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?! 

Quinns’ Voice

Photo of some of Quinns' t-shirtsWe spent ages choosing a voice for Quinns when we set up his eye gaze computer. It’s always been very important to me that Quinns’ voice is appropriate.

He uses a switch (basically a big button he can press) which we can record messages onto. Rather than do it myself I get Big Sister to record his news on it for nursery and they get the other children to record ‘here’ for him to say for the register.

At the very start of the CBBC documentary, Locked In Boy, about Jonathan Bryan you see Jonathan choose one of his friends to be his voice. (I’d really recommend you watch if you haven’t already). It’s all his own words he just needs someone to speak them.

For Quinns we didn’t think the default English computer accent was appropriate. I briefly considered an Australian or Canadian accent but really it came down to the little boy with the English accent or the Scottish man. After much deliberation we chose Stuart the Scot. He sounded soft and less…computer-y and it seemed to suit Quinns.

First thing Quinns did when he got onto the eye gaze? Changed his voice to The Queen! Yet another reminder that he’s the one in charge.