ACE Centre update

Some good news following my previous post about the closure of the ACE Centre Oxford. The ACE Centre in Oxford is to merge with the ACE Centre North ensuring that the Oxford site remains open.

Great news.

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The ACE Centre, Oxford


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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.

What’s in a word?

As can be seen from the photograph the Vantage Lite screen contains symbols. During LAMP training one of the concepts stressed is that these symbols do not represent words as such. So when the child is learning to use the system, they’re not learning to match a symbol to a word, they’re learning a motor pattern. So pressing a sequence of buttons produces a particular word; that never changes. It’s described as being analogous to speech – so if I move my mouth in a certain way I produce the word – ‘surfing’, if Archie presses a sequence of buttons the talker says ‘surfing’. It didn’t initially incidentally, I had to bin baseball to add surfing.

After years of PECS this concept; of the picture not really representing anything at all took a bit of getting my head around. (Although thinking about it during the initial phase of PECS the picture has no meaning), but Archie helped out this week by demonstrating precisely this. He was playing with the talker and I could hear him exploring ‘hammer’,  ‘nail’ ‘saw’. Next he appeared next to me ‘ saw’ ‘saw’, then pointed to his lip showing me where he’d bitten it. It did look pretty sore (saw). He then dragged me to the computer where he opened google maps and quickly (of course) located the hospital. A quick point at the hospital, to his lip and another sequence of presses to get ‘saw’ and I was left to tell him that no, he didn’t really need to go to the hospital to have his lip looked at. So he asked for a blood test.

Still no up to date video of Archie using the talker, the past few weeks have been a bit manic as middle son Joseph was making his professional acting debut which involved a lot of ferrying around and me getting pretty behind with work (worth it though, great experience for middle son). However, Martin and Annika at Discovery Surf School made a lovely video of Archie surfing on a surprisingly warm December morning. It was pretty windy and wild, just the sort of conditions Archie loves. The video gives me goosebumps: