  
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How to Develop Emotional Competence of an AAC User

Emotional IntelligenceEmotional competence is the ability of a person to express their own emotions with complete freedom. You can convey emotions without words, but you run the risk of your gestures and facial expressions being misinterpreted. Moreover, non-verbal communication of emotions requires that the communication partner is looking at you, and this can limit your expression. Language, therefore, plays an instrumental role in determining a person’s ability to effectively communicate their emotions. Over the course of their lives, children and adults may struggle with communicating their emotions.  For a child with complex communication needs, the challenge is greater, because they might not have the literacy to convey their emotions accurately. Therefore, AAC intervention programs need to focus on developing their emotional intelligence and provide them the relevant vocabulary.

Components of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is essentially the ability to identify emotions and use them appropriately. Since emotional intelligence influences the quality of a child’s relationships and their social life, it is important to understand what we really mean by it. Here are the key components of emotional intelligence and the corresponding skills we need to foster in children with special needs:
  • Self-awareness
Recognizing their emotions and what caused them. Making the connection between their emotions and behaviour. Having an awareness of the effects of their emotions.  Knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses. Ability to learn from mistakes. Identifying areas of self-development. Willingness to listen to feedback.
  • Emotional Regulation
Controlling impulses and disruptive feelings. Maintaining composure under distressing situations. Acknowledging one’stheir mistakes.  Understanding values such as honesty and reliability. Having the flexibility to deal with change of plans. Adaptability to new and unfamiliar environments.
  • Self-motivation
Setting goals and working towards it. Having realistic ambitions. Setting deadlines and meeting them. Organizing themselves to achieve their goals.
  • Empathy
Awareness of others’ emotions. Ability to feel what others are feeling. Ability to show concern and care. Knowledge of appropriate things to say and do, to show concern. Ability to put aside their priorities to listen to others.
  • Social Skills
Actively listening to what others have to say. Being respectful of others’ emotions. Ability to show gratitude. Ability to form friendships.  Being comfortable in social settings.

Emotional Intelligence of Special Needs Children

Teaching emotional skills to any child can be tricky. It can be more difficult for children with special needs because physical deficits and cognitive impairments can affect how well they understand and distinguish the various emotions. Here are a few things to do to help them learn to identify, regulate, and express their emotions. Read Stories Reading stories is an excellent way to teach the child to identify the different emotions. As you are reading, talk about the main characters in the story and discuss their feelings. Draw the child’s attention to the change in emotions of the characters throughout the story. If the boy in the story was sad that he couldn’t find his favourite ball, make sure that the child understands the correlation between the event and the emotion. If at the end of the story, the boy is happy that he got a new ball, talk to the child about the shift in the emotional state of the character.  Ask the child what they are feeling about the events in the story. Are they sad that the boy lost his ball? Are they happy that the boy got a new ball? Asking them such questions is a good way to teach empathy to the child.  Encourage the Child to Talk Children with special needs can get better at talking about their feelings, the more they do it. Asking them questions regularly can help them open up about their emotions. Build on their answers and help them elaborate, and be specific by asking consecutive questions. If you ask ‘How are you feeling now?’, and they answered, ‘Mad’, ask further questions to help them explore their emotions. ‘Why are you mad?” If the child doesn’t know how to answer the question, you can proceed by giving them possible causes. ‘Are you mad because I asked you to stop watching TV or are you mad because the music is too loud for you?’ Continue the conversation until the child is able to recognize the exact cause of their emotion. If they indicate that that they do not wish to talk about it, talk to them about some of your experiences in similar situations.  Give Them The Vocabulary ‘I’m excited’ is not the same as ‘I’m happy’. The AAC user should be taught extensive vocabulary to express distinct emotions. The best way for a communication partner to do this is to talk about their own feelings in various situations. If you are taking the child to their favourite movie, you can say ‘I’m excited to watch this movie with you.’ When the child is waiting for his grandparents to arrive, you can say, “Are you excited about seeing grandpa?’ Consistently using the word ‘excited’ both in direct conversation with the child, and conversations with other communication partners familiarizes the child with the word. Modelling the word in the AAC system whenever you use it, can motivate the child to use the word to express their excitement. Adding too many emotion words at the beginning can be confusing and overwhelming for a user. Start slow, and as the child’s emotional intelligence grows, make sure to include additional words that describe the different emotions. Visual supports and role play can also help your child develop their emotional competence. If you know of an upcoming or recurring situation that causes emotional upheaval in your child, discuss it in advance. Having a conversation about the event when the child is calmer, helps them understand the situation better. This can help them regulate their emotional response to the event. Each child has different cognitive abilities and emotional awareness. Hence, while teaching children emotional skills, parents and teachers should exercise their judgment. This will help in choosing the method that best suits the child’s needs.    
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Tips for Shared Reading with an AAC System

Shared Reading with AAC strategyParents of children with AAC needs are constantly on the lookout for communication opportunities with the AAC system. Shared reading is one such activity that parents can try out with their children. It typically refers to a school instruction method wherein the teacher reads a story aloud with a group of students. Parents can use the same reading strategy at home so that children continue to learn while doing an activity they love. For an AAC user, reading with a parent can be an especially exciting way to enhance their language skills. Stories are also excellent tools for  parents to discuss and teach etiquettes, emotions, and other abstract concepts.  You can find free downloadable shared reading kits here. Here are the key things to keep in mind while reading with your child:

Pick a Book of Their Choice

Start by asking the child whether they are up for reading. Would you like to read now?" Give them the choice to say ‘No’. Forcing a child to read when they are not keen on it will make the activity stressful for the parent and the child. If they show interest in reading, the next step is to ask what book they’d like to read. If they have clear favourites, you can let them choose one of their favourite books.  Would you like to read ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’,  ‘The Lion and the Mouse’, or some other book?" Once they pick a book, you can start reading with the child.

