Are you an SLP working with nonverbal learners? Well, this post is for you! Recently I sat down with our teammate Dan Fitch, a speech-language pathologist from Long Island, NY, to really understand how SLPs navigate and select the tech tools for their nonverbal learners. Dan helps us better our SuperSpeak AAC and Play app, while he works with his special needs students. Dan, here is your turn in the spotlight!
Dan, it’s super to get some time to chat with you! First things first: Tell us about your work!
I am a speech-language pathologist who works in school and private practice settings. I work with a variety of students, from children with Down syndrome and autism to students with speech articulation challenges.
Which language and communication issues are you working with in your classroom? This year, my class has one student with Down syndrome, one student with autism, and one student who suffered from intractable seizures and had a right hemispherectomy to stop the seizures. The remainder of my students have speech articulation or language challenges.
What other AAC tools and communication methods have you tried, and were you satisfied?
I have worked with AAC programs such as Proloquo2Go, TouchChat HD, LAMP Words for Life, and Autismate, as well as SuperSpeak. Additionally, I have used American Sign Language and Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) with some students.
The communication system and its success really depend on the individual needs of the students. When you match features to the students’ communication needs, you will see more success. When I think about the systems that I have worked with, ease of use is one of the most important characteristics that I consider. Can the child access his/her vocabulary with ease? Can the system be programmed by the child’s family members? When I think of SuperSpeak, I say “yes” to both of those questions. SuperSpeak makes vocabulary easy to program and access. SuperSpeak can also be adapt quickly to the needs of the child. Although I am satisfied with other systems for certain children, SuperSpeak has met the needs of many of my children since I started using it.
What need(s) were you hoping to address when you found SuperSpeak?
I am always looking around the App Store and through SLP websites for up-and-coming technology. I will frequently try out new apps and speak with colleagues about apps that have been helpful for them and their children. I have been attracted to easy-to-use systems that are adaptable to different environments. (I have too many bad memories from my days programming MT4 dedicated devices!)
I was very pleased when I discovered SuperSpeak and began using it. It meets many of my criteria for an effective communication app. It’s easy to use, easy to program and allows for flexibility in different environments. When I reached out to the company, I found them to be open to communicating about changes to the app to best meet the needs of children and families who would be using it. The addition of the PLAY function and the use of core vocabulary have really shown their ability to meet the different needs of users.
How do you use SuperSpeak and, in your opinion, what is its most important feature?
I use SuperSpeak to establish communication for a variety of students. Some of my students have stayed with the system for a period of time before developing more reliable verbal communication, while others have moved on to other systems. I have also used SuperSpeak to aid students in navigating challenges with emotional disturbances (i.e., giving them choices when upset and unable to verbalize) as well as to answer questions before entering into social situations.
The most important feature of SuperSpeak is its ease of use. Parents and educators can both edit and change features as needed. This is significant when we think of the changing needs of our children. Being able to add or change vocabulary on the fly makes SuperSpeak a powerful tool.
How do the children in your care react to using SuperSpeak?
Many of them like the games, especially when you change the reward picture. Overall, there is great power in opening up communication to a youngster. When children can affect their environment, negative behavior decreases and they can make their wants and needs known. In many ways, the world opens up to them.
Where have you seen the biggest improvement since you first started using SuperSpeak?
One of my students was prescribed LAMP Words for Life by an evaluator. After many training sessions with his parents and almost a year in therapy at school, the student was not using his iPad to communicate unless it was specifically put in front of him. Once we started using SuperSpeak, more spontaneous communication was noted as well as an increase in verbalization. Now the student communicates many wants and needs verbally and uses SuperSpeak for longer utterances or words that he cannot say easily.
Do you have any best practices or tips you want share with people who are struggling to communicate with a student?
Find the child’s interests (whatever they may be), and follow their lead. Have fun and engage with the child however possible. Offer lots of choices, and let them show you what they like. When you know what they like, let them ask for it often and reward them. Use games and play to encourage interaction — model the use of communication in different settings.
Dan, you are indeed a SuperStar! Thank you so much for supporting SuperSpeak, both as a user and as a consultant. You’ve provided us with valuable insight so that, together, we can deliver the most progressive AAC app on the market. We wish all the best for you and your SuperKiddos!