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NovaChat – new communication path opens up

It is very inspiring when families share their journey, explaining how augmentative communication tools and strategies have helped. When Rebekah one of the TalkLink Speech-Language Therapists asked the Bousfield family to share their story, they were very happy to do so explaining that in writing and sharing their story, “we would also like to reach out to other parents who really want to educate their special needs children at home, but are afraid that supports are not available nor accessible.  It is one issue that keeps cropping up in our homeschool groups and links around the country.”

Here is Jack Bousfield’s story:


JackJack talking at breakfast time










NovaChat – new communication path opens up

As a toddler, Jack could easily be mistaken as “gifted”. By the age of 2, he was talking in phrases and singing ‘ABC’ – complete up to “Now I know my ABC, next time won’t you sing with me…”  He had a growing vocabulary and fast developing comprehension.

It came as a shock to us when, upon completion of the Meningococcal B vaccination and a short family Christmas holiday in the UK, he started losing his words. The regression continued, accompanied by increasing frustration manifested in tantrums until at 3 years old, he was diagnosed with ASD – Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The inability to speak his thoughts gave him a lot of frustration and us, a lot of confusion. Through our own research and with the help of the Ministry of Education, Special Education professionals, Jack engaged in photo-based communication methods. Although he could not speak, he always appreciated hearing the words and demonstrated good understanding.

At 6 years old, we decided to homeschool him to cater to his high, integrated care and education needs.   He outgrew the use of photo visuals. In his desire to elicit sounds from them, he resorted to crinkling the laminated photos and scratching the Velcro hook. When the MoE’s Speech-Language Therapist introduced him to different ‘talking devices’ (e.g. BIGmack & Language Master recordable cards with magnetic tape) his interest and enthusiasm was very evident: he anticipated the SLT’s visit and interacted with delight. It saddened him to say goodbye to the SLT and the ‘talking device’ at the end of visits. He was pacified by using an EasyTalk toy – one using picture cards with pre-recorded magnetic tape.

Jack never lost his initiative to learn how things work, especially the audio-visual devices. By himself, he worked out how to operate our TV+Video player so he can watch his favourite educational VHS tapes. When the Video Player gave up after years of use, he worked out how to operate the TV+DVD player combination, including use of the remote control! At 10, he experimented with the PAUSE button and touching the TV screen with hopes that such action would elicit sounds. As carer-educators, we knew then he was ready for a communication device using the Touch Screen technology. The MoE’s SLT agreed and suggested that Jack trial some AAC devices. Unfortunately, all their units at the Ministry were out to clients and Jack was wait-listed.

A referral to TalkLink Trust was then initiated by the MoE’s SLT. In January 2013, Jack turned 11; two SLT’s from TalkLink Trust (Kara and Rebekah) visited our home and assessed Jack. We were delighted when they confirmed his readiness for AAC!

But, o-oh! The device trials started with paper-based, laminated Core boards and the SLT’s modelling its use as they interacted with Jack during the visit. We thought it would not work well with Jack, however we explored every opportunity using it and the CAMP framework they provided. Surprisingly, Jack enjoyed the Core boards!  To accommodate the symbols Jack already knew and expand areas of application, Rebekah made variations of the Core board (e.g. portable strips, placemat). This experience provided a strong foundation for the subsequent device trials.

GoTalk20+ was the first electronic device he trialled. It was excellent and Jack took to it like duck to water. In a matter of days, he was navigating symbols in 5 separate overlays! We thought – Bingo, that’s it! However, SLT Rebekah knew that Jack would outgrow the device very quickly and suggested he trial several other options. What a wonderful piece of professional advice that was!

In the next 7 months, Jack trialled a combination of different devices: Springboard with Minspeak, TouchChat on iPad, Proloquo2go on iPad mini, NovaChat7 on Samsung Galaxy tablet. Each device trial challenged Jack in many aspects, all of which heightened his desire to communicate more effectively.   With Rebekah’s guidance, our family learned a whole heap of options and considerations to make in deciding what’s best for Jack. We did a comparative evaluation of the devices he trialled, taking into consideration factors like user interface, portability, symbols availability & user-friendliness, core and specific vocabulary, phrases for use in social situations, ease and flexibility of editing/ customisation. Finally, we all agreed – the NovaChat7 on a tablet is the one for Jack.

Throughout the device trials, we did not talk about cost considerations. We knew that as a homeschooling family, we cannot afford an AAC device. Thankfully, TalkLink helped us to successfully apply for Ministry of Health funding and the subsequent procurement of the device. Jack received his NovaChat7 on Nexus tablet on May 22, 2014 and an exciting new communication path opened for him. Not a day passed without him using the device: clearly telling us what he wants, how he feels, commenting on weather, answering our questions, responding to behavioural prompts, chatting with visitors/friends, and enjoying the Christmas holidays followed shortly by his becoming a teenager on New Year’s Day!

Our relationship with TalkLink did not stop at Jack having his device. It continues, with Rebekah giving us tips and suggestions on expanding its use and maximising its potential. Two remarkable aspects worth mentioning: (1) All throughout the process, TalkLink’s SLT Rebekah involved the MoE’s SLT who referred Jack, at times having an efficient combined visit-meeting in our home and, (2) TalkLink continues to be ready to support us on the technical aspects of the device including troubleshooting and repair when needed. And yes, should any inevitable device breakdown occur requiring Jack to temporarily part with his device, TalkLink had already equipped us with a very reliable fall-back substitute: those laminated Core boards!

Truly, it facilitated Jack’s communications with us and vice versa. From our family, a BIG THANK YOU to TalkLink for the device and the wonderful learning experience!

Bousfield Family

(Lourdes & David and sons Daniel & Jack)


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Ann Smaill

Ann Smaill

General Manager, Speech Language Therapist at The Talklink Trust
I am the General Manager of the TalkLink Trust, and also a speech-language therapist. I have been working with people who have complex communication needs for many years.
Ann Smaill

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.talklink.org.nz/index.php/2015/01/14/novachat-new-communication-path-opens-up/

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