Have a Conversation

It’s not just about asking questions. As much as you want to know how much your child has understood, bombarding them with questions can get monotonous. The child can feel tested while all they wanted was a fun reading session with you. So, give room for casual conversation where you share your thoughts and observations. “I think it is great that the tortoise won at the end.” “I’m happy that the tortoise won the race. Are you happy that the tortoise won?” “The hare lost because it took a nap.” “Hurray! The tortoise won!!” “Look. The tortoise looks happy because it won.” “I think that the hare is upset that it lost.” “Look at all the animals cheering the tortoise and the hare.” “What animals do you see other than the tortoise and the hare?” “Look at the elephant. The big elephant is watching the race.”

Be Ready to Model

Reading can be a wonderful opportunity to model. Keep the AAC system nearby as you read the story, so that you don’t miss the chance to model. We have put together some examples of modeling using the classic “Hare and the Tortoise” story. Words in italics are a few words you can model for beginning communicators while reading this story.
  • Read:
“Do you want to read now?”  “We are reading ‘The Hare and the Tortoise?” “I love reading with you.” “Isn’t it fun reading a book together?” “Did you enjoy reading this book?” “Let’s read your favourite book.”
  • Like:
“Do you like this story?” “I liked this story.”
  • More:
“Do you want to read more?”
  • Turn:
“Now turn the page” “Let’s turn the page.”
  • Happy:
“Look at the tortoise. It looks happy.” “The hare lost the race. It is not happy.”
  • Run:
“The hare is running fast.”

Ask Questions

If you are reading the ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’, you can point to the pictures and talk about them. “Look at the hare.”  You can draw the child’s attention to the characters so that they can follow the story as it progresses.  “What colour is the hare?” Ask ‘wh’ questions related to the story and look expectantly at the child, indicating that you are looking for a response.  Children with cognitive deficits and developmental disabilities can take longer to respond. It’s a good practice to pause for a few seconds to give the child time to construct a response.  If the child does not respond, you can answer the question to keep the conversation going. “The hare is brown in colour. Look at the hare. It’s brown.” As you read further, you can ask other questions to see if the child has understood what you have read. “What is the hare doing?” Again, pause for a few seconds and look expectantly to encourage the child to respond.

Expansion and Extension

Expansion is the process in which you repeat what the child says, and add missing words to make it grammatically correct. Try not to rephrase too much as that can confuse the child. If the child answers, “run” to the question “What is the hare doing?”, then it’s a great opportunity for you to expand the conversation. “Yes! Run. The hare is running.”  Show excitement when the child replies and acknowledge their answer. This will motivate them to continue responding to your questions. Extension of language involves providing a little more new information. This information is related to what the child has just said.   “Yes! The hare is running. It is running fast”  Depending on the child’s fondness for reading, and cognitive abilities, you can build on these strategies and have more elaborate conversations. Shared reading is a great way to encourage interactive communication, while simultaneously developing the child’s vocabulary and AAC proficiency.  
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Equipping Children with Special Needs to Tackle Bullying in Schools

Every child deserves to grow in an environment filled with love, care, and encouragement. Schools, especially, should be secure spaces where they feel safe and at ease. Bullying in schools can make children feel threatened, and negatively impact their self esteem. Children with special needs may be the worst affected, because they may rely heavily on others to build their social skills. Bullying special needs children in schools As a parent, you may feel helpless when your child gets bullied. Your child may lack the necessary emotional skills to deal with all the taunting and teasing. Vulnerable children who are victims of bullying may suffer from depression, or turn to substance abuse to cope with their sense of powerlessness. Given the grave consequences, parents and schools should get together to take on this menace that can potentially cause irreparable damage to a child’s psychological health.

Bullying and Children with Special Needs 

Bullying is a problem that most children face, but those with special needs are easy targets because they may be different. Some children with special needs may be physically weaker, or appear to be weaker. Unfortunately, their lack of physical strength, or physical disabilities, can make them the chosen ones for bullies to pick on. Children who have communication deficits too are often at the receiving end of bullying because they may not have the tools to stand up for themselves. Those with cognitive impairments might be socially inept, and may seem out of place in social settings. This can invite the attention of troublemakers, and put them at risk of being bullied.

What can Schools do?

