Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Missing My Talker


We're on day 21 of being without Carter's talker. As each day passes I appreciate more and more how important the device has become to Carter and the role it has played in helping him to communicate effectively.

Unfortunately, the talker got dropped on the floor at school several weeks ago and ever since then the battery won't charge. When plugged in it will function but it will not charge. Carter used it for a little while, powering it up with an extension cord, but eventually we had to send it off to be repaired. My active boy needs his device to be portable and being limited by an extension cord was not ideal.

This is the first problem we've encountered with Carter's talker since he got it just over a year ago. What do you do with a high tech voice output device when it stops working? Well, the device was manufactured in the U.S. and the Canadian distributor is located in British Columbia so we were surprised to find out that it would go to northern Ontario for repair. The 'local' technician worked on it to no avail and last week it was shipped south of the border, back to the manufacturer.

Meanwhile, here at home...Carter is back to relying on sign language to express himself. The more he signs, the more I am reminded of how hugely limiting sign language is for him. He has so much he wants to contribute but can't because he doesn't have enough language without his talker. He has very few verbs in his sign language repertoire so he mostly ends up labelling everything around him by name or by colour (truck...dog...red...Mom...etc).

I play my role as Detective Mom and do my best to figure out what he's trying to say and then I fill in the blanks. He wants his thoughts articulated so I provide a running commentary of his repetitive signing. I become his translator, and his voice.        

It takes us back to a time before Carter had his talker. He would string two or three signs together and maybe the odd gesture and the rest was intuition on my part. I would watch Carter's signs and gestures, study the situation and then do my best to convey what I thought was Carter's message. I was probably about 90% accurate most of the time which was both good and bad. Good because Carter had someone he could rely on to figure out his wants and needs. Bad because I couldn't be with him all the time. His communication skills needed to evolve.

Hence the talker. With his talker Carter is able to put several words together and express himself in a more meaningful way. He comments on things, he makes observations, he asks questions, he even tells jokes. The jokes are preprogrammed into his talker and he doesn't always understand the punchline but he loves it when he can make someone laugh -- in fact, he can't get enough of that. He can now engage and connect with others which is something he so badly wanted, and needed to do.

I don't want to paint it as a perfect picture. It's not like Carter speaks like a typical 8 year old boy with the exception that his voice comes from a computer box. He is still learning the conventions of language -- learning how to put it all together. He doesn't form complete sentences and he often mixes up the order in which the words should go. He leaves a lot of words out of his utterances so some interpreting is still necessary.

Add to that the fact that Carter can be quite shy. Depending on the situation and who he's with, he may choose not to use his talker. There are still some challenges to overcome but we're miles ahead of where we were without the device.

We have watched Carter's excitement level grow in direct correlation with the development of his language skills. His talker has allowed him to demonstrate the complexity of his thoughts and he seems pleased to finally be able to do more than just label things in his environment. He literally loves his talker (he actually hugs and kisses the darn thing!).

We're waiting for a 'loaner' device to be delivered from the distributor out west and I must admit, I'm getting a bit impatient with the wait. I'm ready to go back to being Carter's communication partner instead of his translator. And Carter? Well, good old Carter is usually fairly content with whatever is going on but I'm told he's showing signs of frustration at school. He misses his talker too.

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