Showing posts with label big box of words. Show all posts
Showing posts with label big box of words. Show all posts

July 30, 2018

The Few Things

There’s a lot I could tell you about Schuyler’s trip to Gold Coast, Australia for the 2018 International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC) Conference, where she took part in the Dare to LEAD workshop for selected participants who use AAC technology to communicate. There are a great many stories to tell about our trip.

I could tell you about the sense of adventure that accompanied a trip to the other side of the planet, or about Schuyler’s joy in discovering all the differences both tiny and significant between the US and Australia.

I could tell you all about how she finally got to meet my friend Lindsey Paden, and how in an instant, Schuyler didn’t just have a new friend, but family; Schuyler fell hard for Lindsey, and the feeling was mutual. I could tell you all about how Lindsey sketched Schuyler’s mantra “No more hiding” in lovely script on her arm, and copied her own symbolic speech bubble onto my finger, and how the next afternoon, we celebrated Schuyler’s workshop by having both these sketches made permanent by a very cool Maori tattoo artist.





I could describe the conference sessions we attended and the talented professionals we met.  I could tell you my own feelings of renewed advocacy and my own continued commitment, already fired up, to helping build an inclusive, meaningful and authentic advocacy movement.

I could even tell you about Schuyler’s first legal drink (18 in Australia).

There’s a lot I could tell you about our week in Australia. But there’s one thing I can’t tell you very much about at all.

I can’t tell you about Schuyler’s leadership workshop itself. I wasn’t there.

It wasn’t for me. I didn’t have a place at that table, one where AAC users were discussing ways in which to advocate for themselves in the world. And Schuyler, my darling little baby girl who has inconceivably transformed into a young adult, didn’t need me there. She was able to handle herself entirely, and contribute and participate, without my help. I watched her improvise her way through an introductory speech she didn’t realize she needed to give, and then they broke for lunch. And I was gently shooed away.

Which is absolutely how it should be.


Schuyler’s advocacy has been growing over the past few years, although in a sense I suppose it would be impossible to really mark its beginning. She’s always been the most qualified person to tell her story. But this trip changed things for her. Suddenly it wasn’t me pushing her gently from the nest. There were other hands waiting to catch her when she took flight. A week after finding her Polymicrogyria family, she found her larger community, too.

She was ready.

So of all the stories about this past week I could tell, I think I’ll simply leave you with this. We went to the other side of the world and had a transformative experience, one that filled and grew our lives and our hearts. And I had that experience not with a child, not with the little girl who has inspired so much worry and so much wonder, but rather with a confident young adult. And that is not a small thing. In a week full of the great things in my life, a week where I found once and for all the few things I could build my world of, that fact most of all was extraordinary.

I’ll tell one last story with a photo.


June 10, 2018

The Folly of Fortune-Telling

In the spring of 2005, Schuyler was evaluated by the diagnosticians and special educators at her school in Manor, Texas, near Austin. They concluded that her fine motor issues would most likely preclude her ever being able to write by hand, and while the extent of her developmental disability was still undefined, it was unlikely that she would ever be able to read or write in any meaningful way.

Additionally, they saw no indication that Schuyler would ever be able to utilize a high-end dynamic voice output device. Such a device was deemed “not educationally necessary”.

In the summer of 2018, Schuyler and I will give a presentation on her journey and her future with PMG, as featured speakers at the Polymicrogyria Family Convention in Denver. The following week, we will travel to the ISAAC conference in Gold Coast, Australia, where she will participate in a leadership workshop with other adult AAC users. In the fall, she will begin an internship at Baylor Scott and White hospital, in a program designed to give young people with disabilities the opportunity for real-world job training and eventual placement.

Before all that, however, this happened:


And if you sent her a gift for her graduation, the thank you note you’ll be receiving this week will be composed and handwritten by Schuyler. Those notes might not be pretty, but they will be authentically hers.

All of Schuyler’s successes belong to her.

The point of all this isn’t that we were right and her earliest evaluators were woefully, dangerously wrong. Although let me be clear: that’s definitely true. The reality is that I’ve gotten plenty wrong about Schuyler. I’ve failed her along the way with remarkably regularity; I’ve probably failed her this week on multiple occasions. I’m not a great dad except in that I mean well, I love her unconditionally, and much like Chumbawamba, I get back up again. If I were to identify my best attribute as a father, that’s probably it. My ability to say “Well, shit, that didn’t work. What else can we do?”

My point, not just for me or Schuyler or even for you but for every educator and every employer and policy maker and citizen, is that the only way the world will work for people with disabilities like Schuyler is if it becomes a place defined by opportunity. Inclusion can’t be a policy or a goal; the time for that is long behind us now. Meaningful inclusion has to reside in our DNA as a society. The idea that we should identify disabled children’s limitations and predict future outcomes based on what we see or think we see was never a good model. It’s an unforgivable one now.