Schools need to have strong anti-bullying programs that educate children about the evil side of bullying. Children must be made aware of the long-lasting effects of the same. At the classroom level, the teacher is the best person to tackle bullying. We see that children hesitate to come forward and report bullying because they may be seen as tattletales. Some teachers inadvertently become a party to the bullying by making callous remarks that suggest that the victims should 'toughen up' or 'let it go'. Hence teachers should be trained to identify signs of bullying and equipped to handle the same. They need to develop an environment of trust and reassurance in the classroom to indicate that no bullying complaint will be trivialized.  Children must be taught empathy and how to acknowledge and embrace differences. As can happen with young children, there can be ruffled sentiments that are caused unintentionally. So, teachers must educate the children to be sensitive, discreet, and thoughtful in their actions and words.  Counsellors can play an important role in building a school wide understanding of the ill effects of bullying. Classroom learning can be further reiterated by counsellors who should work to inculcate a culture of open communication at school. This will ensure that children feel comfortable opening up about their troubles.

What can Parents do?

Parents must ensure that children have a strong sense of self-worth, so that their confidence dosen’t suffer due to bullies who constantly put them down.  Children should be encouraged to pursue their hobbies and passions. Hobbies are good stress-busters and are also a good diversion from their anxieties. Parents should encourage the children to talk about their feelings, and to seek help if needed. If they notice the children becoming withdrawn or unusually quiet, they can talk to them to find out if something is wrong. A sudden drop in grades or a diminished interest in going to school may also be indicators of bullying. Children should be exposed to social environments so that they are comfortable when interacting with others. Parents must support their children in their attempts to establish social connections. They can arrange playdates with children of like-minded parents. They can also take them to libraries and NGOs, where the children can participate in fun events. 

How Can AAC Help?

We would all love to see a child using their AAC system to stand up to their harasser, and end the bullying themselves, right? For a child with complex communication needs, just being able to say 'Stop' and 'No', gives them the power to protest. So, their AAC systems should always be at hand and provide them quick access to such words.  The child can also use the AAC system to report the bullying to their teachers and parents. They can also be taught about how to deal with bullying using social stories on the AAC system. A separate emergency folder can be created for times of distress explaining the steps to follow and people to turn to for help. Bullying can cause scars that children may carry well into their adulthood. Children with disability and complex communication needs must be enabled to build strong agency to stand up to bullies. Till such time they can do it themselves , the responsibility falls on the adults in their lives to protect them. So, parents and teachers should join hands to put an end to bullying. This will ensure that schools are nurturing and safe spaces they are meant to be. What do you think about bullying in schools? Please share your ideas in the comment section below.
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How Assistive Technology for Dyslexia Helps Struggling Readers

Dyslexia is the most common learning disability, affecting around 10% of the world’s population. People with dyslexia struggle to read independently, and may also have trouble with spelling, writing, and comprehension. Due to the general lack of awareness about the condition, several children and adults do not receive a timely diagnosis. Consequently, they can be presumed to be incompetent and lethargic, despite being intelligent and conscientious. Thanks to assistive technology for Dyslexia including apps that help with reading, writing and spelling, people with Dyslexia can overcome their challenges to achieve academic and professional success

Why use Assistive Apps?

Several schools have early intervention programs to support children with Dyslexia. They use research-based multisensory instruction techniques to help  children with focus. Even as the children receive such targeted help, it is important to supplement school programs with adequate assistance at home. This is where an app such as MDA Avaz Reader comes into play. Assistive apps are handy tools that give children with dyslexia access to reading support at home, so that they can keep up with their peers. In the U.S and U.K, schools have specialized instruction programs for children with dyslexia. But for children in less developed parts of the world, reading intervention programs can be sparse or non-existent.  Without proper support, children with dyslexia can be labelled ‘slow, ‘lazy’, and ‘stupid’ which can result in them suffering from low self-esteem. Some may even drop out of school due to their dismal academic performance caused by their reading challenges. Assistive apps can enable such children to perform well in school by helping them read and comprehend written text better. Adults with Dyslexia too can face problems in the workplace due to their reading difficulties. They can have trouble reading and comprehending documents, spreadsheets,and graphs. Assistive apps can help them manage their difficulties, so that their work efficiency is not compromised. 

Reading Challenges Faced by People with Dyslexia

People with Dyslexia can struggle with several aspects of reading.  Here is a look at some of their reading challenges:
  • Phonemic Awareness
It is the awareness of individual sounds and the way these sounds are blended to make words. People with Dyslexia can have trouble manipulating the sounds in language.
  • Phonics
Phonics involves understanding the correlation between individual sounds and the corresponding letters. People with Dyslexia have difficulty identifying the relationship between sounds and letters that represent the sounds.
  • Fluency
Fluency is the ability to decode text rapidly and accurately read with appropriate expression. People with Dyslexia can have issues with all three components of fluency - they can read slowly, make errors while reading, or read with the wrong expression.
  • Vocabulary
Vocabulary refers to the collection of words whose meaning and appropriate usage is understood. People with Dyslexia can have limited vocabulary, and may need instruction methods that help them learn new words and their meanings.
  • Comprehension
Comprehension is the ability to understand the meaning of the written text you read. It is seen as a major factor that influences fluency and vocabulary development.

How can Assistive Apps Help?

Apps such as MDA Avaz Reader use evidence-based methods to enable children to learn at grade level, even when their reading, spelling, and comprehension may be below grade level.  MDA Avaz Reader is available in Android and iOS.    

