Back to Communication Success Stories
Unlocking the Words: LAMP Combines with Team Approach to Introduce Children to a New World
Meet Adrian, a 5-year-old boy who loves bowling and Parker, a 7-year-old boy who loves puppies. Both boys are in the same classroom at Vista Grande Elementary School in Rio Rancho, N.M. but the similarities don’t end there.
For nearly one year, Adrian and Parker, who both have autism, have been working with a communication device featuring Unity language software and the Language Acquisition through Motor Planning (LAMP) approach. Despite encountering challenges with other methodologies in the past, both are using LAMP in ways they never thought possible.
Some may attribute their success to one of their teachers or therapists at school. Others may say it has to do with their parents. In reality, everyone agrees that it takes an entire team of highly dedicated individuals to achieve positive results – and that the results don’t happen overnight. Let’s take a closer look.
According to Adrian’s mother, Stephanie, she and her husband, Carl, first noticed something was different about Adrian when he was about 15 months old. “He wasn’t interacting with people or looking them in the eye, and he still wasn’t speaking,” she says. “That’s when we started speech therapy and sign language.”
The thought of teaching Adrian sign language gave Stephanie and Carl hope. But unfortunately, Adrian never really picked up on it. This caused great challenges for Adrian to communicate his wants and needs.
When Adrian turned 2, Stephanie took him to a different pediatrician who suggested that he undergo an evaluation at the University of New Mexico. Following the evaluation – on April 8, 2010 – Adrian was diagnosed with autism.
“In addition to these issues, Adrian had a lot of eating problems,” Stephanie explains. “He was on pureed foods and had tongue surgery in 2009. He also has allergies to foods like wheat, eggs, dairy and peanuts. He’s been through a lot.”
Following his autism diagnosis, a therapist introduced Adrian to a few simple communication devices, which he took to preschool with him. “He did very well with them, and they really helped to cut down on his frustrations,” Stephanie says. “We were really impressed. But we quickly learned that he needed something more advanced. We needed something that would grow with him and help him build upon the things he already learned.” That’s when the family learned about a different communication device and the LAMP approach.
LAMP: Unlocking the Words
When first hearing about LAMP, Stephanie says she was impressed. But in order to ensure Adrian would have the best chance at success, Kerry Alexander (a licensed speech and language pathologist and the school’s assistive technology coordinator), Megan Garrigan (Adrian’s teacher), Shannon Troutman (the school’s speech and language pathologist), the school’s educational assistants and Adrian’s parents all attended LAMP trainings. The trainings helped the entire team understand the meaning behind the methodology and how it could best help Adrian.
“At the trainings, they told me some kids would start talking after they got the device, but I didn’t believe it,” Stephanie says. “But when Adrian first saw the device, he picked it up and started to mimic the words, which he had never done before. I’m so glad we got it on video. We realized right away we wanted to get this for him.”
Kerry says that once she learned about LAMP, she felt Adrian would be a great candidate. “He seemed to be an isolated child, but we knew he was smart,” she says. “There was no doubt in my mind that he would succeed.”
And since that first encounter, Adrian has continued to expand his vocabulary. He has gone from using a communication device to say a limited number of words to now using simple sentences. “He’ll say things like, ‘I want waffles’ or ‘I want to play with my train’ or ‘I want to go bowling,’” Stephanie says. “Sometimes it takes him a long time to get the sentence out, but oftentimes he’ll get a sentence out quickly.”
“I’ll never forget the first time I saw him form a sentence,” Kerry adds. “He said, ‘Can I have fruit snacks, please?’ It brought tears to my eyes.”
As the teacher, Megan says she has become even more motivated by seeing students like Adrian succeed with LAMP. “Things have really shifted in the classroom,” she says. “With Adrian, he has started to independently ask for more things. Once I wrapped my head around the capabilities of LAMP and how I could use it in the classroom, I began modifying activities to generate responses.”
Although LAMP has been successful for Adrian, it is important to note that the approach wasn’t an immediate solution. “The entire team has really worked with him,” Stephanie says. “It was important that Adrian not only use the device at school, but also out in the community and at home. We are always finding new ways to communicate with it.
“Other children are very curious of the device,” she adds. “They want to play with it and, for the most part, are very accepting.”
Stephanie believes the LAMP approach has been successful for Adrian because unlike other methodologies, the buttons on the device (such as “eat,” “run” or “train”) always stay in the same place, and she can add buttons at any time.
“LAMP allows users to memorize the motion so they always know where the buttons are. And as the parent, I don’t have to change levels,” Stephanie says. “Once he knows where a button is, it’s there, and he can always find it. That cuts down on his frustration immensely.”
Now that Adrian is better able to express things like what he would like to eat and places he would like to go, Stephanie says they hope to advance to a point where he can use LAMP to participate in discussions, comment and answer questions.
“LAMP really unlocks something in these children,” Stephanie says. “I have confidence that he will continue to build upon what he’s already learned.”
“The device has made a tremendous difference in Adrian’s family,” Kerry adds. “He communicates with his sister and his classmates. It also has helped him behaviorally. Although he still has challenges, Adrian seems so much happier. It’s an amazing thing to see.”
Like Adrian, Parker has had many challenges. According to his mother, Diana, he was born with congenital heart defects and had to undergo open-heart surgery shortly after birth. He also has had serious medical issues with his eyes, ears and diaphragm, and to date, he has undergone 15 different surgeries.
Parker was diagnosed with autism in January 2009. Diana says they noticed very early on that he was developmentally delayed and enrolled him in therapy when he was just 2 months old. Throughout the years they have seen him make progress with communication, but Diana admits it had been slow.