As for Schuyler, I’m left with a torrent of emotions. Chief among them is pride, the kind of unbounded pride that bursts from the cage of trepidatious pragmatism that I’ve constructed over the years. My pride in Schuyler’s achievement runs free now. It sprints toward the future now, a future that is still unknown but which belongs not to poor prognosis or flawed predictions or prejudices and low expectations.

The future belongs to Schuyler and her friends. We need only create a just and inclusive society with opportunities and authentic relationships and real equity. And then get the hell out of their way.

Congratulations, Schuyler, you beautiful epic explorer. What’s next belongs to you.


May 21, 2018

No More Hiding

Schuyler’s time in high school is quickly drawing to a close, faster than either of us are emotionally prepared for. As part of that transition, her percussion studio at Plano Senior had their end-of-the-year pool party yesterday, an annual event that concludes with awards, remembrances of the graduating seniors by her percussion director and a round-the-room sharing and appreciation by all the students in the class.

The final award given is a kind of spirit award, but more than that. It’s named after a former student, one who brought so much enthusiasm and positivity to the band and had such a deep effect on the people around him that the award was created specifically with him in mind. He wasn’t disabled, not that I know of. He just set a bar for bringing a kind of leadership through attitude and personal relationships. He possessed a light, we were told, and a kind of gravity that pulled in the people around him, and the award looked to recognize that quality in others. It’s an interesting award in that the criteria is based on intangibles. It’s one that has a great deal of meaning to the director and to the students.

And this year, the award went to Schuyler.

It was a bit of a surprise, I’ll own that. I worry so much about Schuyler finding acceptance and being understood by the people around her, not just her communication but her overall “Schuylerness”, and out of my fear for her quality of life, I occasionally (and shamefully) forget to make room for the idea that she’s giving something to the world around her. Being surprised by Schuyler’s success is never a reaction that makes me feel like a swell father.

And yet, as her director described the award and the young man for whom it was named and founded, I found myself thinking that in a just world, in a fair and inclusive society, Schuyler could win an award like that. Hearing her name announced did something to me, something weird and hopeful and a little bit guilty for believing that in THIS world, in MY world, Schuyler wouldn’t win, couldn’t break through the barriers that have dogged her and her friends all along. When Schuyler won that award, it spoke to possibilities.

In his comments about Schuyler, her director spoke about her early days in band, and was frank about how so many people at the time simply didn’t get Schuyler. I remember those days. When she got to middle school, something changed for Schuyler. She didn’t charm everyone like she did in elementary school. She confused many of her teachers and frustrated a few. But her band director got her entirely, and that band director was married to the percussion director at Plano Senior. He knew Schuyler already, and he got her. He was one of the primary reasons we elected to send Schuyler to Plano Senior. He and his wife get Schuyler as much as anyone in her life, as much as any family member. They will be profoundly missed when she graduates.

Schuyler’s fellow students spoke about her positivity and how much joy she brought to their lives. One young man spoke about how happy he was to see that he had been assigned to Schuyler’s concert band because she was so much fun to make music with. Another told her how when he saw her at Homecoming, he was taken by how much natural beauty she possessed, and how so much of that came from the person she is at her core. The one thing that none of her fellow percussionists said about Schuyler was that she was an inspiration. The thing that no one did was condescend to her.

That was a big deal. That was a really big deal. I've been writing and speaking about the value of authentic relationships with people with disabilities, about how I believe that's the key to successful disability advocacy and a truly inclusive society. I don't think I give a half-terrible presentation on the topic, either. But Schuyler is my best argument. At times, she's the living embodiment of what I'm trying to describe. She lives and breathes it. Schuyler illustrates the value of getting to truly understand people who are profoundly different and looking past their disability to appreciate the whole human. Not to pretend that disability isn't there or doesn't matter, but rather to put it in a larger, more nuanced context. The kids who have been in band with Schuyler, particularly her fellow percussionists, they started out meeting a girl with a disability, and perhaps a daunting one at the time. But to the best of them, that didn't define her for long.

In a few short weeks, Schuyler will leave the protective environment of school and the community that has come to really know and understand her. That concerns me, of course, because until she got to Plano Senior, Schuyler was dedicated on a fundamental level to passing. If you don’t know that term, in the disability world “passing” refers to the practice among people with more invisible disabilities to pass as neurotypical, to hide their disability and walk through the world with their differences unrecognized.

