Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Don't you love craft projects that your kids bring home from school? I do. (Seriously, I do!) I especially love this turkey that Max brought home because I can tell he really did glue those feathers on all by himself.

May your day be filled with thanksgiving & laughter, friends & family....and syrupy waffles. (grin)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

TapToTalk for Nintendo DS!

(click the button to visit the product website)

Last night I was browsing on the Teaching Learners With Multiple Special Needs blog and saw the most intriguing post -- Two Ways to Make Nintendo DS an AAC Device. (Three cheers for Kate!)

I have been scouring the web for more information and have decided that this might be IT, you guys! This might be exactly what we've been looking for! It runs on a Nintendo, people. A NINTENDO!

You have heard me repeatedly grappling with the issue of communication, and with the frustratng and overwhelming task of finding an appropriate AAC device for my son. And, honestly, this is the first thing I've seen in several years that I am ready to BUY.

Here's why.
  • First of all, it has a dynamic display.* We've tried devices in the past that have only one level, but they are way too basic for our purposes. We've tried devices that can switch between several pre-programmed levels with different printable sheets or cards to swap in and out, but they are impractical (and, again, too limiting). On the other end of the spectrum are the very sophisticated dynamic display formats with so many levels and choices that my son gets completely lost or distracted. The TapToTalk program seems to offer a solid middle ground, which is what we need right now.
*Dynamic display means the user can navigate through levels by selecting options and advancing through screen after screen with increasingly narrow/specific options. Go to the online TapToTalk demo to try it for yourself.
  • I'm listing this second, but it's a major selling point: TapToTalk is affordable. The one-year subscription cost for the TapToTalk service is only $99 -- a far cry from the $7,000-$9,000 price tags we've been dismayed to find on other devices. We already have a Nintendo DS, so for around a hundred dollars we could be set up! Not only does that relieve an enormous amount of pressure for making The "Perfect" AAC Decision, but it also means there's no major funding required, and therefore no insurance, no paperwork, no waiting period, no grant-writing, no approvals, no jumping through hoops, either! (In addition, the company offers a 30-day return policy, so if I'm not impressed with it, I could actually send it back and put that hundred dollars right back in the AAC fund. There's no risk.)

  • It looks doable. I know this kind of programming always takes more time than I expect it to, but there are lots of good online tutorials and it really doesn't look complicated. I could start out with a basic outline for immediate use, and then tweak and edit and continue to build over time as needed; the customizing potential is great. In addition, the program navigation is so intuitive that I know we can hit the ground running and not get bogged down in learning a new language or reading complex training manuals. That's important, because there are very few resources or specialists in this area to turn to for assistance; I am, by necessity, the expert. I can do this!
  • It's replaceable. My son is hard on electronic equipment. I mean *really* hard. He loves hand-held games and players....but it's still very likely that he will get too rough, or throw it, or drop it, or mess with the hinges, or pull on the cords, etc. (We have a Nerf protective shell and screen clings for ours, but I am still worried about those fragile hinges....) But this is basic, light-weight gaming equipment we're talking about! The hardware (platform) itself could be replaced, and the software is accessible online. That means the content can be downloaded again if anything goes missing. Breakage would not be a major tragedy; I really like that.
  • Nintendo DS is a familiar platform for my son. He can already navigate on a Gameboy, and he's watched his older brother play on a DS many times. I'm confident he can figure this program out very quickly. In addition to being small, portable, and readily available, this system would also let him be just like his brother. (That's highly motivating stuff, right there.)
Is anybody else out there as excited as I am? I can't wait to get my hands my son's hands on this!

I have no idea whether this program will prove to be a disappointing flop, a valuable stepping stone, or a permanent solution for communicating with our son...but I am absolutely thrilled to discover TapToTalk as such a wonderfully practical and accessible AAC option!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Losing My Marbles

I'm going to tell you about a dream I had last night. Because everybody loves that! (I'm saying that tongue-in-cheek, of course, having finally un-glazed my own eyes after an extremely detailed recounting I was just forced to listen to over breakfast.)

Seriously, I do realize that making you read about my dream is kind of weird, but I'm going to do it anyway. I'll keep it short.

