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If your RettChick has a communication strategy to share, please e-mail me.

Ask the experienced rather than the learned. 
(Arabic proverb)

RettChicks are really good at communicating and, with their families and friends, come up with some very innovative ways to get their message across. Here's a selection.

Yes/No is a great start to communication. Once you have a reliable method for yes/no, you can start to give your RettChick choices! For example choosing from a menu with yes/no and the process of elimination; starting with 'Is it on this page?', 'Is it on this half?', etc. The possibilities are endless.

Rebecca Hulst

Jane Hulst

Rebecca (6 years old) used to lean forward and point with her nose to a 'yes'/'no' card held, centered, in front of her face. The card was a DL sized envelope folded in half with 'yes' written on one side and 'no' written on the other.

Rebecca was also a fabulous eye-pointer and frequently managed to 'take' her carer's peanut butter & jelly sandwiches by staring at them until Gaylene gave them to her!


Jessica Lawson

Jessica & Merlene

Jessica (aged 7 nearly 8) talks with her eyes ... When she is hungry she looks at chips and when she is thirsty she looks at a glass ... So I guess we just learned to read eyes ... she also looks at other people's food and she usually gets it too.

Jessica tries real hard to talk. She makes all kinds of funny noises... But her best way of communicating is eye gaze.


Brittany Leister

Brittany, 6, replies to no by shaking her head no. She replies to yes by not shaking her head no and maintaining an acceptable eye gaze at the object/or whatever she wants.

Brit also points to the particular thing she wants with her nose. Or when she wants your attention, she rubs up against you with her head, like a little kitten.


Dani Leigh

Dani & Connie

Dani (18 years old) uses several ways to do this:
1. she eye blinks once for yes & twice for no
2. she will slap a card with yes/no
3. she puts her left hand out for a definite YES
4. on occasion she will still verbally say NO


Sherry Hunt

Sherry & Destiny


Here are four ways that Sherry, age 15, indicates 'yes'

1) A definite eyeblink. Sherry's Dad suggested this out of the blue many years back, and it worked immediately. He asked Sherry to 'blink once for yes and twice for no'. The 'twice for no' never worked out, but the one blink for 'yes' works for us to this day.

2) Making a fist, slightly held up, similar to the sign language 'yes'. Sherry must have picked this up from other kids at school who were using sign language, because we never taught it to her or suggested it. We simply saw that she was doing it as a definite gesture and discovered she was using it for 'yes', alternately with the eyeblink.

3) A definite head nod; however this is sometimes difficult to be sure of because when she is excited she has a lot of head movement.

4) An occasional verbal 'yes' or 'esssss'.
It seems to us that Sherry uses whichever of these 'yes' responses she can manage to produce at the given moment. (Whatever works, right?)

The only thing close to a 'no' we get is an occasional definite shaking of the head, also hard to distinguish from her frequent "head-swinging" side-to-side.

I loved the part about Rebecca 'taking' her friend's sandwiches by staring at them! Sherry does the same thing and I have learned to feed her first so I don't have to feel guilty eating while she is staring at my food (She still stares at mine even after she's eaten but at that point I can manage to ignore it. Sometimes.)


Kim Johnson

Kim & Jill

Kim is aged 33. Yes/No in a casual way without equipment - I put my face on level with Kim's and ask the question, then say "Look at me for YES". Then I count softly to 10 (takes about 20 secs) and if at that time she has not looked me in the eye, I say "The answer is not YES". The counting is so that if the answer is NO she will know when she can stop looking away.

To check, one can always reverse the question, expecting the opposite answer.

This is not Kim's most reliable method of Yes/No, but is handy at times.

She also has a Yes/Don't Know/No board which I use a lot to check Facilitated Communication on the Canon.

Yes/No boards do need to have other options on them, such as 'Don't Know', 'Maybe', 'Partly', 'Don't Want to Answer', etc.


Angela Rauscher

Angela & Kathleen

Angela, age 18, uses Yes/No cards with the appropriate sad or smiley face and the word printed on them. She is very consistent with them if the question is simple.

When she had her scoliosis surgery, she was too weak and confined to effectively point so we purchased two mylar balloons and used a magic marker to write on them so they would approximate her cards. We tied one on each side of the bottom of her hospital bed and she could make choices by looking at the appropriate balloon.

Angela also nods her head for yes and averts her eyes for no. She will also blink for yes.

