Thursday, June 13, 2013

AAC Week: Logan ProxTalker

If you're anything like me, you may have heard of the Logan ProxTalker.  You may even have seen pictures of the device.  And, if you 're anything like me, you probably weren't sure exactly what the Logan ProxTalker was or what it did!  I was given the chance to try one out and I'm going to share my experiences with you today.

A Little Background:
The ProxTalker was developed by Glen Dobbs, a father and engineer.  Glen's son Logan was diagnosed with PDD-NOS at the age of two and a half.  When he was 4, Logan was introduced to PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) by his Speech-Language Pathologist.  Logan became very good at using PECS to make his wants and needs known, but Glen still wanted him to have a "voice."  As he states, "the engineer in me took over" and the Logan ProxTalker Was developed!

So what is it?
The Logan ProxTalker is a mid-tech communication device that pairs PECS with voice output.  The PECS, or tags, are printed on or adhered to sturdy plastic cards that have radio frequency identification (RFID) chips embedded.  When the symbol is placed on any one of the buttons and pressed down, the message is "spoken."  The device has a built in microphone, adjustable volume control, and is run with 4 C batteries.

When I opened the box, this is what I saw (minus some packing material to prevent damage!):

Based on the information on the Logan ProxTalker website, this device is available in one of two formats.  First, you can purchase with a backpack.  The device snaps in to one side of the backpack, which has a zippered pouch in the front.  There's an extra strap if you choose to carry it over your shoulder:

Inside the back pack, the device is on one side, and there are Velcro pages for you to store/access your tags.

Not planning on transporting much?  The Logan ProxTalker also comes in a binder format.  The binder is actually mountable to a wheelchair or to a wall. The binder also comes with Velcro pages for tag storage:

Logan ProxTalker Binder closed (l) and open (r)
The device is the same with both purchasing options.  You can purchase the device with the binder and then purchase the backpack separately if you wish.  They are easy to switch with just a screwdriver or flat butter knife.  When you purchase this device you get:

  • 80 symbol tags
  • 20 blank tags (I'll go into these in a moment)
  • 4 Velcro pages
  • Maintenance tools 
  • Set of programming tags 

 *You can purchase more of any of the accessories listed above from the ProxTalker shop.

Using the Device:
Again, this device is really, really easy to use!  You grab a symbol, place it on any button and press!  The pre-printed symbol tags come with a message already recorded, but you can change the recording if you like (more on that in a bit as well!).  So, if you have a child working on Phase 1 PECS and they are requesting a puzzle, they would place the puzzle symbol on the device and press.  It doesn't take a major press to activate the button, so this device can be used with students with weakened muscles or low tone (I would consult with a child's PT/OT if you are considering this device, however, because it will require some control/accuracy to find a symbol, pick it up, and place it on a button).

requesting a puzzle

Further along in the Phases of PECS, you can use the ProxTalker to generate sentences of up to 5 symbols in length:

In the example above ("I want pink crayon"), the child would need to press each symbol to have the message spoken aloud.  Ugh!  I have kids that wouldn't be patient enough to do that.  Do you?  Well, good thing for us the ProxTalker comes with the little green circle button on the right in the picture below:

This is the "Speak All" tag.  When using this button, you line up your tags in the order you want.  Instead of pressing each one, you press the green circle and it will speak each tag in sequence from left to right!

Some more things you should know:
The ProxTalker comes with these programming tags.  When you press one of these on a button, you can modify the settings.  

The available actions on the programming tags include:  RECORD (this allows you to record a new message on a tag), ERASE (erase a preset message on a tag), INCREASE VOLUME (self explanatory!), DECREASE VOLUME (ditto), CHECK BATTERY (useful if you traveling, camping, on a field trip, etc.), DIAGNOSTICS (troubleshoot any problems you might be having).

In the true spirit of trialing a device, I had to replace the batteries.  They are really simple to access and replace!

ProxTalker in therapy:
I took this device to school and used it with a little boy who is (aside from a couple of words that are few and far between) non-verbal.  This boy picked up the concept of PECS in one therapy session, so I figured he would be a great student with whom to try out the ProxTalker!  He figured the device out pretty quickly as well!  We are still at the stage of using a single tag to make a request, but he's doing very well!  I also used this device with other students who are verbal.  See below for a description.

If you want to see the ProxTalker in action, check out this video:

Customizing the tags:
There are a few options for customizing the blank tags that come with the ProxTalker.  The blank tags come in both small and large sizes.  You may wish to use the larger ones for children with poor fine motor control.  

1.  The ProxTalker website has templates available for Communicate In Print, Boardmaker, and MS Word.

2.  There's an app for that!!  The ProxTalker App allows you to create communication boards using your own photos and preset symbols.  The boards you create can be organized into books and emailed to yourself, colleagues, and/or parents for printing.  You can use the boards on their own, or print on adhesive sheets and use with the blank ProxTalker tags!  (That means you don't need to have a ProxTalker to benefit from using this app!)  You can find the lite version HERE and the full version HERE.

3.  LessonPix also has a template for the ProxTalker device!  (If you don't already subscribe to LessonPix, you will want to head over there and check it out!  It's definitely worth the $36/year subscription fee!).  Simply add the icons you want to the tray and hit "Create Materials."  You can choose ProxTalker from the list of Materials Type and select the size of the tags you are using.

Since I was using a pirate theme in my therapy sessions this week, I created some tags so less verbal kids could participate in therapy sessions.  I printed the LessonPix symbols onto a sheet of labels that came with the ProxTalker:

Then I just peeled them off and stuck them to the blank tags:

Then I pressed the "record" tag and followed the instructions provided by the machine (press the tag you wish to record.  At the beep begin your recording, etc.).  Each tag allows for 8 seconds of recording time, so choose your message wisely!  This tag now says "Yo-Ho-Ho!" (check back next week for my book of the week and you'll see why I chose this message!).

4.  I noticed the shiny surface of the tags and thought, "I bet I could use a dry erase marker on here!"  I was right. :)  I wrote some sight words on the tags and worked on sentence forms/copula verbs with some of my kids:

My son was super excited about this activity and swapped out the food/color tags for about 20 minutes!

In Summary:
I really enjoyed trialing this device with my students (and my own child)!  It is a fantastic next step for kids who have learned and/or mastered the PECS system and want a "voice" as well.  I love the portability of the backpack.  I did find the binder to be a bit cumbersome, but I think you would want that format if you are planning on mounting the device.  With that said, I've trialed other devices before and found this one to be really, really user friendly!  ProxTalker is simple for SLPs, parents, and students to program and fact, I only read the manual to figure out how to remove the ProxTalker from the backpack and how to change the batteries!  I also love that there are a variety of options for creating your own tags.  With all the options, you will definitely want to purchase more blank tags!  The possibilities are endless!

The price tag on a ProxTalker is up there (but not nearly as much as the popular high tech communication devices).  Chances are, an SLP won't be purchasing this item themselves, but may make a recommendation for a student.  If you'd like to try this device yourself, here's the link you will need.  If you have a student who would benefit from this device, the ProxTalker website has documents that you can download to request Medicaid funding.

Finally, I'd like to say "Thank you" to Glen for contacting me and letting me try out the ProxTalker, and a special shout out to Logan for inspiring his dad to create this amazing device!

Disclaimer:  Although the ProxTalker was provided for me to trial (yes, I have to return it!) for the purposes of this review, the opinions expressed are mine alone.
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