It’s controversial, the concept of passing, and for good reason. For one thing, at least for Schuyler, it was doomed to fail. Even if she succeeded for 95% of the time (and that would frankly be a high percentage), that last 5% is where it would fall apart, like a commercial plane flight that was 95% successful in taking off and landing safely. Passing for Schuyler meant delaying the inevitable, and it perhaps sent a message that there’s something shameful about her disability, and that she sees herself as less. In a society that struggles to treat people like Schuyler as fully realized human beings, that’s a dangerous path to go down.

When I say dangerous, I mean that literally. My dear friend and speech language mentor Lindsey Paden Cargill recently tweeted the disturbing results of a study showing that passing (or social camouflaging) is the best predictor of suicidality among autistic people. Think of that for a moment. Trying to mask their differences and pass for typical is literally costing neurodiverse people their lives.

Schuyler isn’t autistic, and I realize that there’s only so much that can legitimately be applied to her from that study. But I believe that the more Schuyler attempts to present herself as something she’s not, the more damage she takes on herself. She’s not less. She’s different, and she requires some patience and some accommodation in order to move successfully through the world. But when she’s truly understood and truly known for herself, she takes flight.

I think she’s beginning to get that. Maybe it began when she found her tribe in band at Plano Senior last year. It was certainly strengthened when she began to advocate for herself in the presentations we’ve given over the past few years. Perhaps it’s simply part of her growing up and finding her place in the world, an elusive groove that is only now presenting itself to her. All I know for sure is that she’s excited about this summer, presenting in Denver and in Australia, being surrounded not just by people like her but also by people who aren’t but whom she could maybe reach and find a new understanding.

Recently Schuyler got a new speaker to boost the inadequate sound produced by her iPad. When it arrived, I confess it was larger than we expected. She was looking for something she could attach on a lanyard, but this speaker was a little too large for that. It was also much louder than any speaker she’d used before. Louder, and deeper, more present.

The first time she used it to order at a restaurant, she jumped when her electronic British voice spoke. But the reaction she got was entirely positive, and since then, she’s been using it at full volume most of the time. She’s less afraid of being noticed and more enamored of being actually heard and understood. Finding more success at communicating is apparently worth the risk of being looked at and having her difference recognized.

When I asked her how she liked her big, loud speaker, Schuyler told me that she has a new motto. “No more hiding,” she said.

She may backslide from that from time to time; I can’t imagine she’s done with people who don’t understand what she’s all about and who have no patience or empathetic inclination to try. But yesterday, as she learned just how highly she is regarded among her peers, Schuyler saw with fresh eyes just how much she has to gain from being who she is, without pretense.

I’m looking forward to seeing more of her embracing her authentic self. The world is going to be a better place with that particular Schuyler in it.


April 11, 2018

Schuyler's Australian Adventure




Schuyler Hudson is a remarkable young woman with a brain malformation that changes how she experiences the world but does not stop her from living a rewarding and meaningful life. Since the age of five, Schuyler has used assistive speech technology to help her communicate with and experience the world around her. Now eighteen, Schuyler is preparing to graduate from high school and begin her adult life, using AAC technology to help her find her own way even with her profound differences.

This summer, Schuyler has the opportunity to participate in a leadership workshop with a small group of fellow AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) users. The Dare to LEAD Workshop  will take place during the 2018 International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC) Conference  on the Gold Coast, Australia on July 26, 2018. Schuyler and the other eight selected participants will develop a plan for turning their proposed visions into future realities, initiating their journey to become leaders locally, nationally or internationally at ISAAC.

Please help Schuyler raise the funds to attend this unique and potentially life-changing opportunity with her AAC-using peers, as well as the leading professionals in the field of augmentative and alternative communication.



Schuyler says:

Hello, my name is Schuyler Hudson, I’m eighteen years old. I would like to come to Australia and learn about how to lead and help people that are different like me. My little monster is called polymicrogyria, or P M G. It make it hard to talk, and sometimes it make it hard to understand things. It makes me different from everyone else. I want to be different, but I want to pick how I’m different.

I call my PMG a little monster because it is super small in my brain and it makes me a little hard to talk and remember something from a long time ago. I don’t think my monster is bad because he he is a part of me. I don’t think he’s a real monster but it fun to think of a little monster in my brain.

Because I want to travel and help, learn at Australia and I can be comfortable using my iPad to talk, that other kids can be comfortable using their iPad, I can teach them how use to talk to other people with their devices, I can meet new people who become my friends who have different kinds of monsters.

I hope you will let me come to Australia, and learn how to help people like me, and also help people in the whole world give people like me get a chance.

