Saturday, August 22, 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Here's a D.I.Y. Budget-Friendly AAC Option: The Envue Digital Photo Album

We've had trial runs of several different AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) devices, but don't actually own one yet. As a result, I'm always on the lookout for creative -- (and cheaper!) -- alternatives.

Our current experiment involves the EnVue Digital Photo Album.

I chose the EnVue because of its large, clear 3.5" screen and user-friendly control buttons. I also liked it because it looks like an oversized iPod (which makes it extra-appealing for my son), but it is actually made of plastic and is very lightweight.

(Truth be told, "lightweight" here is implying a bit of "flimsy"...but I have come to view electronics as semi-disposable in our household, so I'm fine with its somewhat temporary feel.) (Oh, and there is also the beware of flying objects problem in our household, so, again, I'm fine with the nice, lightweight flimsiness; it won't do much damage.)

Another feature the enVue has that seemed intriguing is the thumbnail view option (labeled below as "Thumbview"). I like this because it provides another way to navigate through the photos, allowing you to see 9 photos at a time and then select the one you want.

I had planned to load a bunch of photos on the viewer that were loosely grouped by topic (eg., Self Care, Food, School) and then use the thumbnail view to navigate to the desired topic & image. In reality, it didn't work as well as I had hoped it would as the buttons are fairly slow to respond. Max prefers to simply arrow forward and back, pressing repeatedly until he finds the picture he wants. It isn't terribly efficient for quick communication, but it does make for a fun treasure hunting game along the way. And, in the end, he still gets there.

Click on the photo to see all the technical details.

Another feature I like about the EnVue photo viewer is that the memory card is optional, which gives Max one less thing to fiddle with and/or misplace. The internal memory can hold up to 60 photos, which is sufficient for our purposes. The product box contains everything you need to start using the device, including a cable which connects the viewer to your computer's USB port. The photo editing software starts automatically when you plug it in, which I appreciate because it means no downloads or CD-ROM to mess with!

However, I should warn you that the editing software is less intuitive than you might think at first glance.

Screen shot of the photo editing software interface. Looks simple, right?

Problem #1: It is possible to scroll through the photo images without scrolling through the accompanying file name; as a result, you might end up loading the same picture file over and over even though you were clicking on a different image. You'll see duplicates appearing on the right half of the screen if this happens, but if you're trying to select and load quickly, you need to stay alert.

(You're so lucky, getting the added benefit of my experience.)

Problem #2: Photos must be loaded in the order in which you want them to appear; you cannot move or organize them once selected. For random photos, this is not a problem; for a slide show with text or chronological order, plan accordingly! If you forget to include a picture that needs to be towards the beginning, you will have to delete and then reload all the subsequent photos in order to get it up there. (I would have saved a lot of time had I known this in advance! You're welcome!)

Though it would force you to sacrifice some degree of control over the editing that connecting to a computer permits, using the memory card would greatly simplify the loading process.

In fact, I think it would be a wonderful way to send photos back and forth between school and home. It would be quite simple to photograph a class party, or field trip, or other "hot topic" and then just pop the camera card in the viewer to send along with your child. (I'm going to try that method next and let you know how it goes! Maybe it's not as easy as it sounds.)

Want to know what Max is watching? CLICK HERE to find out!

The EnVue Digital Photo Album is no longer available from the official product website, but it is still listed at (wide range of pricing, from $19.99 to $67.50!) and at WalMart (currently on clearance for $20).

The EnVue is not perfect, but it is a very handy shape and size and offers remarkably good photo quality -- all at an affordable price! I'm quite excited by it and think it's well worth purchasing at its current clearance pricing. (But if you have $67.50 to spend, I'd encourage you to look for an alternative product.)

I'd love to hear about other products (digital photo viewers, in particular) you come across that would lend themselves well to this type of D.I.Y. portable AAC usage! Any others out there I should try?

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Friday, August 14, 2009

D.I.Y. Communication Device for School

Ready for the first day of school

School started today!

