Thursday, May 1, 2008

How to Rap While Losing Your Voice...and Other Lessons I learned Today

"You can use the floating toolbar to play any selected text you type on the screen so you can talk to your family and friends." I was explaining this yesterday with my new "rapper" friend and student that has had a new world opened to him over the past few days. I was doing a home visit to set up some AT in anticipation of and preparation for physical changes coming that will change access at school and at home. When I sat down with mom in the morning she said, "This is the first time he has been excited about school in 7 years."
In high school, and bored, this student has a detriorating condition that is progressively leaving him speechless and physically unable to grab, hold, type and do many things I take for granted. He has all but shut down socially and academically at school. As we talked, his face lit up now and then as he understood what this new technology would mean to him in the way of communication.
I had downloaded the Natural Soft's Natural Reader so this student could communicate on his home computer. I had a two-fold reason why I wanted him to try this:

1. The text reader's floating toolbar gives him the ability to use a Microsoft Works word document up on the screen as a speech synthesizer. With a Click-n-type on-screen keyboard and a Cruise Adapted Trackpad (for now) he can type what he wants to say, highlight it and click the play button on the floating toolbar (the minboard on the Natural Reader) and hear what he wants to say, said for him. "This will be great when he has friends over or we are talking. He can get out clearly what he wants to tell us,"mom shared.
There was a look of relief and a relaxed demeanor on the son's face as he saw he now had a way out of the typical charades he has been tired of playing.
Mom finished by adding, "This will be so much better than the clicker we were told we should use - one or two clicks for yes or no."
"He can continue to communicate - there is no need for him to use a clicker!" I said.

2. He can develop topical documents that archive the things he is saying now, and draw from them in the future when he needs to build AAC customized buttons and pages. Most of the work of collecting common expressions, phrases and commands that he uses will be "journaled" through this activity. There are different trains of thought as to what form of AAC should be used, the type of language methodology and device choice - but this is a high school student who needs to get out some basic commands and let people know what he is thinking right now. When the time comes to research a device and a system, our SLP on his case will be involved and a lot of training will be happening that goes beyond my training and experience. For now, this is filling a gap and giving this student more tools than he ever had before.
I helped him set up Audacity so he could begin the process of saying things he would like to record as Mp3 and WAV files. He seemed excited to try.
"Don't over-do it and tire yourself out." I said. "If you do one phrase in a day or two and feel it is recognizable then you are doing good. Give yourself lots of room and do a little at a time."
He nodded.
And now the best experience I have had to date in this profession... (and I have had some big heart-swell, tear-jerking moments!)

The highlight of the day was to visit his "sanctum sanctorium" - the recording studio out in the side yard - its own little garden-shed house. Under padlock and key, the interior was complete with a cement floor, insulation, a heater and a long desk with a flat screen Mac OSX, a 76 key midi keyboard, a microphone on a boom stand and all the recording gear. This had been a gift from the "Make A Wish Foundation" last summer.
There were baseball trading card binders, a bobble head of Mark McGuire, the classic "Dogs Playing Poker" picture on the wall and...uh hummm, a few sports illustrated swim suit edition type pictures. Well, this was the lair of a typical high school boy!
He wheeled in under the desk.
"OK", I said, "I am not leaving until you play me a track. I have been waiting to hear one!"
He said "Okay" and turned on the Mac. He browsed through his song files - there must have been 50 or 60 of them, and as he rolled over them, they played automatically so he could hear the file while looking through them. Pretty cool, I thought. He chose one he called "Money" and his rap began.

The beat boomed out as he cranked it up. I stood looking at the proud face of this kid, sitting in his chair, listening to HIS voice rap away with the confidence of Snoop Dog. It didn't matter that most of his consonant sounds weren't there or that you could only make out a word or two every now and then. HE knew what it meant, and this was HIS language. I was amazed at how he rapped with such abandon. There was no hesitation, no shame, no effort to hide a deficiency. It was pure joy in sound, music and beat.
As I left I thought how honored I had been to be allowed into his world. I will never forget that moment.



narrator said...

This very simple solution, a free text-to-speech combined with already owned word-processing software (MS Word), and then perhaps combined with a free on-screen keyboard (Click-N-Type) and a big vocabulary built in Word's Auto-Correct system (so three to five keystrokes create phrases, sentences, even paragraphs), and - wow - a full-bodied communication system that costs almost nothing.

In a world where we can do this kind of thing I get so frustrated that these solutions are not routinely made available. And I get angrier and angrier despite my intentions. At what point is the ignorance of schools and agencies willful ignorance?

Lon said...

Exactly. I am all for integrating what is already available on a computer with tools that are free. I like your auto-correct addition to the package. Click n Type has the word prediction add-on I use but I will have to play with the phrases idea with auto-correct.