July 19, 2016

Acceptance, with an asterisk

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
When I was younger and more earnest, I wanted the fixes. I'm older and spiritually winded now, and I'm faced with the strong will of a daughter who's stretching her wings and exploring her own choices. When we talked about the idea of acceptance, and of looking for peace rather than solutions, Schuyler understood that. She's still not done trying to reshuffle the deck, though. And as hard to read as the future is right now, I don't expect that to change even a little.

August 10, 2015

The Girl Unseen

This morning, at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
More than anyone else I know or have ever known, Schuyler possesses grace. It touches us all. The one thing that I can say for certain is that it's nearly impossible to meet Schuyler and to know her without being fundamentally changed. She has limitations, that is very true, and they are almost certainly more challenging than most people truly understand. But the limitations that hold her back the most are ours, I think. Our inability to grasp the world as she understands it, and our failure to make that world a better place for her. But God, how we are all trying. I'll be trying to do that until my very last living breath.

August 4, 2015

Schuyler Answers

Back in June ("Schuyler Will Now Take Your Questions"), I invited you to submit questions for Schuyler to address in our joint presentation, the first we'd ever given, at the Region 10 Education Service Center's Summer LifeSkills Boot Camp 2015. The presentation took place yesterday, and as I mentioned over at Support for Special Needs, it went really well.

I think it's safe to say that for as long as Schuyler wants to do it, and assuming we're asked to speak again, this will be the format my future presentations will follow, with ever-increeasing participation from Schuyler. She says she's game. (She wants to present in Hawaii. I'm not opposed to this idea.)

As I promised at the time, and of course with her permission, here are some of Schuyler's answers and statements from yesterday's presentation.




INTRODUCTION


Hello, my name is Schuyler Rummel Hudson and I am a tenth grader at Jasper High School. I'd like to talk about my life and tell you why I've been using my devices to help me talk. First I used a HipTalk, then my Vantage, which I called the Big Box of Words, and then my Vantage Lite that I called Pinkessa. Now I use an iPad Mini called the Queen of Monsters with my speaker. I am happy to be here with my father and mother to share my story with all of you.



OBSERVATIONS ON HER AAC CLASS IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL


In my AAC class at Gulledge, we learned to use a computer, our devices, and to read books. Every day I went to my other classes after the AAC class and used my device in class. Back then, my teachers worked together, but now they don't. Some of my teachers did know how to use my device, and some didn't with my big box of words. Now, most of them understand better than back then. It think it’s because I have an iPad and they know how iPads work. I learned a lot about how to use my devices back then. I don't think I need a class now but I miss being with my other friends who talked like me.



USING HER IPAD


Which app do you use for speech? Why did you choose that app?
LAMP Words for Life, because it works like my old devices, the Vantage, and helps me to talk to others.

What else do you use your iPad for?
Games and movies and drawing and listening to music. I use it to send messages and Facebook.

What are your favorite games?
Monument Valley and Subway Surfers

How do most people who are meeting you for the first time react when you talk with your iPad? Positively, or negatively?
Positively. They think it is cool and ask questions about my iPad.

What is your favorite accent to use on your device?
I use Emma voice with a British accent.

If you could change one thing about your communication device, what would you change?
I like it the way it is. My iPad is not loud but I have a speaker.

Do you notice people treating you differently when you are using an iPad than when you were using the Big Box?
With the Big Box of Words, they think that I am dumb and weird. When I use my iPad, people think I am like anyone else.

How would you explain your speech device to someone who had never seen someone talk like you do before?
It speaks for me because my brain doesn’t want me to talk.

Can you talk a little bit about how you make the choice to use your own voice or use your iPad to communicate? For example, which situations you would never use your iPad and which situations you would always use your iPad?
I sometimes try to talk with my voice first. When people can't understand me, I use my I-pad to talk. I use it at school in class. I also use it to order food when I go out with my parents.



NAVIGATING SCHOOL WITH HER DISABILITY


What are some things that teachers have done that have helped you to have good experiences in the classroom?
I get help with math and science at my school. If I don’t understand the problem, my teachers tell it to me different.

What are some things that teachers did that you didn't like, or that you found unhelpful?
Sometimes they go too fast and they don’t help me.

What is the one thing you hate people presuming about you, before they know you?
They think that I am dumb and weird and I am not smart at all.

What has been your favorite thing about school?
Meeting new friends and teachers. I like to learn new stuff. I like playing percussion in the Jasper Marching Band.

What is your least favorite thing about school?
Homework

(Accompanying slide)


ON BEING SCHUYLER


What do you plan to do after high school?
I think I am going to travel to Hawaii and China. I want to get married and get a job.

