I originally started this blog a few years ago to chronicle Noah's daily struggles with autism. It was a dark time in my life - a time when I felt that things would never get better. It was a time when I felt that all my hopes and dreams for my son and for our family had died. In my efforts to help Noah recover from autism, I began a journey that inadvertently led me to rediscover myself. I learned how to laugh again. How to dream again. How to live again. How to love again.

Autism Schmaustism. He's still our son.

This is a blog celebrating our family. Our kids. Our life.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cheap Communication Devices for Nonverbal Children - Works-for-me-Wednesday

I did it! I realized what I can write about on Works-for-me-Wednesdays.... THERAPY STUFF.

I'm a terrible cook, terrible cleaner, have no real skill in life except for being a stupendous collector of useless trivia... but I sure know my therapy stuff.

OT, PT, Speech Therapy, ABA, Sensory Integration, Auditory Integration, Learning Disabilities, Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Autism, Autism... it's my life. My kids have gone through more therapists than you can possibly imagine and I've mentally filed every single tip and tidbit I've ever learned... and I even came up with some of my own.

So there ya have it. I'll give therapy tips on Wednesday. And here's my first one...

If you have a nonverbal child then you know how difficult it is to communicate with him/her. Not only is our Noah completely nonverbal, but he has cerebral palsy, too - which makes it nearly impossible for him to learn sign language. Plus, he stims a lot by flapping his hands and doing odd little twisty things with his fingers... so sign is out of the question.

Traditional Pecs are out of the question, too. (PECS stands for Picture Exchange System, where a child can go through a book of pictures or pictures velcroed to the fridge, etc, and bring you the picture to show what he wants). But... Noah eats the pictures, so PECS are a no go.

Our biggest problem is that we are trying to Potty-Train and we're having a hard time getting Noah to signal to us when he needs to go. He is completely dependent on us for dressing and undressing - basically all of his personal needs. We have to figure out a way for him to tell us when he needs to go the bathroom.

I was looking through a catalog at his OT clinic a few months ago and came across these....

You attach it to the wall and put a picture on it and record a 20 second message. This way, the child can tell you if he's thirsty, hungry, needs to go to the potty - whatever you want. Do you know much they start at???


Isn't that nuts??

So, I went to CVS and found some clearanced voice recording photo frames on clearance for...

$7 bucks!!

I don't have an actual picture of what we've done because I'm without a camera right now, but we took two frames and put a picture of a toilet in each frame and then recorded "I need to go potty."

Now, technically, Noah's 7 and is too old for the phrase "go potty", but should he learn to speak, "potty" is easier to say than "toilet", so that's why we use it.

We have one picture frame on the back of the toilet and we press it whenever we take him to the bathroom.

We have the other velcroed to the fridge for a central location point in case he has an accident and we push the button "I need to go potty" and then take him to the bathroom where we push the button again.

It's very new, but we're confident he'll get the hang of it. And if not, hey, we're only out $14 bucks for two photo frames, instead of $130.

Works for me!


Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness! This is such a smart idea! I'm gonna have to read your blog everyday so that I can pass all of your smart ideas onto my patients and their families! Thanks.


Wani said...

This is so great! My little guy is mostly non-verbal so far (he's almost 2). He signs "more" and sometimes "drink" but thats about it. We've only just started attempting PECS but I'm just not sure if he's ready for it. I think the talking pix frame could come in handy later down the road for us. I'll definitely file away this WFMW post! Thanks for sharing!

Shara said...

Awesome, Leslie. I can't wait to hear how great this works!! What a very smart idea. =)

Grateful for Grace said...

Very smart!! Way to go, you!!

I'm sending your link to a friend who is the Autism Unit Supervisor of her school district (a big one).

Diane said...

I work with autistic children and what a great idea this is. I love how you are using things you seen but finding ways to do it for less. I am going to be following your blog.
Awesome job.

Hannah_Rae said...