Try choices. In the morning offer, two boxes of cereal and let your daughter choose which she wants by eye gaze. This works with lots of things like videos, clothes . . . Start with only two until she gets the hang of it. Angela loves to choose what she eats and wears.



Naomi & Bruce

We have been working with Naomi (4 years old) on this basic response in several ways. Her earliest way of responding was a prolonged eye contact for yes, and gaze aversion for no. This still seems to work best for her.

More recently, we've been trying "Squeeze my finger if you want 'x'." Which might be watching TV, going outside, reading a story, etc. There isn't a corresponding "no" action. Mixed results on this so far, but enough successes to keep after it.

And we have begun offering her yes/no choice cards on her tray (with big red and green dots on them as well as the worlds Yes and No in large black and white letters). Using this requires her to marshal a hand movement, which takes a while, but works some of the time when she is not too tired.

Suggestion from Jill, Kim's mother:

Couldn't help making a suggestion you might like to try: How about making the Yes/No card quite small and position it in such a way that Naomi only needs to make a small movement rather than a large one. Kim moves small distances more easily than large ones. Just a thought.

Also, it sometimes helps her to get a movement started with a gentle jog to the elbow (this is also sometimes necessary at mealtimes)


Ida Koed

Ida & Vibeke


Ida is 3 years old. She communicates by:

1) Sometimes she manage to say YES (always to something she really wants).

2) Shake the head when she is done eating (she has just started, maybe she will use this in other situations later).

3) Clap her hands on things or pictures of things, she wants to do (not very often yet, but we are working on this).


Ashley Fry

Ashley & Judy

Ashley is 17. We have yes and no cards. These are just plain white laminated 8 x11 or so cards with yes and no printed in black.

We also give her choices on books to read, food to eat, clothes to wear, and she even picks out her own school lunch each day.

Ashley will touch something with her hand if she wants it and if she does, she gets it. We taught her this a long time ago trying to motivate her to make choices. If she walks to the back door and touches the door, that means she wants to go somewhere and most of the time we try to take her.

We are presently working on her reading sentences and will be using that in a communication board of some kind later. We started off with pictures, holding up two, and asking her to point to the one requested. She got this down great so we went to sentences. She is doing really well on this. We are fortunate in that she will still use her hands in this way. She will touch the one requested.


Chelsey Roberts

Chelsea & Sonya

I bought some large pieces of paper today, one green, one red and put a happy face on the green one and the word "yes". On the red one I put a sad face and the word "no".

I sat down on the floor with Chelsey (aged 4, nearly 5) and showed them to her and explained what they meant. I then started asking her some simple questions. She would look at both of them and then lock in on one of them.

When it was her bed time we asked her if she was "ready to go nite, nite" Well she zoned in one the RED one.

Needless to say everyone around here is really on cloud 9 tonight!!!!!!!!!!


Leah Altschuler

Leah & Rick

We have been trying lots of different strategies with Leah (5).

We use a "Cheap Talk" device, usually using only 6-7 (of 8) buttons with:

1) I want to eat
2) I want to go potty
3) I want to read
4)All done
5)I want to watch TV
6)Lauren come here (Lauren is her sister - 10), 7) I want to drink.

While Leah doesn't always use it, she is using it more and more, particularly on good days. The problem is that we can't always have it around her for her to use. We'd love to get a wrist switch for "I want to go potty".

We also try to give her choices, asking her which color glass she wants, which cereal, etc., which she touches.

We have been using a modified discrete trial training, for about 18 months, where she is asked to make choices. For example, touch big (given two sizes of different objects), touch red (given different colors), touch circle (different shapes) and she does well with this until she get bored. It clearly shows she knows the differences. We are now also using Intellikeys and computer programs with choices.

I don't think I've ever heard her say Yes, but she is quite good at saying NO (usually no, no, no !), and she will often say this or shake her head, to let us know when she doesn't want something or doesn't want to do something.


Josie Lueckenhoff

At the moment and for many months, we have helped Josie (aged 2 and 3/4) communicate with us through choice-making. Josie is very good at that.

If it is more abstract such as "Do you want to get down? Or do you want to stay with Mommy?" (this is while I'm holding her) I look at her facial expression, eye gaze and general body language to tell me what her choice is.

It is usually clear. Along these same lines, Josie has always had decent receptive language so that, say if she's fussy, I can start asking "Do you want to go outside? Do you want a banana? Do you want to go night-night?" etc. And whichever choice makes her face clear or even makes her smile is the one she wants.