Morning came early, especially after the last-minute, back-to-school shopping rush that came so quickly on the heels of our family vacation. And because last night, after all the school supplies and gym shoes and completed forms had been successfully rounded up, there was still one thing left to do: complete Max's assignment.

His assignment wasn't very difficult or involved. We were simply supposed to send in some photos or something he could share with the class about his summer vacation -- sort of an abbreviated take on the "What I Did on My Summer Vacation" essay from days of yore. It's a simple task for most of us, but when the child doing the sharing is nonverbal, things get trickier.

So this year I had the idea to create a slide show with captions that Max could take with him to facilitate his task. I selected an assortment of digital pictures of some of his favorite things from the summer, then made some text slides to explain a bit about each photo, and loaded them all onto an EnVue Digital Photo Album. (Read all about the EnVue by clicking here.)

Hypnotized by his Back-to-School slide show.

Max was thrilled with the whole thing -- electronics, pictures, summer memories, favorite people, all rolled up into one! We went through the slide show together before bed and again in the morning while he was waiting for the bus to come, and he was prepared. He knew how to turn it off and on, how to navigate through the photos, and he remembered and exclaimed over the activities captured within the photos. (He even started imitating my reading of the text slides!)

It worked really well, and I definitely think it's an idea that warrants further experimentation: using a digital photo viewer as a budget-friendly, D.I.Y. communication device!

Here's the slide show:

Back to School Slide Show from Jujyfruit on Vimeo.

*Note: the images on the viewer are perfectly clear, although this slide show version is pixellated; I think it was a bad upload and will try to correct this!*

I'm also including a clip of Max using the EnVue viewer. His initial excitement is gone, because it was already the end of Day #2 for those pictures. Instead of exclaiming and rushing through the pictures, he's just sort of playing and exploring. Actually, it's a pretty uneventful clip, I realize, now that I'm describing it....but I always think it helps to see something in action, so I'm leaving it on here.

Using the Photo Viewer from Jujyfruit on Vimeo.

Notice how independent he is with this thing? At one point he could use some help, but he quickly pulls the viewer out of my reach so he can do it himself. Also, I like how he verbalizes along with it. He says "turn" as he moves to the next slide (it looks like a page turning on the screen), and at one point he spots himself in the crowd and says "Maash!" (the current version of his name). He exclaimed and verbalized much more initially, but now that the novelty of each photo has worn off a bit, he's in quiet processing mode.

As a side note, did you catch the part where he suddenly turns to me and signs "cracker" out of the blue? Conversations with him do tend to jump around, which is another reason I loved the slide show idea. The storyline and images keep him on track (and help the viewer/listener do the same).

I think this idea is a keeper!

Back to School!!

(my mental image brought to life with magical assistance from cornify & picnik)

I think this one pretty much speaks for itself. (grin)

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Back-to-School Shopping Excitement

We had a thick back-to-school shopping magazine from Target in our mailbox the other day. Max spent a long time looking through the pages, pointing to things he recognized, or liked, or wanted me to name for him.

He found fruit snacks, letters of the alphabet, an entire page of SpongeBob items (thrilling, that!)....and then he ended up on this page, absolutely delighted by what he had found:

Can you guess what it was that caught his eye? (I couldn't, though I exclaimed over several different items while I tried to figure it out. He kept me on track.)

Here's a closer shot of the same page, with Max pointing to the hidden treasure:

Pointing always helps. Thank you!

He found his name!
It was very small, slightly blurry, and had gone completely unnoticed by me. I was highly impressed.

I think this guy is ready for school! (Which, incidentally, starts back up TOMORROW! Yay!)

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Monday, August 10, 2009


(Subtitled: Oh, Genetics, How You Vex Me!)

I was watching that show about the very large Duggar family ("18 Kids and Counting") and was dumbfounded when the ENTIRE family went along for an ultrasound appointment.

All I could think of was how naive it was to think that the only thing they would be discovering was the baby's sex. And wondering how they would react if the ultrasound showed a complication or serious birth defect. And then I found myself getting angry and thinking it wasn't fair. And then I felt guilty. The End.

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