Here are some of the ways assistive apps help people with dyslexia get comfortable with reading :
  • Reading Out Written Text  
It has been found that most people with dyslexia retain information better when they are read to. Apps that read out written text, allow children to read without the assistance of a parent or teacher. This increases their independence in reading and also boosts their self-confidence.
  • Improving Focus
Children with Dyslexia can find reading books intimidating. They can struggle to focus when they are given large chunks of text to read. Apps that highlight a single line or single word at a time, allow them to focus on that particular part of text. Different color overlays can also be used to reduce vision sensitivity. Finger-reading technique can guide the user by marking words that are already read, and pointing to the next word to read.
  • Getting Rid of Distractions 
People with Dyslexia can be overwhelmed when there is a lot going on in a given page. Removing distractions such as background images helps avoid overstimulation and improves visual focus.
  • Reading Hints
It may take longer for people with dyslexia to finish reading a page because they may not be good at identifying sight words. They may also struggle to sound out words. By getting syllable-based and word family hints, they can learn how to identify phonemes in the words. Audio clips that teach pronunciation can also help them read the text with accuracy.
  • Building Comprehension 
Instead of reading an entire sentence without fully understanding its meaning, assistive apps allow you to build up a sentence by focusing on key parts of the text. This promotes comprehension by ensuring that readers don't miss out on important details of the text. Books are reservoirs of knowledge and reading challenges can limit the exposure of children to a wide range of books. Assistive apps can help people with dyslexia discover the joy of reading books. They also provide the necessary support, and prevent reading difficulties from negatively impacting the career prospects or the academic progress of those with dyslexia. Experience the benefits of assitive technology for dyslexia. Try MDA Avaz Reader now!!!
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Why is Core Vocabulary Important For an AAC User?

Core wordsCore words are the small number of words that are used most frequently in our conversations. About 80% of the words we speak are core words. They can be used across contexts, and can have more than one meaning. Pronouns, common verbs, prepositions, and helping verbs are part of core vocabulary. Examples are I, you, help, that, me, mine, stop, go, get, etc. 

Significance of Core Words

A decade ago, AAC systems gave users a few core words with a wide range of nouns. For example, the user was given the core word ‘like’ to use with several nouns such as ‘cookie’, ‘red’, ‘football’, ‘rose’, etc. This seemed to be enough for common communicative functions such as requesting. This approach, however, limited the communication ability of the user.  Current AAC strategies are based on the realization that teaching core words open up communication opportunities for the users. By understanding the usage of the word ‘like’, the user can use it in different settings and contexts. Focus on teaching core words gives the user greater communication autonomy, which is one of the fundamental goals of AAC.

Considerations in Teaching Core Words

We know that teaching core words to AAC users gives them more independence and expands the possibilities of communication. But, when it comes to implementing this strategy, SLPs and special educators are often scrambling to find suitable resources. This is because teaching core words is tougher than teaching nouns. Most nouns are tangible and easier to understand for an AAC user who is learning to communicate. You can show a book to the child while teaching the word ‘book’. The child sees it, and hence can associate the word to the object. Nouns can also be better represented by pictures. This helps the child getting started with symbol-based AAC, easily identify the pictures and learn the corresponding nouns.  Core words are more abstract and not represented well by pictures. Adding to the complexity is the fact that core words can be used in multiple ways. For example, look at the word ‘give’ which has different meanings in each of the following usages. Give                    - to present something to someone Give up               - surrender Give out              - be exhausted Give it a shot      - try Give away          - to give things for free

Teaching Core Words - Best Practices

Here are a few things to keep in mind while teaching core words:
  • Quick Access to Core WordsQuick access to core words
Choose an AAC system, such as Avaz app, that is designed such that core words are easily accessible. The user should not have to navigate a lot to access the words they use frequently. The AAC app should also allow for inclusion of a huge repository of words. A wider choice of vocabulary imposes fewer restrictions on communication. You can also use core vocabulary boards while getting started.
  • Modelling
Neurotypical children learn language by listening to words spoken around them constantly. Similarly, an AAC user must be able to see people around them using the AAC system for communication. Modelling or Aided Language Stimulation is the practice of communication partners using AAC to show the user how it is done. While teaching core words, it is important to model as often as possible. Mealtimes and play times are great opportunities for modelling core words. For example, you can teach the child the core word ‘more’, by asking, ‘Do you want more salad?’ You can say, ‘I think I would like more pasta’, and help yourself to another serving of pasta. 
  • Setting Realistic Goals
It takes neurotypical children several months of exposure to spoken language before they attempt to utter a word. So, be patient and confident that your child will be able to acquire core word skills with time. Do not get flustered over perceived delays. Comparing your child’s progress with that of another is a futile exercise. This is because each child has a different learning curve for these skills, depending on considerations like their cognitive abilities. Since core words are difficult to teach and comprehend, your child may take a while to grasp the concept. So, you must ensure that you model consistently, and give them enough time. Remember to give them exposure to more words, as they begin to gain an understanding of the words you’ve been already teaching them. By giving AAC users access to an extensive core vocabulary, we equip them with the power of boundless expression!  
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Drawing Inspiration From Celebrities with Dyslexia 

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

Academic success of Dyslexics

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

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

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

What is Social Communication Disorder?SCD description

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

The Stance Against SCD as a Diagnostic Category

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

The Argument for a Distinct Diagnosis

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

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

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

AAC communicationWhat is Communication Autonomy?