What is your favorite movie? Why?
I have a lot of favorite movies, it's hard to pick. I like Jurassic World and Godzilla and Pacific Rim. The movie I’ve liked the longest time is King Kong. That will always be my favorite movie. I like monster movies with my dad.



What is your favorite thing to do for fun?
Play the Wii U with my parents. I also like to swim and play soccer and baseball in Miracle League.

What made you decide to dye your hair?
I want to be different but I want to pick how I’m different.

Who do you see as your role models or people you really admire?
Amelia Earhart and Stephen Hawking

What do you want to do in the future?
Maybe to help sick children and the poor and people like me with little monsters of their own.

If you could tell people one thing about your little monster, what would you tell them?
It makes it hard to talk and sometimes it makes it hard to understand things. My monster is a butthead!

If you could tell your little monster one thing, what would it be?
Get out of my head!

What kind of music do you listen to? What is your favorite song?
I have a lot of favorite songs, it is hard to choose one. Right now I like Waiting for Superman and Black Widow and Release Me. My favorite artists are Lady Gaga and Florence and the Machine and Selena Gomez.

I'd like to know, what do you like about Plano and the Dallas/Fort Worth area?
I like Six Flags, the Dallas Opera, Hawaiian Falls, Mexican food, and the zoo.

If you moved away, where would you like to live?
England or Hawaii or Vermont.

Do you see yourself becoming a writer like your dad one day?
Sometimes. I like to write stories and poems.

What do you like to learn about?
Art and science

What is your favorite season and why?
Summer, because I can see my dad's friends and have fun and swim!

What is the best Halloween costume you have worn?
I have a lot of favorites. Medusa and Amelia Earhart and Brunhilde the Valkyrie.

(Accompanying slide)
What skill do you want to improve?
Listening and being a percussionist who plays the drums.

If you had a ton of money, what would you do?
I would travel and see the animals in Africa.

What is your best personality trait?
I am funny and always happy and a good dresser.

What do you love about your life?
Having the awesome parents and the best friends too.

What is one thing you thought people would ask you but no one did?
No one asks about my favorite monster.

There was an answer to that question, too...

A Partnership

This morning at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
You may consider this a new policy of mine. I'd love to come speak at your conference, but just so you know ahead of time, you should be prepared to buy two plane tickets. I'm going to have a partner from now on, advocating for herself in her own strong voice. This is the path she's chosen, and I couldn't be more proud. With every presentation we give, I expect her to take on more and more of the content every time. This is appropriate for a young adult coming into her own as a self-advocate. This is a part of a future which she will write for herself.

June 9, 2015

Schuyler will now take your questions.

As I have mentioned before, I will be presenting the keynote address on August 3 at the Region 10 Service Center in Richardson, Texas. Here's the information:
Title: Ten Years of the Big Box of Words

Presenter: Robert Rummel-Hudson, Author
Schuyler Rummel-Hudson, Student/AAC user 
Abstract:
Ten years since his daughter’s first encounter with Augmentative and Alternative Communication, Robert Rummel-Hudson (author of Schuyler’s Monster: A Father’s Journey with His Wordless Daughter, St. Martin’s Press 2008) reflects on his family’s experience and his observations on the present and future of assistive technology and disability advocacy. He will be joined by Schuyler, who will share her own perspective on her life with her Big Box of Words.

The most interesting thing about that abstract is the fact that Schuyler will be joining me, as a co-presenter. As we start putting our presentation together, she's trying to organize her thoughts. After talking about it, we'd decided that rather than just sitting down and trying to write something off the top of her head, Schuyler would rather answer specific questions and integrate that into her presentation. And she would like to get those questions from the many people out in the world who have followed her story for so long.

So if you have a question that you think would help Schuyler present her story, you can ask it in the comments here, on my Facebook page or via email at rob.rumhud@gmail.com. We talked about what kinds of questions she'd be asked, and came up with some categories that she's comfortable with.

1) Her use of assistive technology over the past ten years.

2) Her experiences in school.

3) Her experience with polymicrogyria, her "little monster".

4) Her future, both school and her adult life.

5) (And this is a big one, I think.) The parts of her life and her world that have nothing to do with her polymicrogyria. The Monster-Free Zone.

We both thank you in advance. After our presentation on August 3rd, I'll reformat her answers and post them here for everyone.


May 4, 2015

Between Friends

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Every now and then, Schuyler has the chance to connect with another AAC user. It doesn't happen as frequently as it once did, and certainly not as often as she would like. She doesn't have many classmates using AAC devices at school now; I think she might actually be the only one in her particular classes. She no longer has her tribe, which I suppose is as expected. She was always going to be an outlier. But when she finds herself with another user, she falls into a comfort zone that I can't even begin to understand in a meaningful way.

