The ACE Centre, Oxford


This photo of the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford was taken a few weeks ago on my husband’s phone. It is very nearly twenty years to the day since I spent a frantic lunchtime in there revising between exams. It was the first time in three years at Oxford that I’d stepped foot inside the place (in my defence, I was studying Zoology and the Radcliffe Camera holds Arts collections). I had little time then to appreciate its beauty, but a few weeks ago we sat in the sunshine on some steps opposite and discussed how the view from where we were had changed little in hundreds of years.

My husband and I were were taking the opportunity to indulge in a little trip down memory lane, visiting old haunts  (Richard’s a strange mix of libraries and pubs) but we were in Oxford because I’d been asked to speak about Archie’s progress with LAMP at an ACE Centre network day on autism. This was an interesting day, with presentations from people working with AAC users and from manufacturers of various devices and software. The ACE Centre has provided a one day workshop on ‘Moving on from PECS’ over the last few years, which I have always wanted to attend. We were given a snapshot of this workshop and it did look interesting, discussing why PECS has a tendency to lose effectiveness as PECS users grow older. The ACE Centre has always worked one to one with families and schools in the Oxford area as well, encouraging and supporting AAC use, from low to hi-tech devices and techniques.

I was therefore very sad to read that a decision was made a the end of March to close the ACE Centre. The website home page explains that: The reason for closure is simply financial; caused by a reduction in the income from assessments services. This is, to some degree, a result of the financial pressure that schools and local authorities are under, coupled with a lack of sufficient funding from government sources to cover the infrastructure costs of running a small highly specialised centre of expertise.

This is a terrible loss; the UK is far behind where it should be in implementing the use of AAC and the Ace Centre was leading the way. It had no alignment to any particular supplier and so offered a truly independent assessment service, with people attending the centre able to try out a wide variety of different approaches and devices. Having seen how life changing LAMP is proving to be for Archie it is depressing to see one means of accessing the AAC world is closing due to lack of support from government funding sources. We’re all in this together; except we’re not.

There is a petition that can be signed here, please spread the word.

In better news there is still an ACE Centre in Manchester and there is now a UK based Centre for AAC and autism which provides training in LAMP for those of us in the UK.

Longer phrases

When the talker arrived I decided that I did not want to do formal teaching sessions with Archie. Mainly because he reacts very badly to being adult directed in an educational setting, particularly from me. I’m Mum and I’ve found over the years that if I try to teach him myself it really doesn’t work. He loves working with Nikki his speech and language therapist, and she comes to our house every other week to work in a pretty structured way with Archie for an hour. I then take whatever Nikki’s aims are and try to back them up in everyday conversation.

When the talker first arrived we worked mainly on verbs. Verbs have always been difficult for Archie, I suspect partly because he didn’t learn to imitate until he was 8 years old. If you can’t imitate then verbs are pretty meaningless, because without an understanding of imitation watching someone running or jumping (for example) bears no relation to you running or jumping. I can’t think about this for too long as my head usually explodes trying to imagine what the world was like for Archie pre-imitation. Anyway he has begun to use verbs more and so we’ve moved onto the next target which is increasing utterance length.

For the past two sessions Nikki has been working to get longer phrases from Archie and I’ve been backing this up when possible. So for example Archie would say ‘silver’. I knew he meant silver car but would say ‘silver what?’. Initially this was met with ‘silver silver silver’, but gradually Archie has worked out to reply with ‘car’ and now is beginning to say ‘silver car’ without prompting.

In the last week it seems a little switch has been flicked and phrases are beginning to fall into place with no prompting. Nikki visited last night and asked Archie what he’d done the day before. ‘yesterday sea surfing beach’ came the response. Nikki asked how it was; ‘good’. The screen capture is below (ignore the ‘close’ that was from a previous conversation)

The next photo shows the screen after further conversation. Dan is a TA who has just moved to a new job. Archie starts by asking whether Dan is going to be in school at all (green and purple refer to days of the week). I explained that Dan has moved; ‘Dan gone school’ and Archie later recounted this as ‘Dan different school’. In between you can see him asking for some apple. Notice how eat is often added as an afterthought; he still struggles with verbs (although on the Vantage Lite ‘apple’ and ‘eat’ start with the same button so it does encourage that particular error).

The final photo shows another sequence. Verb in the correct place this time, and refers to another favourite topic of conversation at the moment – the new swimming pool. We’ve had quite a few independent phrases produced around the topic of the old and new swimming pools; ‘old pool water gone’ being another example.

So longer utterances are being produced. This has been reflected in speech as well (although I usually have no idea what is being said). Of course eventually we’ll have to work on helping Archie to produce sentences that are grammatically correct and include all the little words that are currently missing. If he carries on at the rate he’s going, that won’t be too far away.