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

Factors Affecting Communication Autonomy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Addressing the Different Reading Challenges

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

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

Serve Them the Meal They Love

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

Give Them a Task To Do

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

Talk to Them About Gratitude

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

Identify a Safe Space

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

Have a Socializing Plan in Place

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

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

Echolalia in Autism

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

What is Echolalia 

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

Interactive Echolalia and Non-interactive Echolalia

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

Purposes of Interactive Echolalia

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

Purposes of Non-interactive Echolalia

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

AAC intervention for echolaliaEcholalia Intervention

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

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

How About a Little Banter?

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

A Good Communication Partner?

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

The Gateway to a Wealth of Information

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

Independence and Control

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

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

AAC and Autism

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

Why is Communication Intervention Important?

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

Gives Them Control

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

Promotes Self-Advocacy

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

Ways AAC Systems can Help Children with ASD

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

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

Prevents Caregiver Burnout

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

Enables Better Connection Caregiver and elderly person

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

Facilitates Caregiver Preparedness 

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

Helps in Making Optimal Choices 

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

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

What are Acquired Communication Disorders?Adult in need of AAC

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

Skills Affected by Communication Disorder in Adults

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

Common Types of Communication Disorders in Adults

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

Why Use AAC

Adults interacting with each other

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

What AAC system to use

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

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

Remote Speech TherapyWhat is Teletherapy?

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

Avaz and Remote Therapy

Avaz recognizes the need for employing modern technologies to ensure access of speech therapy to everyone. Avaz Live is a feature of Avaz AAC app that families and schools can use to seek remote therapy services from experts. There is no additional equipment that you need to buy other than the iPad or the Android tablet that you generally use. Besides, you don’t need to browse for, purchase, install, or update additional software for video conferencing. Avaz Live is, therefore, a seamless solution for Teletherapy. 

Try out Avaz Live by downloading a free version of Avaz AAC here

The connection is completely secure because the parent has to explicitly grant access for the therapist to get control of the user’s screen. This ensures confidentiality which is of paramount importance. With Avaz Live, remote therapy is not restricted to discussions alone. 1. The SLP/therapist can take over an Avaz user’s device and tweak settings to change pictures per screen or caption size. 2. They can add/remove vocabulary depending on the user's communication goals. 3. They can demonstrate AAC strategies such as modelling. When the therapist taps on an icon in their app, user can see animation of the same icons in their device. This gives users visual reinforcement.  4. Avaz Live also allows therapists to evaluate how well the user has been using the AAC sytem  and recommend steps for further development. 

How to use Avaz Live for Remote Therapy?

Here are a few screenshots that give you step by step instructions on how to use Avaz Live: [caption id="attachment_4069" align="aligncenter" width="2500"]Avaz Live remote speech therapy Therapist's screen[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4070" align="aligncenter" width="2500"]Avaz Live remote speech therapy User's Screen[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4073" align="aligncenter" width="2500"]Avaz Live remote speech therapy Therapist's screen[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4071" align="aligncenter" width="2500"]Avaz Live remote speech therapy User's screen[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4074" align="aligncenter" width="2500"]Avaz Live remote speech therapy Therapist's Screen[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4072" align="aligncenter" width="2500"]Avaz Live remote speech therapy User's Screen[/caption]

Why Teletherapy is Here to Stay?

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

Advantages of Teletherapy

Here are some of the benefits of teletherapy:
  • Cost-effective : Since there are no transportation expenses involved, teletherapy costs less when compared to traditional therapy sessions. 
  • Time-saving : Since you can attend the therapy sessions without leaving your home, it saves time that would have otherwise been spent on commuting.
  • Flexibility : There are several experts licensed in telepractice speech therapy who offer their services at different time zones and schedules. So, parents and caregivers can fix appointments based on their convenience and availability.
  • Convenience : For those with motor disabilities, travelling to a therapist’s office can be an inconvenience. People on the autism spectrum can also feel anxious about unfamiliar places and can find the therpaist’s office uncomfortable. Teletherapy enables such clients to connect with the therapist from the comfort of their homes, with their parents or caregivers by their side.
  • Wider Choice of Experts : Schools and families in small towns and villages can get the services of the most renowned and accomplished therapists. They are no longer left to rely on the services of the local professionals who may not have the necessary credentials or expertise.
Do you think Speech teletherapy or telepractice speech therapy is a good idea? Do you agree that it can make remote speech therapy for adults and children easily accessible?  Please share your opinions in the comment section below. If you want to know more about Avaz Live, please write to us at support@avazapp.com
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Why Communication is Key to a Meaningful Existence?

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

Understanding Communication

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

Conditions that affect communication

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

Solutions and strategies

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

Why Comprehension is Key to Communication?

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

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

 Is Learning How to Use the App Easy?

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

Does it Have a Low Tech Version?

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

Does it make Communication Effortless? 

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

How Easy is it to Customize and Personalize?