As far as expressive communication, Josie is very lucky in that she walks well. Before RS came into my life, I didn't realize how much walking lends itself to communicating. Clearly, if Josie wants a video, she goes to her stack of videos or to the TV. If she is hungry, she pesters me in the kitchen (this action is a new one and I just love it!). If there is a cup lying around and she goes to it and touches it, obviously she wants a drink. So her ability to walk and reach a hand out really help her to communicate her needs!


Alyssa Holley

Alyssa & Gail

We too have been using yes/no cards for Alyssa, aged 4. She's got a new speech therapist, she sees Alyssa 3 times at school and works with her during their small group center time. She made up cards, although hers are yellow with smiley face for yes and red with frown for no.

At the house we pretty much know her yes/no responses, but we are using the cards for added emphasis when she responds by expression. This way we are reinforcing what she is learning at school.

We have noticed a whole new door opening up for her with this. Now others who do not know her as well will begin to really understand how much she knows.

Her school is also doing the High Score Curriculum and the speech therapist took pictures of all the different centers (fine motor, gross motor, etc.) and when the other kids choose where they want to play, Alyssa can too!!


Kayleigh Boyd

Kayleigh and Terry


Our daughter is 9 years old. She is in a regular classroom with a full time teacher assistant.

She uses eye gazing between objects, words, numbers and picture symbols. The biggest problem has been that the teacher feels even if she makes the correct choice it may just be a lucky try since Kayleigh has a 50 - 50 chance to get the right answer.

We started out with facilitated communication. That worked well but then came all the bad publicity about it. Again Kayleigh could only handle two choices due to her lack of motor ability. To get the school system to believe in her knowledge we went to eye gaze.

I would add that if a parent finds a communication system that works to stick with it. Do not keep changing or doubting your daughter. We know our child best.

I allowed one teacher to persuade me to stop using facilitated communication with Kayleigh because she had doubts due to the 50/50 chances of getting the right answer without knowing it.

Now we are struggling to find a new system and she has lost the old. Stand strong. So what if they are questioning our daughter's true intelligence or the understanding they have of their world. Teachers are may still not trained to educate children with great challenges in the regular classroom. They still have this belief they need concrete responses with no what ifs. They haven't got it yet.

My kid is not in school to be a whiz kid. She is there to have friendships, to grow and develop her skills, to expand her knowledge and to build her own self esteem. She is not there to prove herself to one teacher.

The need for a communication goes beyond the school walls. I see this clearly now. I need Kayleigh to communicate her needs and wants so I can do the best for her. We want to open her world up.

I think about every decision we adults make for her. We are doing our best to let her choose her clothes, activities, etc. But there is so much she has no choice in.

I now see that I need to stop trying to prove to everyone Kayleigh is in there. They will see this themselves in time. She is ten now and the future is much clearer.

So what if she can only have two choices presented to her at one time. Work with that and build later if possible. She still has had a choice. So what if her teacher says she needs more proof of her ability to chooses from more than two choices. She wants her tested like the others in order to believe.

All I know is Kayleigh was adding and subtracting in math up to the number ten with facilitated communication and with many different facilitators. She could choose the correctly spelled world from the incorrect ones also. She showed us proper knowledge of shapes, colours and concepts.

Today she will not eyegaze to any math questions, etc.

We had her world open and we shut in down to please others instead of seeing the whole picture.

If we as parents believe that is all that is needed. In the end we need to talk to our daughters more than anyone else. For them to tell us they have a headache, or stomach cramps, the TV show scares them, they want to pet the dog too.

With budget cuts, we are going to be caring for our adult children at home not the school teacher who did not believe.

Today we are using eye gazing for choice making. Only 2 choices are given but we now ask her if she doesn't look at either one "Is it something else." with yes/no cards. She answers this question well.

Partner assisted scanning is our goal and we are on our way but four years of silence is in between this.


Stefanie Paul

Stefanie & Dorianne

We went to school night at Stefanie's (10 1/2 years) class.

She has been using a Wolf communicator to make choices during snack.

They told me that she has been choosing chocolate graham crackers (she is MY daughter, after all) consistently during snack.

They have several different pages for this communicator so that the choice items aren't always in the same spot, so we know she isn't just going for the same square on the page every time. And she uses the "I want" square as well. So much for severe retardation.

I'll have to try the yes/no squares at home. It would also be nice to get one of those communicators at home, but on the other hand, I'm sure she's not going to choose more broccoli...!

A Wolf Communicator is an augmentative communication device that was developed by a school district in Michigan.

