"Look What I Say" - Unique Solution Enables Face-to-Face Communication for Speech Impaired

Article of the month

Helsinki, 2 April, 2004 — "Look What I Say" - Unique Solution Enables Face-to-Face Communication for Speech Impaired

Imagetalk is assistive software combining mobile and face-to-face communication together with calendaring on a small inexpensive mainstream mobile device that is the "beef". As a solution it is the first of its kind. Imagetalk helps to interpret messages with the assistance of icons and speech synthesis. Imagetalk opens the world of communication for those of us with severe speech and language disorders.

Visiting Janina - A Perfect Match

We meet Janina Rautio in a welcoming and caring atmosphere in her school class in Salo, Finland which is, by the way, the home town of Finnish mobile phone industry. So its a good place to talk about how mobility can help people with special needs to get along.

Janina is a young lady with a very rare diagnosis called Ring 22. A chromosome defect in pair 22 affects, among other things, the speech and language area. Janina is the firstborn of Minna Kulta and Mika Rautio. The parents started to be concerned when Janina didn’t start to walk within the first fifteen months.

”This child will never walk,” said the doctor investigating Janina’s hips, and it required a certain amount of willpower from the parents to get a proper investigation on what really was the cause. Finally, the cromosome defect was found almost by accident at Turku University Hospital and the diagnosis was done.

”We have gotten used to small steps and slow progress,” says Janinas father Mika. ”Often we have had to push hard in order to get proper help. As an example, our first speech therapist insisted trying to teach Janina to speak. The final verdict was that Janina was not cooperative enough. Several years in vain.”

Janina’s current speech therapist Riitta Laakso says that, in Janina’s case, there is no point training speech motoric. If you cannot express yourself through speak, you lose the interest to train it. In Janina’s case signing has become a good alternative and the main channel for self-expression. Riitta Laakso gives big applauds to the parents who have put much effort in learning to use sign language themselves. Janina’s father is currently in the final stage of his studies to become a sign language trainer.

”With Janina the first major task was, and still is, to establish the contact,” says Riitta Laakso. ”We work a lot with encouraging eye-contact. You must require response and not be in a hurry. There’s no point in making far-reaching or detailed plans for a therapy session.”

But Imagetalk has helped to structure the sessions. Janina takes the Imagetalk device out of her bag and tells with icons what she wants to do. She treats the device with much care, puts it properly in its bag, never throws it around, and takes independently care of charging the battery immediately when she arrives home from school or hobbies.

Photographic Memory

”I feel that Janina has some kind of photographic memory,” says Janina’s father. ”She knows the content of each folder and the placement of each icon. She finds her way in the icon book much better than anyone else in the family.”

Speech therapist Riitta Laakso admits that she was quite skeptical towards Imagetalk in the beginning. ”I sneered, but thought why not give it a try. Now I am truly amazed. In Janina’s case the child and the helping device have found each other.”

When they started, Janina used to express herself with single signs. Now Janina composes sentences with four-five words, both when signing and when using Imagetalk. She is also keen to correct wrong selections. Riitta Laakso gives Imagetalk a big credit for always showing the chosen icons on the message line. That helps to understand the relation and the continuity of expressions.

Easy to Carry Along

Riitta Laakso emphasizes the importance of making the assistive communication device as a part of everyday life, and everybody else agree. A symptom of Janina’s diagnosis is, that she is not keen to take the initiative to communicate. Therefore, a good start for a conversation is: ”show it with your handy device”, be it at school, hobbies, therapy sessions or home. Imagetalk functions like a notebook telling what has been done during the schoolday, on the weekend, etcetera.

”We use it more to structure and initialize than to have deep discussions,” says Riitta. ”But for Janina the relatively large amount of icons has proven to be a good strategy, because she is able to navigate the book so well.”

Janina’s teacher Vaula Jonkka has similar feelings about Janina’s mobile communicator: ”It has become an everyday augmentative tool, fitting naturally among other means of communication. We use signing extensively in the class. We promote it because it is so expressive and emotive. It’s good to hear that both the parents and the speech therapist feels alike about how signing and Imagetalk complete each other.”

Vaula Jonkka emphasizes that she has in no way forced the use of Imagetalk on Janina, and that they have proceeded in Janina’s own pace, ”wonderfully, interactively and not going over her head.”

Works Well in the Classroom

The other children in the class have had a straightforward attitude to Janina’s new device. Vaula often takes a look at what Janina composes with icons, and signs it to the rest of the class. She also encourages Janina to sign it herself, and lately this has happened more often.

”I think it works magnificent in the class. Janina brings messages from home, such as what happened during the weekend. But she also uses it for educational games. For instance I ask the children to think about a nice thing or animal they like. Janina shows it with her device.”

How about if there would be more Imagetalk users in the class? Janina’s teacher wouldn’t mind. Quite the opposite. ”I can’t imagine it would disturbe. If it benefits an individual pupil, it benefits the whole class. In Janina’s case it might be that Imagetalk has helped to reveal her large sign repertoire, and can eventually support her learning to read as well. The Imagetalk device works beautifully as a catalyst and as a mean to start the conversation for her. Why not for others as well.”

Encouraging to communicate

Janina’s parents feel that encouraging Janina to actively take the initiative is an important next step. Even today Janina uses the device only when asked, although she otherwise isn't keen not to let anybody else touch her very own handy.

”We see a lot of possibilities in Janina’s use of Imagetalk in the future, for instance communicating with friends. She has lately started to make friends in a way we have not seen before. The school has become extremely important for her, especially now when she is part of a communicative class. This seems to suit Janina much better than the TEACC-method ("Treatment and Education of Autistic and Other Communication Handicapped Children"), which emphasizes individual learning instead of group dynamics.”

For us at Imagetalk it is extremely relieving to get a clear message that using the Imagetalk device does not isolate the user from others. In Janina’s case quite the opposite: from introvercy to increased readiness for eye-contact and interaction, and even to an increased curiosity for others. On the other hand the curiosity of classmates and others on the Imagetalk device can have a positive effect on her self-confidence. Janina’s great care of the device is a sign of that.

In the beginning Janina sent quite a lot of messages especially to his father, who was often away from home. This has evened out so, that remote messaging has become only an occasional possibility, while the main use is the mobile notebook and immediate face-to-face messaging. ”But it’s nice that the mobile messaging possibility is there. All of us, including Janina herself, call it her handy.”

Additional information:

Juhani Selänniemi, Managing Director
Imagetalk Oy
Lemminkäisenkatu 14-18
20520 Turku
FINLAND

tel. +358 2 278 7000
fax +358 2 278 7020

More information
juhani.selanniemi@imagetalk.fi
http://www.imagetalk.fi