Thunderstruck

Learning to understand what an emerging AAC user is trying to communicate can be challenging but recently a couple of things have clicked into place for us.

An eye gaze computer grid with symbols and words for vehicles and the words 'remote, plane, helicopter, fire engine' in the speech bar.

After watching a trailer for Back to the Outback, an animated comedy adventure set in Australia, Quinns clearly told us he wanted to watch it by going to his animals board on the eye gaze and choosing the words ‘snake’, ‘spider’ and ‘koala bear’; three of the main characters from the film. Whenever we asked what he wanted to do he would repeat the same three animals followed by ‘remote’ until we finally had time to sit down and watch it. 

Although he loved it, giggling his way through the entire movie, the next time we asked him what he wanted to do he said ‘plane’, ‘helicopter’, ‘fire engine’ followed by ‘remote’. It took us a while but we eventually worked out that he was referring to an already favourite film of his, Planes: Fire and Rescue, a spin off from the classic Pixar film Cars based on fire planes and helicopters rather than cars and trucks.

This is a brilliant step in his ability to communicate what he wants to watch without us having to programme all the films that ever existed into the eye gaze! 

Quickly following this discovery, one evening at the dinner table Quinns interrupted our conversation with an obvious request for music. Dad usually puts some on when he sits down at the table but on this occasion he hadn’t. Quinns chose ‘song’ and ‘piano’ on the eye gaze before looking expectantly at Dad. A playlist was chosen on the basis of what Quinns had just been talking about ‘rain’, ‘clouds’, ‘weather’ (there may have been a film request in there but we didn’t manage to work it out if there was!) First up was Thunderstruck by AC/DC.

With music now in the background our dinner time conversation resumed until suddenly Quinns got VERY excited! His entire body was in such motion he could barely keep still enough to choose the words he wanted to say. He managed to choose “plane, helicopter, helicopter…” before looking around us all hoping that one of us would realise what he was saying. But we all just looked at each other knowing there was something but no idea what so he repeated ‘helicopter’ a couple more times before changing board to say ‘song’.

It still took us a while but suddenly it clicked and we realised the AC/DC song that was playing had been used in Quinns’ favourite film, Planes: Fire and Rescue or as he likes to call it ‘plane, helicopter, fire engine’.

So now we know Quinns can identify films and their songs and tell us about it just as long as we can guess from his clues. Anyone for a game of AAC charades?! 

Tired but happy

For every symbol I showed him Quinns indicated that I should put it on the ‘good’ side of the Talking Mat, a brilliant communication tool for digging deeper into someone’s feelings about a subject. Based on Quinns’ answers to my questions it was safe to report at his TAC (Team around the child) meeting that he is really happy with his school experience so far.

Photo of a black board with a picture of a school in the middle. There is a thumbs down symbol on the top left and thumbs up symbol on the top right. On the right there are 10 symbols each relating to school i.e. reading, numbers etc
Quinns’ Talking Mat with everything on the good side.

Despite everything that was going on last August Quinns took the start of primary one in his stride. Transition events that differed from previous years probably had more impact on the staff than on the children who didn’t know any different. Once his full risk assessment was complete, the accessible mud kitchen was in place in the outdoor classroom and I’d given the staff a quick guide to turning on the eye gaze computer they were all set. 

Walking to school that first day as soon as he saw the lollipop man he nearly burst out of his chair with excitement! I’m sure Quinns was as relieved as I was for him to have managed to start school. He has made brilliant bonds with his teacher and support for learning assistants who he already knew from having been at the school nursery. 

Over the school year he has built up such a rapport with his teacher. He knows she understands the subtleties of his communication and has no hesitation in indicating when he can’t be bothered working anymore. His looks towards the screen asking to watch Thomas the Tank Engine don’t go unnoticed. I don’t think she gives in to his requests that easily though as he’s usually tired out by the end of the day. 

I get a lot of brilliant photos showing what he’s been doing each day. I love seeing him smiling surrounded by his classmates and I’m amazed at how much and naturally they include him. They are so willing to learn his way of communicating. One of my favourite stories about his day was hearing how his friend held up yes/no cards for Quinns to choose between weird concoctions for a picnic they were planning together. 

5 year old girl on the left standing showing yes/no cards to Quinns, a 5 year old boy on the left sitting in his chair.
A friend showing Quinns his yes/no cards.

On his recent return to school I was asked if he could have pizza for lunch. At the start of the first term we decided he would have packed lunches. If I provided the food I knew he could eat it and so I could be sure he was eating enough. But when everyone else was having pizza that day he was keen to be the same as everyone else. He now gets to make the decision about whether he has packed lunch or school lunch each day.

As well as his weekly homework book he regularly comes home with crafts he’s made in class (I’ve noticed there are a lot of hats!) Most recently though it was bright side glasses, made as part of a discussion on how to look on the bright side of life. On the one side he is not happy to go to school when he is tired but on the other side seeing his friends makes up for it.