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

Does it Support the Child’s Progress?

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

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

1.Be specific and concise with directions

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

2.The ’First/then’ method

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

3.Sticking to a schedule

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

4.Pay attention to sensory experiences

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

5.Creating safe spaces at home

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

6.Provide choices

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

7.Consistency is  Key 

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

8.Join an autism support group

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

9.Prioritize self-care

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

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

1.Educate yourself about Autism Spectrum Disorder

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

2.Pay attention to non-verbal cues

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

3.Use timers to decrease transitional tantrums

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

 4.Early intervention 

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

 5.Focus on strengths

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

 6.Make time for fun

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

 7.Positive reinforcements

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

With high tech AAC devices, the possibilities are truly endless when it comes to providing a voice to those with communication deficits. From remote therapy (teletherapy) to literacy supports, high tech AAC seems to have it all. It makes you wonder if low tech AAC is still relevant and useful for children with communication challenges. 

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

Remote Speech Therapy

What is Low Tech AAC?

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

Low vs High Tech AAC

Low-Tech Vs High-Tech AAC

High-tech AAC comprises of  tools and strategies that use electricity, electronics, and batteries.  High-tech systems might have a clear edge over low-tech AAC when it comes to the extent of communicative functions they are capable of providing. But low-tech AAC can come in handy in certain physical environments and situations. High Tech AAC Pros:
  • Easier to customize and personalize according to preferences. You can change voices, symbols, and vocabulary level according to the user's requirements.
  • Ability to add vocabulary as per the user's progress
  • Auditory feedback serves as cue for the user to learn language
  • Facilitates communication autonomy by giving the user a wide choice of vocabulary
  • Ability to instantaneously download pictures from the web for symbol-based communication
  • Compatibility with social media and messaging platforms
  • More independence for the user with less reliance of the communication partner
Low Tech AAC Pros:
  • Less expensive than high tech AAC options
  • Easier to create an alphabet chart or communication board
  • Can be used in most physical environments including swimming pools, beaches, bath tubs etc. Laminated communication charts can be used under all weather conditions.
  • Does not require charging

Why Accessibility is Key?

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

Why a Multi-Pronged Approach Might be the Right Formula

[caption id="attachment_3663" align="alignright" width="335"]Laminated light tech AAC Laminated AAC vocabulary[/caption] Communication is complex and we constantly use several modes of communication to get our message across to others. We use facial expressions, gestures, and body language in addition to our speech to communicate. Similarly, people with communication challenges could potentially use multimodal communication to convey their messages. Low-tech AAC, including laminated communication charts, is useful in demanding environments like pools and beaches.You can also use low tech AAC as a backup communication mode in case the high tech AAC devices run out of charge, or are not functional. You can take a printout of your child’s vocabulary and keep it in your bag or car for quick accessibility. Avaz AAC app for instance, has a handy feature where you can print out a child’s personal vocabulary from the app itself.  By using a combination of low-tech and high-tech AAC, people with communication difficulties can have the best of both worlds. Taking away their means to communicate can leave people feeling helpless and frustrated. So, users must be encouraged to choose multiple modes of communication that enable them to communicate across all environments. When used in conjunction with high tech systems, low tech AAC can be a powerful communication solution. It can play a pivotal role in enabling communication in people with speech and language difficulties by ensuring all round accessibility.  
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How to Plan a Stress-Free Halloween for Children with Special Needs?

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

Adaptive Costumes

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

Halloween Social Story

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

Halloween Treat Bucket

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

Notes for Those Handing out Treats

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

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

Explaining the Essence of Diwali

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

Diwali Social Story

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

Sharing Diwali Anecdotes 

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

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

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

Modelling

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

Making Conversations 

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

Giving Them Time

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

Prompting 

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

Planning Your Response

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

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

What is Rett Syndrome?

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

What are the Causes of Rett Syndrome?

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

Why does Rett Syndrome mostly affect females?

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

Is Rett Syndrome hereditary?

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

How to Diagnose Rett Syndrome?

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

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Rett Syndrome?

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

Stage I

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

Stage II

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

Stage III

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

Stage IV

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

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

Child with AAC device

Setting  Expectations

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

Choose the best AAC App

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

Talk to the Child About How an AAC Device Can Help

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

Embrace AAC as a Family

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

Get Help from Experts and AAC Users

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

Modelling 

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

Create Opportunities to Use AAC

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

Ensure Consistent Availability of Device

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Cerebral Palsy?

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

Causes of Cerebral Palsy

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

Congenital CP Risk Factors

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

Acquired CP Risk Factors

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

Diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy

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

Types of Cerebral Palsy

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

Cerebral Palsy Treatment

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

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

What is Dyslexia?

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

 What Causes Dyslexia?

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

What are the Symptoms and Signs of Dyslexia?

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

Symptoms of Dyslexia in Preschoolers

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

Symptoms of Dyslexia in Children Aged 5 and 6

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

Symptoms of Dyslexia in Children Aged 7 to 12

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

 Symptoms of Dyslexia in Young Adults

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

Symptoms of Dyslexia in Adults

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

Dyslexia Therapy and Treatment

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

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

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

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

The Need for AAC

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

Who can Benefit from AAC?