This happened, that happened, another thing happened...and then I found myself leading Max through a crowded balcony to go sit with someone I could see about halfway up. The balcony was in a church, and the church service was in progress. It was very quiet, and we were facing rows of people, and I was trying to make our entrance as discreetly as possible.

Now the thing that made this whole scenario really challenging (and dreamlike, and worthy of repeating) was that Max kept turning into a marble.

The balcony was full of pews and steps and hard, echo-y floors (not to mention all the people with their feet and purses and WATCHING EYES) and my marble just kept rolling out of reach, ricocheting, dropping loudly down the stairs, and landing in the darnedest places. I kept shuffling through areas and reaching under people's seats to retrieve my little marble, and would set it back on track, only to have it roll away once again. I didn't know why my marble wasn't following me better through that maze of balcony, but I kept trying again and again and again.

The entire incident was confusing and frustrating and embarrassing and thank goodness, I woke up.

(Don't really need a dream interpretation manual for this one, eh?)

Incidentally, the photo at the top of this post is one I took a couple weeks ago after noticing the bathroom door wasn't shutting correctly.



This has absolutely nothing to do with my son or microcephaly or anything at all, really, but I just realized that I accidentally typed "viola!" instead of "voila!" back there. I couldn't help myself -- I HAD to go back and correct it.

But now I have the giggles and almost wish I had just left it alone. I mean, who couldn't use a little laugh as they randomly stumble across that typo over time, right?

I'm thinking about adopting it as my new go-to exclamation. It's clean, it's catchy, it lends itself well to dramatic pronunciation, and it works to express everything from breathless appreciation ("Ooooo, Veeeeohhhhlaaaa!") to an angry expletive ("Oh Vi-O-La!!") -- or even an insult ("They don't know VIT from VYE-OLA!")!

Viola. heh.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Spackle & Patch

I decided I really need to go back and fill in some of the cracks and holes in this blog. So, I just finished up a bit of site repair and filled in some of those neglected spots with a few old posts I'd been sitting on for no apparent reason. (I mean, other than reasons like...hitting the spellcheck button seemed too exerting, or the post had no ending, or I fell asleep instead, or something.)

But -- voila! I deemed them "complete" and posted them.

Where can you find these virtual spackle & patch editions? Just scroll back.

Or, if you prefer, use this handy dandy guide:

1. We saw chicks.
2. Siblings had issues, part seventy-two.
3. We went to the zoo.
4. Max went to another zoo.
5. Max got a swimsuit.
6. We went on vacation. (In progress)

There are a few other posts that I'll be finishing up and adding in real time, because they didn't seem chronologically significant. (So if you notice Max's teeth randomly falling out and re-appearing, or his hair growing with bizarre speed, don't be concerned.) It'll all work out in the end.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Halloween was fun this year. Max totally "got" trick-or-treating this time, and his excitement was rather contagious.

(Plus, he loved his costume -- Steve from Blue's Clues, who else??)

We walked around with him for about an hour. (Or I should say, we followed him for about an hour!) He was on a mission -- cutting through yards, scooting past small children, stomping up porch steps, eagerly gathering treats.

We reminded him repeatedly, "Walk! Stay on the sidewalk! Only ONE! Say 'thank you!'" And though he would forget intermittently, he would get back on track and followed through amazingly well. Actually, the biggest problem turned out to be that whenever he spotted a live flame, he tried to blow it out. (He did manage to at a couple of houses.)

He managed this long walk ALONE -- passed the test with flying colors.

He loved watching the kids walk by, and would get up verrrrry close and curious with the little ones.

Ben's brother and friend posed in character...and Max followed their lead.

The moving decorations were favorites of his, too -- he would try to peek under ghost sheets or stick his hand in the rattling bones or poke the moving eyeball. But we were never far behind and kept him moving along.

He loved this interactive candy bowl. The hand flipped down and startled him again and again.

He was thrilled every time we encountered someone he knew. He was greeted with "Hi, Max!" many times throughout the night, and loved telling everyone he was Steve.

We found Sissy!

Suddenly, Max announced that he was all done. He was satisfied and ready to start eating!

It was a fun night.

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