Way to go!!! Gotta love using marketing tactics for our own purposes! Man, I am really into exclamation points today!!!

sarah bess said...

Wow, excellent. Great idea. Looking forward to more Wednesdays!
It's a shame that, when a company makes some simple thing, if it's usable for kids with special needs, they hike up the price. Like the bumbos--they cost $49 or something, but the slightly larger ones for kids with special needs cost $199!! How much extra foam are we talking? Don't they know how much parents have to pay for every other little thing these kids need? Why take advantage? Anyway, your photo frame idea is priceless. The photo would be better than some drawing, really.

Amblin said...

This is an amazing idea!!!!!

I am looking forward to your "Works for Me therapy Wednesdays!:

Thanks :)

Nikki said...

That is such a good idea. I love learning more about that kind of stuff... really interesting.

By the way, I got Jodnel an appointment with the speech pathologist (for free!!). I leave for Ethiopia in a week, so I booked it for the week after I come back at the end of February. Not sure if I will take him, or if his mom will, but I am sooo glad it is getting done! THanks for the advice you gave me earlier about it!

sandwichinwi said...

And clever, to boot! I think that's a great idea and way to think outside the box!


Becca said...

Can't say enough about your idea and how similar Noah and my son Jackson seem to be. Jackson is 7 and is toilet training. I have to constantly correct myself after saying potty training! He is non verbal and uses an expensive recordable communicator device for making choices, etc. I recently stopped working so with funds being scarce I didn't want to have buy another expensive device. Jackson also needs to be able to tell me when he needs to use the toilet but his communicator is bulky and not practical for spur of the moment situations. I am so excited to have such a money saving tip to try out!! I look forward to seeing Noah's progress. Best Wishes!!

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betty said...

i'm smakin my myself on the head. the solution was under my nose ..........hey thanks to ur blog i have somethin i can try with my son. he's been disagnosed with angleman syndrome. he is totally nonverbal...he's 7 and its gettin frustrating for him not to be able to convey his needs

Dan said...

Dear Leslie,

The inexpensive photo recorder was a great thought and it served our family well for years when we were using it for our son Kylan (now 10) We eventually moved to a more sophisticated piece as he grew older simply to accommodate his ever increasing requirements.

At 2 Kylan was given the same vaccines that your son was given and we too saw the blank cold stare shortly thereafter then the stimming began.

My wife is more convinced than I am of the vaccines being the issue but adding to the potential problem was the fact that she worked as a dental hygienist for over 17 years where working with, and drilling out, old mercury fillings could not have helped.

Although her concern with vaccines comes more from bombarding kids with so many virus at one time, then boosting those vaccines prior to learning if they ever took, stressing the immune system to the brink, seems to be a bigger issue for her than the possibility of Thimerosal.

Nonetheless, my post is really one of hope and success. For you and Wani and the many others who wrote in recently about the speech tool.

Its important for you to know that our son was non-verbal as well, and very much seemed to be out of tune with the world around him.

My wife worked diligently as I'm sure all of you are in getting our son in for early evaluations with a variety of doctors and special programs, speech therapists and the like. Throughout the last many years we decided to take a holistic approach when many wanted to prescribe drugs. Or emphasis was on very specific natural compounding of vitamins, minerals and herbs. We originally used the Kirkman Labs and are now with Autism Research Institute and the late Dr. Rimland.

Kylan is now in public school where he just made the A's honor roll last week.

But far more important than the honor roll was a call I received yesterday afternoon from his home room teacher who needed to discuss with me his concerns over Kylan's excessive talking in class!

Way to go Kylan, you've come so far and we couldn't be more proud!

Elizabeth said...


I have 2 kids with ASDs and another child who uses a variety of communication methods including aac's. One "low tech" and cheap item we've been introduced to is the recordable photo album. http://www.amazon.com/Attainment-Talking-Photo-Album/dp/B0018S9G9Y

they are even cheaper on some sites.

Take care,


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Communication devices and tools are really important to our daily lives.