We have been using GemIIni for 2 months now, and I am officially amazed. As you know from previous blogs, Danniah’s speech and language development has been anything but typical or expected. We’ve tried many things, and it has been a long slow road. I’m happy to report that GemIIni just might be changing that.
We have, for the first time ever, been having little conversations every day. Normally, Danniah is great at requesting or refusing. In other words, she would say something and we would respond, and that was the end of it. Now we have this kind of thing happening:
Last week before school:
Danniah: I’ll just stay home today
Me: Why do you want to stay home today?
Danniah: Because I don’t want to go to school.
Me: But why don’t you want to go to school today?
Danniah: Because I have a headache.
Me: Do you need some Advil for your headache?
Danniah: Yes, please.
A few days ago it was really hot here (finally!). She has not been very interested in wearing shorts and will insist on leggings. We sen tshorts in to school just in case she changed her mind. On the communication sheet that came home from school we saw:
Danniah came in from recess and said, “It’s really hot today!” (This kind of commenting has only been in the past two months.) Her paraprofessional responded, “How about shorts?”Danniah, “Yes, that is a good idea!”
My all-time favorite is the way in which she wants to be engaged most all of the time:
Danniah: Mom! Mom, where are you?
Me: I’m in the bedroom!
Danniah: Mom, come here for a second!
Me: Danniah? Where are you?
Danniah: I’m in the living room!
So I head into the living room, and after a few minutes of play I remember that I need to do something on my laptop. I open the laptop to start to engage myself in the task I need to do and suddenly find myself peppered with “Tell me three things” questions.“Mom, tell me three things about birds.” “They have feathers, they fly, and they say tweet, tweet.”
No sooner had I punctuated that sentence than she says, “Mom, tell me three things about elephants.” As soon as I answered that she fired off, “Mom, tell me three things about cheetahs.” After answering that one I quickly tried to sneak in my own request, “Danniah, tell me three things about Moka (our dog).” Without skipping a beat she replied, “Oh no! It’s my turn! Mom, tell me three things about hornets.” She peppered me with “Tell me three things” questions for a good 10 minutes! I found myself chuckling at her innovative way to keep me engaged and prevent me from working on the computer. Good for her!! At the end of our “Tell me three things” game, I announced, “So, Danniah, I think it’s bedtime.” She said, “No. I don’t want to go to bed.” I asked, “Why don’t you want to go to bed.” She said, “Because I don’t want to go to bed.” Ummm okay, fair enough.
This kind of communication did not exist two months ago. Sure, she still struggles with word retrieval and working memory, and sometimes the sentence structure is off, but boy this is FUN! We started off with a child who was verbal, but who primarily scripted and requested. There was not a lot of commenting or reciprocal language. I fumbled around a bit trying to figure out how to create videos that were going to be effective for her. Her skills and knowledge seems splintered. I have and do use some of the QSL, but I’ve made a lot of custom videos. Knowing where to begin was confusing at first. I didn’t want to “do it wrong.” Then I realized that you really can’t do this wrong. The first custom video was easy. As I reported in the very first blog in this series, I needed to teach her about money. Her IEP stated that she can’t identify any coins. In less than half an hour we had this:
To make sure that she knew the coins receptively, we tried a little game. Taking language from the Manners and Greetings video that she loved, we created this little game:
GemIIni will tell you that their videos alone are not going to make your child functionally verbal. Meaning, you can’t just plop your kid in front of the TV or iPad and expect them to miraculously ‘get it.’ Although I’ll admit — it’s almost that easy. Sometimes I feel like we are not doing a whole lot beyond that. We do make an effort to practice and reinforce the vocabulary and skills she is learning through GemIIni. We pay attention to what she likes, such as in money video above. We knew she loved the manners and greetings video and was scripting it. So, we used that to reinforce and ‘test’ her knowledge of the coins that we were teaching her. It kept her interest, and it made it fun for her. We also look for any opportunity to use a word or phrase that she is learning. This has worked really well for things like ‘do you mind if,’ any of the action words with tense, “Where are you?” and others.
The Facebook Secret Discussion group is a fantastic resource. I posted a question about the number of videos we were using and where I felt we were stuck. Laura Kasbar answers a LOT of posts herself (which is amazing when you calculate in how busy she has to be). She suggested focusing more on Tell MeThree Things, Encouraging Conversational Speech so that she can retrieve in chunks which will help it flow better. She noted that we need to focus on Working Memory sequential processing in order to really help her get her language out more easily. We have been using the Encouraging Conversational Speech category and have gotten through quite a bit of content there. She has done well with things like manners and greetings, introductions, and many of the concepts and questions. But we have also hit snags here. For example, there is a clip in the “Why” video that shows Laura defining the word because and drawing a picture of a littlegirl getting hit in the head with a rock and crying. She demonstrates: “Why are you crying little girl? Because a rock hit me in the head.” Lately, every time I ask Danniah why she is crying she will answer “Because a rock hit me in the head.” Rest assured, no rock has ever hit her anywhere. Getting her to express the real reason she is upset or feeling something is tough. Sometimes she will say “Because I am sad” or “Because I want to go outside” (at 8 p.m., and we won’t let her). But lately she has been reverting to scripting that video.
There is another video where we have run into a similar issue. There is a video of a guy and girl talking: “You don’t have to be so crabby. Why are you in such a bad mood?”
Answer: “Because I have a headache, and it puts me in a bad mood.”
So, whenever Danniah is a little crabby I might say, “Are you a little crabby?” She will say “yes” if she is. Then I’ll ask, “Why are you crabby?” And she will say, “Because I have a headache, and it puts me in a bad mood.” Hmm. Some of the time she probably does have a headache, but probably not every time. Clearly, we have some work to do there, and I will post in the secret group to get some strategies and share what I learn in the next segment of this blog series.
In terms of the sequential processing, I have no doubt that it is incredibly important. But, I have hit a temporary roadblock. You remember from my last blog that I was a little overly eager about the working memory game and had to take a break from trying it. Now that she was more open to it, I have a timing problem. There is not enough time in the morning before school to do more than watch videos. After school she watches another session, but is too tired for the level of focus the working memory game takes. I’ve asked for help from the school, but thus far they have not agreed. I am hoping that doing 20 min of working memory at school will be possible, as she will benefit profoundly in terms of her working memory, language and reading skills. That crucial piece is still not in motion here.
Before I sign off, Laura Kasbar did present at AutismOne this year. If you missed seeing her presentation on GemIIni with Down Syndrome it is available here. Later in the week, Laura also talked about GemIIni with autism, but that video was apparently done independently and is not yet available. If it is available by Part 4 of this series, I will be sure to link to it. For those of you using GemIIni, I would love to hear how it is going for you! There are many phenomenal stories about progress children and adults are making with GemIIni in the secret discussion group. For those of you using GemIIni, be sure to check that group out!
Despite our imperfections and challenges, in two months we have come a long, long way. Just having these daily tiny conversations is amazing to me, and I am so grateful. I can’t wait to see what unfolds next! I’ll be sure to let you all know in Part 4 of this series!
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