February 23, 2015

Dirty Bird

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
I won't pretend that helping Schuyler program her device to sound like a George Carlin routine wasn't fun. But as I have been so many times of late, I was proud of Schuyler for taking another step in her journey towards independence and self-actualization. She understands, like any kid her age should, that saying those words in the wrong circumstances will result in a quick path to repercussions. The trick for her is going to be discovering the boundaries that she can push. If Schuyler is to truly own her prosthetic language as being truly her own, it's got to be without restriction. Helping her to take agency over her language possibilities doesn't make me a good father, any more than helping to give her the tools to drop an F bomb in class makes me a bad one.

February 16, 2015

The Technological Why

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
I have a confession to make, one that on the surface would seem a little awkward, given the public position I've taken on the subject. Sometimes I'm baffled by technology. There, I said it. I mean, I'm not at that "old man standing on the porch in shorts and black socks, shaking my fists at the newfangled world" level of befuddlement. In fact, I don't feel threatened by technology at all, which I suppose is something. By and large, I live a life driven by technology to a certain extent, so I'm getting by okay. But there are embarrassing gaps. I never establish Bluetooth connections on the first try, for example. And I'm glad the Age of the Fax is over, because I was almost entirely incapable of sending one successfully. That was a rough few years.

December 29, 2014

Theories of Everything

This week at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
The film by and large gives a respectful and accurate look at how technology can make a real difference in the lives of people with disabilities. Speech tech gave Stephen Hawking the ability to communicate his powerful vision of time and space and the origins of our universe, and in doing so made the world a far richer and better place. Not just for one man or his family, but for the entirety of human civilization. That's not too bad.
Happy New Year to everyone who takes the time to read my stuff. Here's to the future!

December 8, 2014

A Scene, and a Revelation

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Schuyler's percussion teacher doesn't sign, but rather reads lips. That's not much help with Schuyler, whose lips aren't doing a lot of heavy lifting when she speaks. And so a big part of what Schuyler is likely to get from her private percussion lessons has little to do with drumming and everything to do with communication and information exchange.

November 3, 2014

Making Our Own Ice

I want to discuss something very specific to augmentative alternative communication, so my apologies in advance if this isn't part of your world. I specifically want to address the strange, illogical divide in the professional speech technology world between those who use dedicated speech devices and those who find success with consumer electronics products like Apple's iPad. I'm still surprised to watch these conversations unfold online and see how blithely parent advocates and end users are often condescended to. Frankly, it pisses me off, which is why I'm subjecting you to this post.

Some of the discord comes from representatives of the big speech device makers, companies who are responsible for developing the technologies that AAC users have come to depend on but who have been struggling to sustain their business models now that commercial tablets have democratized the AAC process. It's a huge shift, and one that the industry is still trying to figure out. For a specific subset of ambulatory users, suddenly the potential purchase price for a speech language system has dropped from something in the area of eight thousand dollars (plus service agreements that can run around a thousand dollars a year) to under a grand, depending on the communications app and however many whistles and bells you choose for your tablet. So potentially MUCH under a grand.

This change has meant that where once insurance companies and school administrators held final say in the systems purchased, for some that power has now shifted. Parents and end users themselves are suddenly able to make decisions about the technology that allows them to communicate. This democratization comes with pitfalls. It is up to these parents and users to get good information about the language software that is available, and to find resources to determine what AAC needs they or their kids may have. They don't always have the support personnel in place to assist them in making good decisions. There are a lot of very, very bad AAC apps out there, and clearly someone is buying them.

The problem with the dialogue that is taking place in sectors of the AAC community is that it makes some dubious assumptions. Cheaper is inferior. Using commercial tablets amounts to a "one size fits all" approach. More expensive systems mean more solid support. You get what you pay for. And teachers, parents and end users are simply not qualified to make those choices.

Getting good support for systems running on consumer electronics is a real concern. But honestly, it's no different from the situation faced by many schools and families out there with dedicated devices without any meaningful local support. It's an industry-wide problem, and honestly one that can be exacerbated for users of expensive dedicated devices by the prohibitive cost of maintaining service agreements from year to year, as well as issues like loaner devices for repair downtime.

iPads and other consumer tablets aren't a fit for every user or even most users, and I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone make the case that they are. But for users like Schuyler and thousands more like her, these tablets provide possibilities that go beyond a speech prosthesis. To say that we are in one "camp" or another, and that AAC users are divided between dedicated devices and consumer electronics, is a gross oversimplification, and it's not accurate. Schuyler uses an iPad, and it runs the same language software that she used on her dedicated device, back when it was the appropriate choice for her. She not in a camp; she's a hybrid, and I suspect she's the rule, not the exception.



