Thursday, May 19, 2022

And Three Steps Back



 From the time I added new words (Coffee, Help and hike), Maizy has seemed a bit overwhelmed and I wonder if she'll ever get it. As a teacher, I know that learning is never linear... just some upward line. That line has a lot of peaks and valleys. But I swear, we have more valleys than peaks! 

If you are following online on my data keeping, you probably wonder if I remember to write it all down or just skip days. Truth be told, I do NOT! She has days on end with no words! It's so frustrating. 

I know Maizy is smart. She's almost "Mabel-smart" (hey, Mabel could triangulate math!). She takes to things so quickly and I guess that makes this journey all the more frustrating. 

I'm sticking to the advice of waiting a week or so before adding new buttons, even if she is not interacting with them. Keep modeling - I'm so freaking tired of announcing my exits and dining habits. Keep target training. 

I thought I had an original idea the other night. Maizy loves to watch tv. I've never had a dog give a flip about television. The bad part is: There cannot be a dog on tv... Maizy barks her freaking head off. Jeez, she's loud for a little dog! But I put Bunny, Bastian & Stella videos (google those names with "talking dog" if you want to be amazed!) on tv while I was getting ready for bed. 

After one of our videos played on accident, Maizy was scream barking at herself! I was kinda dreading what was next. To my surprise, she watched intently!!! The next day, we had a record breaking FIVE button presses! Turns out, watching other dogs interact with their buttons is a recommended training technique. I'm not so smart after all! 

Since that day, we've had one a day and NONE today... and yes, we got new buttons yesterday! We are up to 12 now. So I guess today's regression is expected. But is sure is disheartening to deal with.

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

The Sweetest Request

 Eight days after giving Maizy her buttons, she FLOORED ME with a request. 

First a little backstory. My knee is a hot mess....worker's comp issue from teaching emotional disturbance. It really slows us down on our morning neighborhood walks. We used to get home early enough for both of us to have a leisurely breakfast and time left over for me to drink coffee on the back porch.  Maizy True loves to sit next to me as I drink coffee... She's hoping for the dregs of my cup and the scritches make it all the better. 

But with my knee acting up, most days for the last few months, I've walked the door and had to start work immediately. I don't have time for coffee, much less food and MT has to wait until I can take a quick break for her breakfast.


But we had gotten an early start that Saturday about 10 days ago. I fed Maizy and decided I had time to put my leg up while I drank coffee. I was standing by the sofa, cup in hand, trying to make sure I wasn't about to sit on the remote. Maizy had been finishing her breakfast and I wasn't really paying attention to where she was. She pressed her WATER button! I looked at her bowls... she had water. 

It slowly started to dawn on me that you drink water and you drink coffee... Could Maizy be generalizing?  No sooner did I decide she was making some reference to my coffee, she pressed OUTSIDE and looked out the door! 

Was Maizy asking for coffee on the porch?? I pressed WATER and OUTSIDE and headed out the door, followed by a very happy Maizy True! 

I was so excited. She was not only engaging with the buttons, she was applying meaning! 

And naturally, I had to mess it all up.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Give Me Strength

Note: I wrote this post DEEP into my first year of teaching a program that school districts like to label Emotionally Disturbed. I was cleaning out some old drafts and decided to share it with you all. I've been trying to come to terms with what I've been up to since 2015 and I feel it's time to let go... and I do that by writing. So here goes....

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

Sign from my E.D. Classroom


"What the f)(& am I supposed to do with him all day?" he screamed at me.

I was stunned into silence for 10 seconds. I was on the phone with the baby daddy of one of my students. Teen father to a now 11 year old troubled boy with a hair-pin trigger on his temper. Now I know he comes by it biologically.

I had called him early...before school started...to tell him that his child had tooth pain. I knew I had woke him up. He works nights. His mother who helps him raise his son raises the boy for him was out of town.

I finally answered, "He's your son..."

He released another barrage of  f bombs on me. "Doesn't that effing school have an effing nurse to give him some medicine?"

"Actually sir, we only contract with a nurse for services one day a week and today is not that day...and besides, we can't DRUG your child. If you get a prescription, you can..."

