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TalkLink – Jamie Blair the Emergent Communicator and Reader

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Meet Jamie, a happy, busy, active 11 year old boy like any other.  At age 3 he was diagnosed with Autism and Intellectual disability.  Jamie has the mental age of a 3-4 year old, he presently can’t read or write.  Jamie has limited expressive communication and up until the age 9 he had little receptive language, meaning he had difficulty processing verbal language and understanding a message.  This meant a two way conversation was literally non-existent, and instructing him verbally was limited to a few words that he had managed to rote learn.


On learning about TalkLink, I filled in a referral for Jamie to be seen by one of their Speech Language Therapists.  Jessamy from TalkLink started working with our family in Term 2, 2014.  She started Jamie with a core board, which is a paper version of key words and core base vocabulary. Jamie was excited to communicate and responsive to additional focus on using words, to become familiar with the core board and was motived to use it.  As Jamie’s conversation partners, the family and his support carers and teacher aides, had to learn to use the core board.  We did this by starting to have conversations via the core board with each other. The kids (Jamie’s brothers and a friend who visits once per week) loved using it and we soon became fluent, never as fast as Jamie though.


The core board was really good for communication because it slowed our speech down and ensured we used the same words repetitively and it gave Jamie a visual prompt.  Initially we used the core board in requesting highly motivating activities and during play.  It was very clear this form of communication was working, as Jamie’s receptive language was increasing, communication was easier and more concrete, he was better able to process the communication and because it was visual, he could take as long as he needed to process the word.


When he became anxious or upset using the core board would calm him down.  Jamie was able to get his point across and we could give him an answer he would understand as the visual symbols supported his receptive understanding of the verbal words being spoken to him. The frustration he was feeling with communicating was suddenly reducing, this had a positive impact on his behaviours, aggression and tantrums reduced as his language increased.  Jamie was finally starting to understand his world and had the ability to influence it, by being understood and understanding what was going on.


Following on from the success and momentum of the core board we trialled a few electronic communication devices and software programs.  We settled on TouchChat with WordPower, which is an iPad application and started using it full time in Term 1, 2015.  Jamie and his team have responded positively to the technology and as a result, Jamie’s world has expanded and he really wants to communicate.   As we customise and program the TouchChat application for Jamie, he has shown a true interest and fascination with a words and likes to go through each one individually, trying them for size.  Most often we integrate the use of TouchChat into his favourite play routines and activities, program his favourite movie characters, books and phrases onto the device, this increases opportunities to interact with him on his terms as he is motivated by the content.


The communication device requires his family, carers and teacher aides to constantly focus on developing communication goals for Jamie.  At home we do this with two weekly meetings, focusing on how we are using the device, what is working, what is not and developing new ideas to apply it.  Jamie loves nothing more than to spend his time watching his favourite cartoons on YouTube.  We saw YouTube as an opportunity to teach Jamie to familiarise himself with the keyboard, alphabet and learn to recognise words and spell, so when Jamie requests a video clip, we use the TouchChat to find the title, then request he type it, and help him identify the letters visually.  He is very motived to watch the video clip and we have had great success with this.  I believe we will be able to teach Jamie to read eventually, as he is showing so much aptitude to wanting to learn language, something before TalkLink I would have said Jamie learning to read was not likely.

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Recently we have expanded communication goals into a tasks page with first, then strategies.  So he has been given jobs like feeding the cat, putting out the recycling bins and watering the garden.  We intend to move these tasks into money concepts, allowing him to earn pocket money for trips to the dairy which highly motivates him.


TalkLink have provided us with a way forward.  We now have an easy way to communicate life concepts to Jamie.  A good example is the puberty page we have just programed in TouchChat.  We got the family and his home support workers together to discuss how we are going to deal with puberty, the type of problems we are likely to face and agreed on a common strategies and language to use with Jamie to help him cope with the changes he is likely to face.  Turning something that is a nightmare and quite isolating for most parents of special needs children into a positive experience, giving everyone the feeling of empowerment to move forward.


In addition to TouchChat, Jamie’s team are creating social stories through an application called Pictello and utilising Choiceworks for visual schedules at home and school.   All these applications work together to support Jamie’s understanding of the world he lives in.


The progress we are making with the help of TalkLink, Jamie’s support team and augmentative and alternative communication is amazing. It has been revolutionary. Jamie now has a voice and so do we.  It provides a solid platform to move forward in parenting and teaching Jamie.  Being able to communicate makes everyone’s life easier and more enjoyable especially Jamie’s.


Picture below of just one of the planning meeting’s for Jamie.  Jamie in the green shirt. Mum & Dad, Teacher, Teacher Aides and home support workers.

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Paula Shennan

Paula Shennan

Speech Language Therapist at The Talklink Trust
I am a Speech and Language Therapist who joined the Talklink Auckland team in November 2011. I have an interest in the area of Assistive Technology and enabling and empowering individuals to communicate using various means.
Paula Shennan

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.talklink.org.nz/index.php/2015/06/12/talklink-jamie-blair-the-emergent-communicator-and-reader/


  1. Alison

    Great work you are doing guys! Not easy, but look at that – a life transformed. Thanks for sharing Jamie’s story.

  2. Brenda

    Love this story – particularly the collaboration between parents, talklink, support people , school – when you can all work together Jamie will make greater sense of his world – being able to communicate make such a difference – thank you for sharing your story. It’s sharing our stories that makes the difference.

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