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

How Does AAC help?

The primary function of AAC is to enable the user to be understood. For nonverbal users, it can mean a way to replace speech. For those who are minimally verbal, it is a supplemental method to improve their comprehension. AAC acts as a communication bridge. It connects users to their support system, which includes their families, friends, therapists, and Speech and Language Professionals (SLP). It helps the user foster functional relationships. It also offers them the confidence to be a valuable member of society. The broader societal benefit of enabling children with speech difficulties to "speak for themselves" is a step towards a more inclusive society. This leads to equal educational and economic opportunities for them.  The benefits of AAC include:
  • Gives the ability to communicate
  • Reduces anxiety
  • Reduces tantrums and behavior issues
  • Increases independence
  • Boosts self-confidence, self-esteem
  • Provides access to education by helping class participation and academic progress
  • Improves attention
  • Provides access to equal opportunities at education and work
  • Empowers the individual and helps achieve one’s goals
  • Improves social relationships
  • Improves overall Quality of Life by living a life with Dignity and Inclusion
[caption id="attachment_3897" align="alignright" width="328"]Sign Language Sign Language[/caption]

Types of AAC

No conversation about AAC can be complete without a discussion about the different kinds of AAC.  AAC can be broadly categorized into aided and unaided systems- Unaided AAC No equipment is involved in unaided AAC. Communication generally happens through sign language, vocalizations, gestures, body language, and facial expressions. Aided AAC Aided AAC is where the user communicates using external tools. The tools can be further classified into low-tech and high-tech AAC.
  • [caption id="attachment_3660" align="alignright" width="340"]Communication book Communication book[/caption] Low Tech AAC The use of simple tools such as a picture board  falls under the low-tech category. These tools do not require electric power or electronic components for their functioning. The user’s method of conveying a message through the communication boards or books largely depends on their motor skills and physical abilities. The user selects appropriate phrases, pictures, letters, words, and symbols listed on the communication boards to construct their message. The user selects using a body part, eye-gaze direction, pointer, or a head/mouth stick. In some cases, the user also communicates by answering Yes or No questions as a caretaker goes through the options on the board. You can download Avaz's low tech communication boards here.
  • High Tech AAC High Tech AAC comprises of strategies involving the use of electronics and other technologies. This includes computers, speech-generating devices, and tablets. A communication app for iPad or Android with pictures and text is an example of high-tech AAC. [caption id="attachment_2219" align="alignright" width="413"]A child using High Tech AAC A child with special needs using high tech AAC[/caption]
Children in need of AAC can benefit from high-tech solutions because it might be easier for them to learn to use. Users can effortlessly make several customizations in AAC devices. This encourages consistent use, resulting in a tremendous improvement in their communication skills. Personalization of the apps where the user can add images and voices according to their preference also motivates them to use the app for their social interactions. Do you have any information to add  regarding what is AAC(Augmentative and alternative communication)? Please share your ideas in the comment section below!!
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Avaz – AAC Awareness Month Discount Extended

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

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

Why can Symptoms be Missed in Girls?

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

What are the Possible Symptoms of Autism in Girls?

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

Some of the obvious symptoms girls can exhibit include:

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

Signs of Autism Boys vs GirlsHow can the Signs of Autism Differ in Boys and Girls?

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

Why is it Important to Diagnose Early?

According  to clinical neuropsychologist to Dr. Susan F. Epstein, girls with autism can suffer from poor self-esteem, depression and can become vulnerable to bullying because they may feel like they feel different than their peers. Read more about how early diagnosis can help and about therapies for autism in this article by Autism Parenting Magazine. Early diagnosis helps girls learn the skills and coping mechanisms required to lead a fulfilling life. It also gives them the emotional support and understanding necessary from family members and friends. Getting diagnosed as a teen or adult can put them at a disadvantage because they may have to make up for the lost time. However, it may be heartening to know that several young women diagnosed later in their lives have been able to successfully deal with their social challenges by consulting experts and undergoing recommended therapies.     Do you have any ideas to share about symptoms of autism in girls? Please express your views in the comment section below. We would love to hear from you!!
Source: https://www.verywellhealth.com/differences-between-boys-and-girls-with-autism-260307
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AAC Awareness Month Discount Extended

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

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

Child Assessment

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

Awareness of Parents

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

Navigating the Physical Environment

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

Building an Emergency Kit for Special Needs Children

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

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

      • Stress Busters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Work, Planning & Coordination 

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

Teacher Education

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

Preparing the Child

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

Talking to Parents

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

Assessing Potential Barriers and Solutions

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

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

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

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

1. Communication requires effort, be patient while listening

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

2. Communicate with the person, not the system

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

3. Help manage noise

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

4. Take care not to dominate the conversation

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

5. Don’t presume incompetence

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

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

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

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

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

Create a Photo Album

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

Favorite TV Shows

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

Favorite Food Items

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

Read a Book Together

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

Discuss Routines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Inclusive Society – What is it?

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

Why is an Inclusive Society important?

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

Social inclusion enables a more positive and healthier human experience.  

