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My child has started saying words, so why should I keep prompting them to use an App?

When you use Grace App consistently you might find that the user starts to say single words independently, without needing the prompt. Your joyous reactions should be paired with extra tangible reinforcement: an extra big slice of the “cake” or crisps or chocolate or a longer turn on the computer if that is what they are requesting…

It’s easy to get carried away with joy when this happens. We waited 8 years for Gracie to speak independent of her pecs pictures. And when it happened we were running to get what ever she asked for, in huge quantities. I think I drove across 3 lanes of traffic on a freeway to get to a service station and run in to buy 6 packets of crisps.

So how do you move on from there? It’s easy to let your joy overtake your communication goals and to let the use of their alternative communication system fade. I heard this so many times from people using old style pecs – nobody wants to carry that big book around forever and if the child can get what they want with a single word, why would they?

But you can reach a point where their communication stops developing. Single words are effective if you are always around people who understand you. But there is a good reason for a carrier phrase like “I Want” – it introduces the discipline of using additional words that can help discriminate needs and wants, from shared attention or other communication priorities.

It also makes people more likely to engage with you. When I am in a foreign country, I take time to learn a carrier phrase and the word for please or thank you. I might sound like an infant when I am asking for a drink in a cafe, but at least I don’t sound like a spoiled brat.

When my son started talking at Age 4, we went through a similar honeymoon phase of letting him get away with single words but I soon realised he was capable of more. So I got out the pecs book again, but instead of using pictures, I made some word cards; “May I have” “Mummy” “Daddy” and “Please” “Thank You”

When he made a verbal request without *manners* I physically prompted him back to the appropriate phrase and he would say it again, then get his reward. He is a visual learner, so he quickly memorised the key phrases and used them very effectively.

Just like Gracie, he would use his new skill to get people to get him things, especially when Mummy had said No.

My lovely Brother-in law very famously would share his diet soda with Liam, and only Liam, due to the beautiful way Liam would ask him.

“May I have a Coke Zero please Len?”

Now, I MUST STRESS – you do not need to do this straight away – enjoy the wonder of vocalisations for a few weeks. You also want to make sure that communicating independently is a simple as possible. You do not want them to revert to inappropriate behaviour because you have gone and made using their words too complicated.

So YOU MUST choose the carrier to suit the learner.

There is a reason why  “I want” is the most common carrier. It clearly denotes meaning – you WANT this, and it is very easy to say when your mouth muscles are just learning to make sounds.  Next time you are brushing your teeth try saying a number of carrier phrases while actually brushing. “I want” is one of the few that can be clearly understood!

So it is a good one to start with when prompting additional communication. You might think you can do this verbally and for many learners this will work. But with a lot of kids with autism, they actually learn to wait for your prompt, before using it. And that is very hard to fade.

My rule of thumb for prompts is “Physical is Fadeable”

If you were using sign language, you would just prompt them either gesturally (to copy you)  or by motioning their hands into the sign they need to use. With picture communicators, you need to motion them back towards their pictures. Use your hands to guide theirs, so you can slowly withdraw your support.

You should also make sure there are no other distractions in the carrier phrase folder. Carrier phrases are more abstract that nouns. The picture can be harder to discriminate quickly. So please clear out all the other pictures in that folder.

Follow the steps to set up the App in “Guide to Grace App”

As you can see, Grace is quite capable of saying “Purple Chocolate” but she is forgetting her carrier phrase. I just keep gesturing back towards the iPad mini, then I point at the “I Want” that she has there, and she uses it. She cannot physically say “may I have” so we use the one that is easiest for her. Please is also phonically difficult, but at home I often prompt her to say “Mummy” when requesting a treat; because I love hearing her say it!

By making sure that Gracie uses her carrier phrase, I have made it easier for her to learn other more abstract concepts like “Sore” when describing she has a pain. Or “Look” when she just wants to share something she likes. It consistently builds her communication capability and allows her to be better understood by anyone, the goal of any communication system in my opinion.



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