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, February 04, 2009

Cheap Letterboards for Nonverbal Children - Works-for-me-Wednesday

Hey! It's time for Works-for-me-Wednesday - and today we're going to talk about letterboards.

What's a letterboard? Glad you asked!

A letterboard is basically a tool that has the complete alphabet on it. Nonverbal children (especially those with autism) can use this to communicate via spelling by pointing out individual letters.

Got that?

Last week, I mentioned that due to Noah's CP, he's not able to use sign language. Traditional PECS didn't work for us, either. Then we found out about RPM - which stands for Rapid Prompting Method. I won't go into great detail here, but you can look at some of my older posts HERE and HERE to find out how RPM changed our lives and gave Noah a voice.

Right now, Noah's homeschooled and in first grade. We use RPM to help Noah do his coursework. So, although Noah answers most questions by choosing between two or three choices written on paper, our goal is to get him to independently spell out the answers (and eventually work up to his thoughts and needs) on a letterboard.

After that... we'll work on typing. (Due to Noah's motor difficulties, he might not ever adequately use pen & paper, but we're not bothered. But boy howdy, can you imagine if he learns to type??? Who hoo!)

Anyway, a traditional letterboard might look something like this:

It's basically just a flat piece of paper with the alphabet on it. Very one-dimensional.

Another way of doing a letterboard is like this....

It's called a rolled letterboard and is basically the alphabet on a piece of paper that is rolled around a swim noodle. (Another mom came up with this idea. Aren't we autism moms creative?)

This is my favorite letterboard because it doesn't overwhelm the child as much because they're only looking at 5 letters at once instead of trying to find one letter out of a sea of 26.

So, for example, if you want the child to spell bird, you'd roll the first line in front of the child and he'd touch "B". Then you'd roll down a line and he'd find "i" and touch it. Then, you'd roll down further until the line with "r" is on it and then, finally, you'd roll back up to the first line again and the child would touch "d".

This is a great letterboard for kids who are new to spelling and the concept of spelling out words. However, you don't want your child to get stuck on it because the ultimate goal is for the child to completely and independently communicate on his own (without you giving spelling hints by rolling to the proper line).

Okay, so here we go. Noah is having a dickens of a time with the letterboards. He has hemiplegia on his left-side of the body and has a visual field cut. Basically his eyesight is horrible in his left-eye and he is consistently one or two letters off. It's like his left side of the body doesn't exist.

He's got a blind spot. So if the letter board looks like this...


And since CD is in the middle.... he would only see this...


ABC would be completely invisible. We are constantly having to shift the letterboard to his right eye. So if we want him to spell 'FAD", we're kind of cheating because we have to shift it so that ABC is in his vision field and then shift it back so that DEF is in his vision field.

Does that make sense? Basically, he's getting a lot of hints and in order for people to believe that he really knows his stuff, we need to get him to do it completely on his own.

Well, our son Eli was also having trouble spelling words. He has an expressive/receptive language disorder (or so the lady who charged us $1100 for his evaluation told us - uh huh). Anyway, he would get so overwhelmed trying to read because (in his head) all of the letters ran together and they also ran into the background.

Ah hah! Lightbulb moment.

What if kids with learning disabilities can't see one-dimensional print? So here's what we did...

We took a wooden puzzle like this:

Just a basic child's puzzle that you can get for a couple of bucks at Walmart. We, though, have a ton laying around with missing pieces so we just used one of those.

Turn it over and add some 1 1/2 inch wooden letters. You can buy them at Walmart for $2.96.

They come 60 to a thing, so there are at least two of each letter of the alphabet. Hot glue the letters together (the two A's together, the two B's together, etc) so that you can get a really good height on them. Then paint them any color you want. We did two boards. One painted black with white letters and one board we left unpainted but painted the letters black. Then hot glue the letters to the back of the puzzle.

It sounds really time-consuming, but it took no longer than 30 minutes tops.

The boards will end up three-dimensional, like this:

Oh my gosh! I cannot tell you what a difference this had made. Not only with Noah but with Eli, too! It really helps to separate the letters from the "page". Otherwise, for some kids, it just all runs together and looks like Greek.

Which is great if you know Greek....

Noah still has a little trouble with his vision field cut, but he is getting the letters right more and more. I think because the letters are raised instead of being flat, it just stands out more to him. Honestly, I can't scientifically tell you how it makes a difference, but trust me. It does!

We also did a rolled letterboard using glittery foam letter sticks. It's perfect for a child with autism! You've got your 3D letters. They're sparkly. And they have a cool, sandpaper-y texture that makes Noah want to touch them.

Sooooooooo cheap and easy!

Actually, ( as a sidenote) Noah's therapist, Erica, realized that Noah loves the feel of sticky tape, so she rolls up pieces of tape and puts them on the letterboard and because Noah sooooo wants to feel the sensation, he is motivated to reach out and spell out words with his finger.

Finding the right motivation is KEY for kids on the spectrum!

Okay, well I am rambling way too much, but one more thing. If you don't have a child who gets overwhelmed by lots of colors, you could make a cheap letterboard by just buying a simple alphabet puzzle at Walmart, turning it over, and hot gluing the letters on the back. Like this:

This is just an example. (We're missing some pieces). We chose not to go this route because Noah and Eli both get overwhelmed so easily.

Anyway, I hope this helps. If you want more info about RPM, then check out their website at: http://www.halo-soma.org/ . You can also look at clips of kids doing RPM on their site.

Cheap letterboards for under 5 bucks. Works for me!


Keesler Chaos said...

What an awesome idea! So creative, and home made equipment is the best!

Lisa said...

Great post! You know the old saying, "Necessity is the mother of invention." Well, I think this Mother has it going on! At first I was thrown for a loop at the last puzzle, I thought it was new and couldn't beleive it didn't have all the letters! lol

Adeye Salem said...

Oh wow---that's a fantastic idea. May work for Haven.

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DSmith said...

Wonderful tips! Thanks SO much for sharing!

laurajay said...

What wonderful ideas! I could hug you all! Will get to work on these tonight! I think Our Zachary will like the rolled one best. as he is such a spinner. But will make them all in case=)
Love and best wishes to all=)

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marylees3ds said...

love this 3-d idea...just started working with autistic child who uses rpm and soma at home.
want to try to implement it gently into my one on one time with him...can't wait to assemble this one!