Logan was born in 1997 and is now aged 18 – what a journey we have all had! He was born 2 years after Maia, his sister, and in the early years developed as we expected him to. He was a very easy baby, sleeping soundly with very little disruption. His motor development was normal and early language development including several words such as “mommy,” “daddy,” “kitty,” etc. seemed to indicate that all was well.
However all that was to change when Logan at around 2 stopped talking completely and began to cry a lot. He became very active and often ran off without any reason. He started a habit of clearing entire shelves in supermarkets, dumping boxes of toys and emptying out drawers.
In the US, children are monitored by the Birth to 3 team and it was this group who picked up the changes and suggested that we begin an intervention on an educational level. Logan was 2 ½ years old at this point. Our early attempts to get the situation properly diagnosed at Yale University lead to the too often used PDD NOS or “pervasive development delay – not otherwise specified.” To all the people who directly worked with Logan, it was obvious he had something quite close to autism. Eventually we had a well-known behavioural analyst see Logan and he was diagnosed with autism. We were told he may be one of the most severe cases in the state of Connecticut.
Logan was a very fast runner. His bolting away tendencies expanded to include trying to escape from the house an any and all opportunities. We could not take our eyes off him for more than about five seconds without the possibility of Logan putting himself in physical danger. He would try to open the car door when moving, he would attempt to jump off a ferry boat from 10 metres into frigid cold water in winter to go swimming. He had no fear of heights, moving water, moving automobile traffic or any other thing that most people his age had developed a healthy fear of. His sense of self-preservation was essentially nonexistent. As a result it took an enormous level of energy simply to keep him safe.
Logan first visited with a Speech and Language Pathologist when he was around 4 years old and at that time we were recommended that he was introduced to PECS. My reaction? “I am not going to have my child use little pictures to communicate – that is a copout. You are a speech therapist – you make people talk – isn’t that what you do?” Little did I understand how wrong I was and how little I knew at the time.
I can say very positively Logan worked well with PECS! The use of PECS followed Logan through several schools and the protocol allowed him to transition smoothly. I now believe PECS is a very good place to start with a nonverbal autistic child.
But I am sure I am not alone; as a parent of a nonverbal child we wanted Logan to have a “voice.” By this time he was in residential school in the next state. He had developed good use of PECS but it did not help him order his Taco Bell or McDonald’s or communicate with us on the phone.
I figured that a technology solution might be in order. I had heard of these great computer based devices so we looked at lots of AAC devices and very quickly realized these were not going to be for Logan who would throw remote controls on the floor just to see the bits fly everywhere. He also could not get to grips with the dynamic devices at all. Where were the words stored? How did you get to them?
The engineer in me took over. All the time we were looking at devices I was sure there had to be something which Logan could use which would build on his skills. When we didn’t find it I decided to design and build something for Logan which would be easier for him to transition to from PECS, something which would give him a voice everyone could understand, and so the Logan ProxTalker communication device was born and our lives took a different path.
The ProxTalker is an easy to use device best described as enabling independent verbal picture communication. Using technology unique to the world of AAC, the ProxTalker brings a voice to objects and pictures through radio frequency identification tags (RFID) to match the user’s ability at the word or phrase level. The device has a five button layout where object and picture tag can be place and held with Velcro. The ProxTalker is carried in a user’s selection of a binder or backpack with a choice of color pages and gray Velcro pages. Since its launch in 2009, the ProxTalker has become a global success with users of all ages, language bases and abilities around the world. Our youngest user is 3 and oldest in their 70’s. The device has found a place for post communication and academic support, so we see it used by individuals in their daily lives or by teachers in the classroom to include nonverbal children in lessons.
ProxTalker and ProxPAD devices have been included in the NYC District 75 classrooms. Karen Gorman, Assistive Technology Coordinator for NYC DOE District 75 technology solutions has found the ProxTalker and ProxPAD devices to be useful in the classroom with the District 75 staff of over 800 Speech-Language Pathologists. According to Karen, “There are several reasons why the ProxTalker works for us in NYC. The no need to program idea is perfect for being able to communicate on the fly and respond to the situation as it occurs. Communicating and responding in real time is much more effective than trying to teach a skill then working to apply it. In addition we work on the foundation of using Core Language to start, and ProxTalker created our Core language tags for us so our students can engage quickly and efficiently using Core words regardless of the content. This significantly increases the number of times students get to communicate with each other which is paramount to becoming an active communicator and not someone that just identifies vocabulary words. Additionally, since the device can be used for some instructional tasks such as math and spelling and sentence generation, pre-literacy skills for left to right orientation etc., it is very handy for reinforcement and teaching skills within the instructional setting. The ProxTalker does this in a very UDL (Universal Design for Learning) way: the tactile component of using the tags with the voice output for the auditory feedback and the picture symbol for the visual the information and content is accessible to all learning styles.”
In 2014, STEPS Center for Excellence in Autism in Cleveland, OH carried out a case study trial with students looking at the effects communication had on stereotypic behaviors, the results of which were published in the Journal on Technology and Persons with Disabilities in 2014.
The trial results reflect that for both students there was a decrease in motor stereotypic with the use of the ProxTalker using modified communication training protocol alongside an increase in mastered communication exchange phases. Excitingly there was also an increase in independent communicative intent. Based on the results of the studies and further successes the team at STEPS have produced a training manual called Approach to Comprehensive Communication Training with the ProxTalker which is available along with the ProxTalker for trial or purchase at www.LoganTech.com.
Logan’s journey continues to be arduous but he now has a voice both with his ProxTalker and Alt Chat tablet device. He fluctuates between the two depending on how much sensory support he appears to need. There is no other device like the ProxTalker which offers 4 modes of sensory support: visual, auditory, tactile and verbal. It is the ideal diving board for verbal communication and may be the bridge some children need to progress to a more demanding device. We are excited to see what the future holds for the ProxTalker and the Logan ProxPAD choice maker which was developed using the same technology and launched to support individuals with greater visual and physical limitations in early 2013. Together the ProxTalker and ProxPAD open doors to communication and learning for individuals who need multi-sensory support to access communication.
To learn more or arrange a trial of either device, please contact LoganTech at (866) 962-0966 or visit www.LoganTech.com.