Even if your student is truly nonverbal and uses a communication device, a switch, a picture communication system, or eye gaze to communicate, you can employ this in the Video Stories. The process of seeing themselves successfully communicating will likely create a dramatic increase the self-confidence, motivation, and initiation of their communication methods.
Pamela communicated through pushing a switch. She had two switches that had varied yes and no responses. She had severe motor issues that often interfered with her accurate response. She was also blind and so the process of creating a Video Story wasn’t planned to be a visual benefit for her, but they turned out to be tremendously valuable for her. First, the fact that we were filminf and documenting her communication, made her focus and be surprisingly intentional and accurate on her responses. This was a confirmation for her parents, teachers, and classmates that she was indeed able to clearly express her preferences and opinions when she wanted to. The classmates recorded their voices asking the questions on the video, and through the process learned how to frame their interactions with her in a way that she could meaningfully respond. It became the coolest trick ever if you could get Pamela to answer your question. Her peers became very motivated to engage her in conversation, asking lots and lots of questions, which brought to light fascinating and important information on everything from her ponytail causing her pain to the realization that she loves to have her nails painted.
Lynn used her communication device to participate in the group social skills videos just like everyone else. She planned her sentences beforehand, and then would speak the whole thing once the camera was rolling. She was also motivated to increase her speed and fluency with the device in order to respond in the back and forth conversational exchanges during the clips. Although we were able to edit out the downtime between responses, she was extremely focused and gained some skills in maneuvering through the device quickly and accurately. The other classmates became more comfortable with her method of communicating, engaged her more often, and waited expectantly for her responses. She became very confident and “talkative” and even started to write love stories on her device with all the corny details that junior high girls relish.
If your student uses eye gaze to communicate, a Video Story can be helpful in zooming in to what they are “saying,” and help increase intentionality and understandability across the board. If they use a picture communication system or are just learning how to use an augmentative assistive communication device, Video Stories can clearly demonstrate the cause and effect of handing over the picture or pushing a button and getting the requested item. It will be easy to show also how their comments elicit positive attention and response. The key is that in a Video Story you are able to remove any of the prompts, so the student sees themselves communicating independently and that becomes something they internalize and feel confident with their own skills. When we are introducing or expanding skills in the communication method, sometimes it is difficult to separate the prompts from what the skill they are actually trying to learn. The PECs people recommend having a second person doing a physical prompt from behind so that the prompt can be faded and doesn’t become ingrained as part of the communication process. With a Video Story, we can easily edit out the prompt, whether we have a second person or not, and show the student their own focused, step by step, successful communication exchange.
Some parents have asked me about how to expand the rigidity of the responses their children make with their devices. For example, one little boy will only use his device for requesting two specific items. Anything else requires a full physical hand over hand prompt and usually entails some resistance. You may want to begin with the skill they can already do independently, building in just one extra little word at a time, in order to increase their self-esteem, initiation, and recognition of the cause and effect related to their communication. For instance, if the kid wants goldfish and you usually have to prompt them to use their device to ask for it, you could make a video of them asking for it, maybe adding an extra word, like “please” or “I want.” Then immediately give them the desired item with praise for using their words. And then you can add a “thank you” or “yummy” or “I like it.” to the end. When they watch the video, and see themselves communicating without any prompts, it may enhance their understanding of how the communication really works, and their self-efficacy that they can be in control of their own communication.
If a lack of interest is involved in the student’s not using their device, you must make sure that the words that are most motivating for them are included in the device. For most devices, you can add photographs of the student’s own favorite toys and such. Often the lack of specific interesting item choices in the device contributes to the frustration and resistance. You may want to add specific verbs as well that the student can use to tell you what to do, such as hide, find, tickle, jump, back up. Then you can use the strategies described in play-based interventions such as DIR Floortime or “Play to Talk” communicating partners to interfere with their play so they have to say a word to continue the play. Then capture and highlight those communications and giggles with a Video Story.
If lack of motor control or intentionality is an issue in the lack of independent use of the device, you can use a Video Story to improve that as well. If the student at this point requires a hand over hand prompt, please be encouraged that that does not mean they will always need that level of prompting. Kids learn by doing and doing something successfully. Motor memory and motivation will improve with each practice. With a video story you can zoom in and focus on the student’s finger touching the actual button on the device. So even if you are needed to do a hand over hand prompt, you can leave your hand out of the picture. Then the student sees themselves communicating on their own. Of course, as soon as possible, you can fade the prompt little by little with your hand moving further and further back- on the wrist, elbow, shoulder, and off completely. A Video Story at each stage of the fading process may increase more and more independence as the student sees more and more of themselves controlling their own communication.
Also, I suggest concentrating on the most motivating communication exchanges first. It may take some brainstorming to figure out how the student can use their device to communicate things that really delight them. Incorporate their specific interests and make sure there are really lots of ways to make different comments related to their specific interests. For example, it they love trains, it is so important that there are tons of vocabulary available to discuss it – all aboard, ticket, station, fast, engine, chugga, Thomas, time, hurry, track, etc… So often, even with a device, the student is limited to the word “train” when they have all kinds of other ideas they want to say about it, and that increases their frustration level. Also you can think outside the box on activities that would be really funny for them, for instance have them play a version of Simon Says, where they are allowed to tell the adults and other kids what to do, a page of different verbs could facilitate this game or expand it to use prepositions like “on bed” and “under table.” Silliness is incredibly important and motivating for young children. Often we as adults concentrate on the functionality of the communication and forget to train them on making jokes or being silly. Actually, we had a breakthrough on my son’s communication when we taught him to say, “No poo poo.” His words had been limited to single word utterances until we taught him to say, “No poo poo.” Then he was incorporating different things into his joke, giggling every time and talking a whole bunch more than before, “Bronson, no poo poo. Chicken, no poo poo. Stinky!” One day we were discussing the sorry state of our nation, and he said, “America, no poo poo!”