In a piece she wrote for BridgingApps a few months ago, Schuyler had this to say about using her iPad:
I like to use my iPad Mini because it help me with talking and I can looks things up like the the right stuff for school. It makes me as other people. When I used my old speech device, it looks like something wrong with me.

[...]

It looks I’m like other people.
One day, I am hopeful that Schuyler will make peace with her differences and even celebrate them. It's something that we encourage in her self-identification and always have. But she's an ambulatory fourteen year-old girl with an invisible disability, attending a public school where she desperately wants to fit in. She's not interested in neurodiversity, because she's in a world where difference is problematic. That's not ideal, but it's her Now World. For Schuyler, the iPad provides a way to fit in a little better, and to participate in a world of technology and online social presence. And she does so using the same language system that she learned on her dedicated speech device.

Her situation mirrors a great many AAC users her age. And for Schuyler and her fellow invisibly disabled peers, the iPad has transformed weird looks into curious questions. She has gone from an effective medical prosthesis that almost miraculously gave her language she never had before but also sometimes stigmatized her to a new powerful tool that also functions as a part of a social narrative in which everyday tech is inclusive.

Inclusive. That's important.

No one is suggesting that this technology will work for everyone. But for speech professionals to suggest that consumer tablet technology like the iPad is somehow universally cheap and inferior isn't just incorrect, although let's be very clear on this point. It is WILDLY incorrect. For many users like Schuyler, systems like the iPad have presented a far superior solution. So no, belittling that technology isn't just untrue. It's demeaning. It often represents an attitude that looks backwards, like a turn-of-the-century ice merchant haughtily dismissing newfangled electric ice makers. It attempts to shame users and parents into abandoning their hard-earned new autonomy. "You'll never be capable of supporting and advocating for yourself," the argument suggests. "You need to step back and let the grownups make those choices."

End users and parents and therapists and teachers, they are becoming experts, out of necessity and because they represent the ground troops. They're making their own ice, not just more cheaply but with greater flexibility and efficiency. Professional support entities now need to make some difficult choices about what the future of their industry looks like, and how to create the business models that keep them employed and relevant, and that keep their clients taken care of. These speech professionals are the natural leaders we look to.

But if there's one thing we've learned over the years, it's how to take the reins in hand when necessary. We're mostly okay with that outcome, too.


October 6, 2014

An Extraordinary Story

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
In the list of commemorative awareness months, October's got a lot going on. It's Down Syndrome Awareness Month, after all, as well as National Dyslexia Awareness Month, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, National ADHD Awareness Month, National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Spina Bifida Awareness Month, and National Disability Employment Awareness Month. October kind of feels like Awareness Awareness Month, to be honest. Relevant to my own life and my own personal perspective, along with all those worthy causes, October is also AAC Awareness Month.

September 15, 2014

The Key

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Excerpt: 
Schuyler's voice is no longer a thing to squeak out of her iPad in close proximity. It's a thing that can travel beyond her immediate space. In some ways, Schuyler has found a way, though the simple act of handing a speaker over to a listener or placing outside of her own immediate personal space, to improve upon the natural human voice that she has been denied. And in handing that voice over to another, she creates a strange kind of intimacy, better than a shout. In a loud room, Schuyler can put her voice in your ear. I can't do that, and I find myself ever so slightly envious.

December 18, 2013

My All, at Fourteen

This week always presents a natural time to stop and reflect on where Schuyler is in her life, with her birthday only a few days away. It's also the end of the year, so everyone's in this whole "looking back" mood anyway. It's a good time for marking transitions.

This year, it feels even more so. When I look back on Schuyler's first teenaged year, it feels like a great deal of significance took place, not all of it easily measured or commemorated. She doesn't come across as a different person than she was a year ago, but she just seems... more. More complete. More complicated. More damaged. Stronger. A little sadder. A lot smarter. And in some ways happier, too.

Thirteen was the year that Schuyler became serious about using her iPad to communicate. It was the year when the software and the hardware caught up with each other, and despite a few snags and professional lapses, it was the year when she began to assemble a team that is developing a real plan for how she moves forward. She still resists using AAC to communicate; once again, we recently had the semi-regular "But I want to talk like everyone else!" tantrum. I don't think she's demanding that the impossible change somehow. I think she just needs to howl at the sky every now and then, to protest the injustice and to fight the future a little. She's learning to put aside her protest when she needs to, and that might represent the best step forward that she's taken in a long time. This next year will tell.

Thirteen will almost certainly be remembered as her cheerleader year. She's still got some responsibilities for the spring semester, but not that much. This was the year that we crossed our fingers and stepped into uncertainty, handing our daughter over to a situation that could very much work, or very much not.