Social inclusion enables people:

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

Some crucial ways to nurture a more inclusive society:

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

Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities

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

Increase Disability Representation in Political Setting

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

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

Integrate Disability History in School Curriculums

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

Promote Social Inclusion in Schools

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

Provide College Scholarships to Athletes with Disabilities

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

Realize that People with Disabilities are Humans

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

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


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

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

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Teaching Children Self-Advocacy

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


What is Self-advocacy?

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

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

Why is Self-advocacy important?

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

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


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

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

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

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

Give children the freedom to make choices

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

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

Teach Self-advocacy skills

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Understanding Neurodiversity as part of Autism Acceptance

Guest Post by Julian Laferrera As an autistic person, I see myself as part of the disability community, the autistic community and the neurodivergent community. Most people are aware of autism and I have previously spoken at length about why we need to move beyond autism awareness. But very few have heard about the umbrella term “neurodivergent”. “Neurodivergent” is a label adopted by many members of the disability community. It encompasses all those whose brains do not conform to societal norms. This includes people with autism, ADHD, learning disabilities (such as dyslexia), and other conditions. Neurotypical describes people whose brains are considered “standard” by society. Building off the distinctions above is neurodiversity. Neurodiversity is the concept that all brain types, whether neurodivergent or neurotypical, are natural, valuable, and worthy. Neurodivergent brains are a reflection of the diversity of humanity, not something to be eradicated. Recognizing neurodiversity may involve changing your mindset toward autistic and disabled people but is a crucial piece in giving neurodivergent people the respect that they deserve.
Neurodiversity, as seen by its etymology of “neuro” meaning “brain”, and diversity, describes the neurological diversity present within humanity. Judy Singer, an autistic sociologist, coined the term in 1988 as a way to describe the hidden category of people who may see, feel, touch, hear, smell, and sort information in ways different than the typical expectation. Unlike many words and diagnoses used to define neurodivergent people, neurodiversity is inclusive and neutral. In its simplicity, it welcomes everyone as a whole, unbroken reflections of natural human variation.Understanding Neurodiversity as part of Autism Acceptance I want to be clear that recognizing neurodiversity is not meant to minimize the very real challenges that neurodivergent people face due to their neurodivergence. Neurodivergent people can experience challenges in regard to friendships, academia, employment, living skills and other areas. I could write an article about the history of discrimination, misunderstandings, lack of proper support, and possible accommodations for each of these areas, but that is for another time. Neurodiversity, however, acknowledges that some of these problems are not inherent to the neurodivergence itself, but often rather a reflection on society’s unwillingness to accommodate for such differences. Neurodivergent people think, learn, process, and /or interpret differently than neurotypical people, and sometimes need extra support doing so. People looking to support neurodivergent people should first check whether that person is looking for assistance in that area. Like other people with disabilities, neurodivergent people might have different goals and possibly different ways in which they aim to achieve those goals. It is important to focus on supporting the person rather than fixing them. Supporting looks like doing things for or with the person on their terms, to make life easier for them. Fixing, on the other hand, looks like modifying behavior or teaching skills that would make life easier for others or the rest of society, without consideration from the neurodivergent person. Regardless of the support a person needs, they are a human being as worthy of autonomy as anyone else. Recognizing neurodiversity means recognizing everyone’s personhood and seeking to support them in their endeavors rather than trying to fix their neurodivergence. When neurodiversity is recognized in a space, neurodivergent people have the opportunity to be themselves. People who identify as neurodivergent often have similar experiences with not fitting in, interesting quirks, discrimination, and communication styles that transcend individual labels of autism, ADHD, learning disabilities and other related conditions. Within the neurodivergent umbrella, people bond over growing up feeling “different” than peers, making sense of confusing interactions with neurotypical people, or helping each other problem-solve and self-accommodate. The neurodivergent community is rich with ideas, history, collaboration, and creativity. In 1999, Singer wrote, “the ‘Neurologically Different’ represent a new addition to the familiar political categories of class/gender/race and will augment the insights of the social model of disability.” Just as we ought to recognize and appreciate the diversity of people’s experiences with genders, races, and class, we too must recognize and appreciate neurodiversity as a political category in its own regard. If the first step towards autism inclusion is acceptance, then the second step is recognizing and celebrating the neurodiversity of the world.
Julian Laferrera is a senior at Mount Holyoke College where they are studying mathematics education and philosophy. As a Peer Fellow with the college’s AccessAbility Office, they mentor and support other disabled students. Julian is deeply involved in the Autistic community. Having spent the last eight years learning ASL, including a semester away at Gallaudet University for the Deaf, they plan on getting a Masters in Deaf Education soon.
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A Mother’s Dream for her Son’s Independence

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

The Beginning of our Journey

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

My Goals

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

Functional Independence

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

Financial Independence

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

Safety

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

Working to Develop Pranav’s Personality

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

Pranav’s Rights

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

This is What Independence Looks Like

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In solidarity,

Narayanan

CEO, Avaz


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

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Mindfulness for Children – How to Practice it?

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

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


How Mindfulness and Autism are Connected?

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

Benefits of Mindfulness – For Children

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

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

How to teach Mindfulness to Children on the Spectrum?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Mindful Parenting – How to Practice it?

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

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

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


Mindfulness – What is it?

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

What are the benefits of mindfulness?