Chatting with Owen on the subway: an AAC eye-opener


As those who read my recent post on this subject know, I’m currently working on building up Owen’s core vocabulary using Proloquo2Go (P2G), an AAC app we recently acquired thanks to the generosity of friends. Prior to getting P2G we were working with TalkTablet and Owen’s communication home page in that app was put together for me with the help of a friend (who is an AT specialist). Here’s a shot of it for you:

TalkTablet app by Gus Communications

We used the 50 word Pixon Communication Board designed by Gail Van Tatenhove as a starting point and modified it from there. For example, given Owen’s huge love of books, the word “read” had to be on the home page. When I showed the board to the SLP in charge of Owen’s class at school she said “Yes, we can definitely work up to that.” My shoulders must have visibly slumped as I explained that I didn’t want to dumb things down, I really wanted to challenge Owen and, if anything, give him access to more vocabulary than I thought he could handle. This was based on advice from my AT friend and also on a great article by Carole Zangari on the blog Praactical AAC, called Teaching Core Vocabulary:

“Don’t underestimate the amount of vocabulary needed: It’s tempting to size up beginning communicators who are expressing very little and draw the conclusion that they only need a few dozen words on their AAC devices/tools. If we take that approach, though, we’re limiting their exposure to a wider vocabulary set”

When we got P2G I decided I would work with Owen over the summer doing things my way, and hopefully our success would speak for itself by the time he started school again in the Fall. I programmed the home page to look the same as the one above, then hid some of the words so I could introduce a few at a time. In determining which words to start with I again turned to Praactical AAC for guidance, specifically a post called A Year of Core Vocabulary Words which provides suggestions for 12 new core words to introduce per month. I took the first 12 and tweaked the list a bit taking into account the things Owen does every day and the words he already knows. Here’s where we are now:

Proloquo2Go: Owen's current home page


The boys are attending a day camp for two weeks, so yesterday I spent some time explaining to Owen’s support worker how to model using the device and asked him to encourage Owen to use AAC as much as possible. Camp is a 90 minute journey away from our home via public transit, so we’ve been spending our travel time doing things like reading books and singing songs using Owen’s device, as well as just chatting. Today, while we were on the subway ride home, we were saying ‘stop’ and ‘go’ whenever the train got into and then left the station. Owen was really enjoying this as his favourite part of a subway ride is the stops – because that’s when the train doors open and close.

After 3 stops though, Owen said something out of the blue:

Requesting the toilet using Proloquo2Go

Owen and I hadn’t actually practiced these words together yet so I was surprised to see him use them. At first I thought maybe he was babbling with his device, which he does sometimes, but then he tapped on the message board again to repeat it. I decided to check in with him so I asked (on his device but also spoken as a question):

He again said ‘need the toilet’ ‘help’ so I decided he must be intentionally communicating and told him, “Ok, well, we’re lucky because the next station is one of the few that has a washroom, so we’ll get off and go to the toilet.”

We got off the train, headed to the bathroom and, yup, he needed to go! I should mention that there’s another reason why this is such a big deal other than the obvious one. Owen is quite a fastidious sort of person in the sense that he likes things the way he likes them. Someone once said that he reminds them of Niles Crane and it’s true, he is very particular about things. One of those things is that he’s not a huge fan of going to the toilet outside of our home… which is why I put that button on the home page of his communication board in the first place.

We celebrated Owen’s awesome accomplishment with cookies and then waited for the train which would take us on the next leg of our journey home. Once we got on and were seated, Owen said:

to which I responded:

and also said, “you’ve just been to the toilet you silly goose!” He looked up at me, gave me a huge grin, giggled, then opened a book so we could read it together. Amazing. He not only clearly communicated a need to me using his device, he used it to joke around too! I am loving this AAC experience; nearly as much as Owen loves his iPad:

Owen kissing his iPad

Yes, he kisses it 🙂


Lessons learned:

  • Don’t underestimate AAC users
  • Give them vocabulary to work with and they may surprise you
  • Assuming intentional communication can have an enormous payoff

*For those of you wondering, Owen’s iPad is in a GoNow case from the Attainment company which I have drafted a review on. I haven’t published the review yet because I wanted to video the case in use in a way that would enable you to hear the impact of the built-in speaker. I think I’ve worked out a way to do that so… watch this space.*


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11 Responses to Chatting with Owen on the subway: an AAC eye-opener

  1. Valerie Maples July 17, 2013 at 1:51 am #

    I *love* these AHA moments. WTG, Owen! Thanks for sharing your journey with us all. 🙂

    • OMum22 July 17, 2013 at 9:52 am #

      Me too Valerie, it’s just an instant smile maker 🙂

  2. Robin July 17, 2013 at 5:47 am #

    Wow! Impressive. You guys are becoming AAC experts (and having fun while doing it).

    • OMum22 July 17, 2013 at 9:55 am #

      Robin, I don’t know about experts but we sure are having a blast. Thanks to both you and Carole for sharing such valuable and useful information on your site. I love it, as you can hopefully tell!

  3. Kelly Van Singel July 17, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    I love this post! inspiring!

    • OMum22 July 18, 2013 at 10:29 am #

      That’s great to hear Kelly.

  4. Melanie July 17, 2013 at 11:02 pm #

    Great post Deanne!!
    Congrats to Owen for taking charge with his device! I enjoy following all my “Internet” friends an dseeing such successes! Can’t wait to share this story with my SLP. 🙂

    • OMum22 July 18, 2013 at 10:30 am #

      I’m hoping that I can continue to keep up with him 🙂

  5. Carole July 18, 2013 at 7:34 am #

    Deanne, this story made my day! I think what I love the most is how natural and playful the language learning is and how you make the most of those teachable moments when they pop up. So excited to see where Owen takes us next on this language learning journey!

    • OMum22 July 18, 2013 at 10:33 am #

      Thank you so much Carole, both for this comment and for your site. I think Owen has big plans in store for us.

  6. that cynking feeling July 19, 2013 at 11:24 am #

    We started off with just a few words in the speech app my son uses, but I quickly realized it was so limiting. Thank you for sharing this story. I’m looking forward to your review of the case. I really think we need something new.

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