It is a Texas Instruments toy that they gut and use in a similar fashion to a Macaw or an Introtalker. There is a page that gets put on the face of this former toy.

Underneath the page, there are grids that respond when a spot on the page is pressed. The communicator responds with a very computer-y voice.

You can program a whole row of the grids to say the same thing, or have every grid say something different.

Stefanie's Wolf is divided into 9 squares. On each square is a snack choice, plus one square is reserved for the words "I want". When it's her turn to choose a snack item at snack time (they go around the circle and take turns choosing), she must press the words "I want" and then one of the snack choices. I suggested they program a square for "please", since I would like her to be polite!

You can program several pages at once, because each page has little holes on the left side that tell the machine what pictures are on the page and what to say in each grid. So you can mix up the choices on each of the pages so that you can be certain that the child is not perseveratively going to the same square each time, but rather, deliberately choosing a specific item.

Stefanie's teacher is big on natural consequences of behaviour, so if Stefanie chooses an item with the Wolf but really wants something else, that's "a bummer". What she chooses, she gets.

She has learned fast to choose what she really wants! (Don't want to miss out on those chocolate graham crackers!)

I would love to find a device that would allow Stefanie to communicate anything she is thinking or wants us to know. The biggest problem I find with the Wolf, the Introtalker, or the Macaw is that Stefanie can only tell us what we have pre-programmed the machine to say. What if she wants to say something completely different? Oh well, some day.


Joy Felser

Joy & Carolyn

We too have felt that Joy (19 years) has a grasp of more of what is going on than what is there in front of our eyes.

I watched Joy a few times look at the comics page of the newspaper and I saw her eyes go from left to right and then laugh at the end of the comic. I told my husband that I think the little stinker is reading.

Joy also lets us know what she wants by us asking questions and when we get to the one she wants she smiles.

Joy lets us know immediately if she is unhappy whether that is a wet diaper or a tv show she doesn't like.

The diaper she will actually start to cry, but the wrong tv show she will yell out a sound like "eh" (sort of) and we know that means to find something else she wants to watch.

She also will call out if she is hungry and lately I have been telling her it is cooking and that seems to work for a little bit until she is really hungry. Then the tears come if the meal is not on time.


Ariel Ariel, aged 5 years, has two Big Mack switches positioned on her high chair tray.

One is yellow and when activated says, " I'm hungry. I would like to eat now please."

The blue Mack says , "I'm thirsty. I would like something to drink now please."

We are in the process of ordering another Big Mack for "I need to go potty now please."

For those of you unfamiliar with the Big Mack, it looks like a very large round plastic switch and has a recording device in it so that you can record whatever you want her to "say" into the switch so that every time it is hit it plays that particular message.

You can change it as often as you like, although we use ours for permanence.

I know of some people who use one back and forth to school daily and change the message pertaining to what the child would wish to tell her class or teacher.

They are great and I would like several more! They are about $100. each.

Ariel is ambulatory and is using them quite consistently. She will walk near her high chair frequently as it is positioned near the door where she often goes to look out of. So the opportunity is there for her to mis-cue. But she rarely hits them unless she actually is interested in the end result.

Initially we assisted her in hitting the switch whenever we gave her food or drink. This "conditioning " has been successful.

The other thing that we use is the Intellikeys system. This replaces your computer's keyboard.

We have merely scratched the surface and haven't gotten into personalising her own programs with Intellitalk and such.

We are utilising it at this point to do simple cause and effect. We chose programs with music. She enjoys the immediate gratification of sounds, colors, motion & music it provides.

It must feel quite empowering.

Like I said, we are just beginning and the System has so many features to utilise down the road.

The Intellikeys itself, can go from a single large "switch", 2, 4, 6, 8, or 12 grids which have pictures to correspond with the software, or a full keyboard or calculator type pad, etc., all depending on the overlay that you place on it. You buy the overlays, or you can design your own with Overlay Maker.

It is hard to explain the versatility and longevity of this product. Check it out in catalogs. It is very impressive!




We also use cards but they are not always handy and is good to have a back up system.

Our Rachel will blink her eyes for yes and will turn her head away from us for a no.

Rachel's pre-k teacher adapted the song "If you are happy and you know it" so Rachel could participate in group sing along. When Rachel's turn came around she would ask her to blink your eyes, turn your head, blow a kiss or move your legs.

Once she could do this movements on command we decided to connect blink for yes and turn your head for no.

This might be a good system for girls that have limited movements and are wheelchair bound just like our Rachel.