"What kind of effing school are your running there with a effing nurse one day a week? What a effing loser school. I guess I'll pick his a$$ up and take him to the ER?"

I interrupted him, "I'll have the paperwork ready to go in the office." I hung up stunned.

How can someone talk about their child that way?  This boy's behavior makes so much more sense. I see him elated every Friday. "Dad's gonna take me ___________ (motocrossing, skateboarding, to the beach, to a movie, snowboarding...)"

And come Monday, his spirit is dragging behind him on the sidewalk.

"What's the matter Bub... Dad had to work?" (Didn't feel like doing anything with you, lied to you, doesn't give a flip what he promised you days ago?)

"Yeeaah," he says deflated, defeated and lost.

I sobbed before I got the kids that morning. I hated to think that I had to send this boy home, away from the teachers and aides who love him and want the best for him to spend the day and weekend (and rest of his life) with his pathetic dad.

There are days I love my job. And there are days I wonder if I'm strong enough to keep it.  

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I guess, in the end, I wasn't!

Monday, April 25, 2022

She SPEAKS!!!

 Well, this isn't the first time Maizy True spoke... but it IS the first time on camera!!! Yes, I was bribing her with brisket!!! 



She has made a 2 word request on Saturday...not on camera, but I just about died! I'm so proud of her! Many dogs take months to begin interacting and I know she is applying meaning to the buttons. 

My house is NOT camera ready ya'll!! But that's another issue! I'm loving this journey with her! 

But there is so much to do to PREPARE for this little talking dog experiment! Things I never thought of!  You really need to do some data tracking. Many people write things down but Maizy currently has 16 responses that I've bothered to record. It's a good idea to keep track this way...it's searchable. It's easier to look for patterns such as time of day or frequent words when they have a larger vocabulary. One of the dogs from the many boards I follow actually kept talking about "pee" and a day later said "pee ouch".... had a UTI!!  So seeing the pattern is important. 

On a side note, the Fluent Pet bulletin board page TheyCanTalk.org has many of the getting started resources if you are interested. It was there I learned how to create the form that fills in her data tracking. I had used forms to assess students when I was teaching online early in the pandemic so it was a pretty easy jump for me. Maizy's form looks like this:


I can pull it up on my phone and I can also edit that spreadsheet if I think of something later...or make meaning of what she was trying to say with her limited 5 word vocabulary!  

Then there is button placement planning. The "old timers" have really scared the heck out of me. All of the ones I follow have had to move the buttons for some reason or another... realizing one button is used most often with a word that's waaaayyy over there is a frequent complaint. And when the buttons get moved... the dogs regress and stop using them for a while! Think about it: HOW would you feel if you got up and someone decided the S on your keyboard needs to be by the T? And the A would work better by the F? It would befuddle you! And dogs have a shutting down reaction to this. 

While I've found many of the circular layouts on TheyCanTalk.org helpful... I'm a spreadsheet girl. So I made a simply Excel sheet with blocks of six .... six words fit on a soundboard... and grouped by theme.
This is my most current board plan and...it changes daily.

And then, if you want to share this... and I've never wanted to share anything MORE... there's all the social media BS to deal with. UGH!

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Target Training with Maizy True

 Well, the buttons have arrived! I gave her one to start: OUTSIDE. A few days later, I added "water" and "eat." I added two tiles. I'm working on tile layout and design. So many of the talking dogs I admire have had a total regression when a pawrent had to move the buttons around. 

 Maizy True has sniffed around them but nothing so far. It occurred to me that she doesn't know the meaning of "touch" so we are working on target training: 


In the meantime, I'm making spreadsheets and planning for future buttons. Just wish there was some indication she will engage with it. I have bells on both outside doors and she does ring those when we she wants out. 

In the mean time, I'm modeling, modeling, modeling...constantly! I announce my exit of the house and make a big deal out of both of us drinking water and eating. "Mom EAT now. Maizy EAT later. I've gone back into "total teacher mode," over-enunciating every thing I say to her. I make a point of talking to her in AAC speak, instead of our usual conversational tone. "Wanna go for a walk?" is now "Want WALK now, Hmmmm????" 

It's a journey, ya'll!