The verdict? I don't actually know. Schuyler loves cheerleading. She's incredibly proud of herself, and she participates with real joy and enthusiasm. When she's actually cheering, she's on top of the world.

But there are... complications. The inclusive environment that we'd hoped for feels more like the "you can stand here and be happy" school of inclusion. Schuyler hasn't received the extra help that we'd hoped she might get, and wasn't even allowed to move to the back row of girls so she'd have some visual cues to help her, despite both Schuyler and us making that request. The mix of girls broke into cliques almost immediately, and stayed that way. That's never good news for the kid who's different.

It's the little things that start to feel not so small. As we discovered last week, Schuyler's name wasn't even spelled correctly on her locker poster OR the official board at the school, and I guess it's been that way all semester. That might sound minor, but it sends a message.

I asked Schuyler if she'd pointed out the spelling error to her cheer coach, and she said no. She's being frustratingly oblique about the whole thing. She has a good time cheering, but she also says she doesn't want to do it again next year. Schuyler has taken the parts that she's enjoyed, and she's given up on the rest, and I'm saddened for her but also proud of her, for her pragmatism and her unflagging positivity.

A couple of months ago, after her request to move to the second row of girls was turned down, Schuyler and I walked to the car after the game. She down and sighed.

"I wish she would treat me like a real cheerleader," she said. And then she didn't want to talk about it any more.

So. That's cheerleading.

Most critically, thirteen was the year that Schuyler began taking seizure medications. Her neurologist had determined that she was likely having partial complex seizures for some time before, but it was only when the aftereffects of a recent seizure were bad enough to send her home from school that he decided it was time. Her MRI showed changes as well. We didn't disagree with his earlier determination that it wasn't time for meds, and we don't disagree with him now.

She's ramping up to her full dosage; she'll be there in a couple of weeks. So far, she's just beginning to show some side effects. None of them are unmanageable, and she's aware of the changes and tries to compensate for them. She understands that this is all in the service of helping her brain heal and manage itself, and she's game, to the point of clarifying how she feels so that I can get it right for this post. ("Now my brain feels weird and strong, like smart.")

I'm proud of her; she knows that the "brain pills" are fucking with her, but she grasps the big picture and never ever tries to beg off of taking them. We should have a better idea in the next few weeks if this is going to help and if she's going to be able to manage the effects.

So her birthday, and the holidays, arrives at a moment of transition, of a kind of change none of us have ever experienced together. Schuyler's having a bit of a rough time right now, but she's holding things together. She leaves thirteen behind at a crucial time, and she's going to need the love and support and, yes, the patience of every person in the world who loves her.

Fortunately for her, that's a lot of people.

What will fourteen bring? It'll bring high school, two words that encompass all the fear and all the potential and all the excitement in the whole world for her, and for us. Fourteen will include meeting new friends and even new family. It'll be about finding a balance that has eluded her. Balance in how her school implements an inclusive curriculum. Balance in her mysterious brain chemistry. Balance between her dependence on her parents and her desire to take flight on her own. Balance between her natural exuberance and the reality of her world. Schuyler's both younger than her chronological age, and wise beyond her years. That may be the trickiest balance of all for her.

Thirteen was big for Schuyler. Thirteen was unyielding and rough, but it was transfiguring and significant. Thirteen showed Schuyler, in ways it hadn't before, that the world might eat her up if she's not careful, but I think it also might have just introduced her to the empowered young woman she's going to be.

When asked if she had a message for the world, Schuyler said,
"Go see The Hobbit and have a happy New Year!"

November 18, 2013

Her World, Her Words

Today at Support for Special Needs:
But Schuyler also does a lot of free writing, creating text files on her iPad both for homework assignments and just her thoughts as they come to her. And it's here where the results of her increased freedom of expression and communication suddenly become clear. 
It's not perfect; her grammar is touch and go at best, but even then, when she fumbles the language, she doesn't mangle it so much as twist it into something different. Her language can be broken, but also beautiful and free. A little like Schuyler, come to think of it.

October 28, 2013

At the Center of her Own Narrative

Today at Support for Special Needs:
Putting Schuyler at the center of her own story isn't just polite. It's appropriate, and it's essential. She's thirteen now, and while I've certainly spoken on her behalf, or at least facilitated her communication, when she was younger, she's reaching an age where she will continue to advocate for herself more and more. I still speak for her far more often than I should, but sometimes I catch myself. Even as we endeavor to increase Schuyler's communication skills, we're working to provide her with the tools to express herself more comprehensively and training her to use those tools more efficiently and quickly. The goal is to enable her to hold her own, in any social or academic or even professional environment.