“When Parker was first diagnosed with autism, the extent of his communication was pointing to cartoon characters on a summary sheet to show us what cartoon he wanted to watch on TV,” Diana says. “He also could indicate yes or no to simple questions and would occasionally sing with some of the characters on TV. But that was it. He really struggled with communicating his wants and needs and would become very frustrated.”
Diana first learned about options for communication devices and approaches through a speech and language pathologist who was working with Parker’s older brother, Cameron. When Parker enrolled in kindergarten, Kerry Alexander, the school’s assistive technology coordinator, along with Shannon Troutman, the school’s speech and language pathologist, thought it was time to introduce him to some low-technology communication devices.
“We knew Parker was smart, but he really wasn’t interested in the approaches and devices we initially started with him,” Kerry says.
“Plus, he could only use the devices at school, which meant he couldn’t practice with them at home,” Diana adds. “We were at a loss with what to do next.”
LAMP: Creating a ‘Little Superstar’
Once Kerry learned about LAMP, she and Shannon spoke to Diana and suggested that they try the approach with Parker. And, similar to Adrian’s story, the entire team – Kerry, Megan (also Parker’s teacher), Shannon, the school’s educational assistants and Parker’s parents – all attended LAMP trainings.
And after just one year, Diana is blown away by the progress Parker has made.
“He’s been a superstar with LAMP,” she says. “It’s allowed him to use his imagination. With other devices, all he could do was simple requests like, ‘I want this’ or ‘I want that.’ With this, he is able to comment, spell and use his imagination. Things are really starting to click.”
Parker uses a combination of spelling and icons to communicate. Notice that the topic of conversation is not snack related and could not have happened if Parker only had situational-based vocabulary available.
“Before, Parker had a few speech words,” Kerry adds. “Now, he is using five or six words, which is incredible. I believe he had the language in there all along; he just didn’t have an output. He is making so much progress.”
In fact, Diana and her husband, Randy, say they make it a point to celebrate even small strides Parker makes with LAMP. “Just recently, Parker quietly walked into my bedroom. I said, ‘Who is it?’ and he said, ‘It’s me, Parker.’ I’ve never heard him say something like that. It was incredible. Others have no idea what it’s like hearing things like this.”
Parker’s progress also is evident at school. “LAMP allows Parker to have a much wider language capacity,” Megan says. “I saw him walk up to another parent and say, ‘I want to read.’ I ask him things like, ‘What’s your favorite book?’ and he’s able to respond. For me as the teacher, it’s incredibly reinforcing, and I know Parker feels very proud.
“He’s also showing really great strides in sounding out letter sounds and is able to express emotional feelings like, ‘I am hurt,’” Megan adds. “Parker now has his emotions unlocked.”
Diana admits that when first hearing about LAMP it seemed overwhelming. But after talking with Shannon and attending the training, her concerns were addressed. “Shannon, along with the therapist Parker works with outside of school, showed us how LAMP could really expand Parker’s vocabulary and do so much more,” she says. This approach makes all the sense in the world.
“With LAMP, everything stays the same,” she continues. “With other systems, everything is always changing. This is more automatic. It also has a lot more language than other systems and is much more personalized. It allows Parker to create sentences the way he wants to say them.”
Diana also believes it has taken an entire team approach to make Parker’s transition to LAMP a success. “I don’t know what I would have done without the team,” she says. “Shannon was wonderful and really pushed both of us.”
And that team only plans to build upon Parker’s progress during the next school year.
“Now that Parker has this communication assistance, it forces me to think about his communication in a much different way,” Megan says. “For instance, I ask different questions that require one- or two-word answers so Parker can answer fairly quickly with his device. We’ll plan to expand and build upon that.”
“At home, we now see Parker learning adverbs and correcting himself,” Diana adds. “It’s really opened up his world.”
The Team Approach
Both Kerry and Megan are extremely pleased with the success LAMP has allowed their students to achieve.
“With Parker and Adrian, we knew they were both smart. But we couldn’t get them to show it through previous communication methods, which really stumped us,” Kerry says. “Now they are going to town with their devices.
Core words are incorporated into circle time. Notice how readiness to learn affects ability to participate in the learning activity.
“The support of both boys’ parents has been huge,” she adds. “Both parents have seen the power of this approach and have embraced it.
“Also, I believe this has been successful because we received proper training from The Center for AAC & Autism and were able to see the approach in action,” Kerry continues. “The presenter worked with our students and videotaped them, and everyone attending the training could see how it worked. That created immediate buy-in. Our PRC representative visits regularly and helps support students, too. It was truly one of the best trainings. LAMP made sense to me immediately.
“When I am able to give students assistive technology that immediately helps them be more independent like Adrian and Parker, I feel like Santa Clause. It feels really good.”
“Working with the entire team – Kerry, Shannon, the educational assistants, everyone at PRC, and the parents – has been the key to the success,” Megan adds. “Getting the parents on board at the beginning has made a huge difference, because the learning doesn’t end when the school day ends.
“The best part about my job is establishing the environment for the students to succeed. It’s so rewarding to see how far they’ve come,” she continues. “I really enjoy seeing the students’ capabilities and finding the right magical combination to help them develop and thrive. There are many times I’ve been known to cry tears of joy because I’m so proud of them. But I can’t take credit. They’re the ones learning; I just set up the environment for them.
“The exciting part is I believe we’re at the tip of the iceberg,” Megan adds. “To see a student go from saying nothing to saying words is awesome. I believe the sky’s the limit for them.”