Friday, 1 March 2013

I can...use my eyes to communicate!

For some kids, the most reliable and consistent movements in their bodies come from their eyes.  Using eye gaze has come a long way in the past few years and there are many great eye gaze technology products on the market.  In this issue, we'll explore low tech and high tech ways for kids to use their eyes to communicate!

Eye Gaze: Talking with my Eyes!

Many kids who use AC have difficulty pointing or reaching for symbols to communicate, however they may be able to use their eyes very effectively.  Kids can express their preferences by looking at real objects and/or pictures to make choices.  As you increase the number of choices offered to your child, it is beneficial to hold the symbols with an eye gaze frame.

Eye Gaze Frame Options:
  • Often eye gaze frames are constructed from clear plastic with a hole in the middle to allow the communication partner to see exactly where the child's eyes are pointing.  They are available from a variety of distributors, including Bridges Canada:  .
  • You can also use a variety of other materials to create your own eye gaze frame, including: picture frame matting, empty picture frames, a laminated file folder with a hole in the middle, pvc piping, plastic placemats and so much more.   
Teaching Eye Gaze:
A child's use of eye-gaze for communication will be most effective if he/she learns to indicate choices clearly.  This is something that will need to be taught through repetition, using the following steps:
  1. PRESENT CHOICES:  Have your child look at the pictures on the eye-gaze frame.  Draw his/her attention to the first picture and label it.  Do the same with the other pictures. You may need to tap on the picture to get him to look at it or shine a flashlight.  Give him lots of time to look at each choice before moving on to the next one.
  1. HAVE YOUR CHILD MAKE A CHOICE: Ask your child to look at you, and then ask him a question pertaining to the choices offered (e.g. “What do you want for snack.”)  At first, it will be important to direct him to look at the picture to indicate his choice (i.e. “Look at the picture to tell me.”)  You can verbalize what you see (client) looking at, e.g.  “I see you looking at pizza and yogurt, look at the one you want” 
  1. HAVE YOUR CHILD CONFIRM CHOICE:  When your child looks at a picture say Oh “I see you looking at pizza” (tap or light up the picture).  Ask him to look back at you or smile if that is the one he wants.  This is an important step to confirm his choice. Provide the item as soon as possible.
Eye Gaze Technology for Communication
Using sophisticated camera(s), these systems detect eye movements.  The person using the system can select an item on the screen by looking at the target for a defined amount of time also known as "dwell".  In some cases, selection of the target is made by using a switch.    There are variety of eye gaze technology options on the market and new systems are being released.  Here are examples of two systems that are used in Ontario at this time.
Check out Spectronics's comparison of Dynavox and Tobii :

Other eye gaze systems that we are aware of include: 
Free and Low Cost Eye Tracking Software
  • ITU Gaze Tracker is a free eye gaze program for Windows that works with a webcam
  • myEYE is a free eye tracking program for use on Windows with a high resolution webcam
  • Open Eyes has directions to build two different user worn eye gaze systems
  • Open Gazer is free eye gaze software for Linux that works with a webcam
Something to Keep an EYE on!!! 
For more information:  
Factors that help eye gaze systems work more successfully: Please note that some people are able to use eye gaze systems without the following ideals.

Functional Vision : Being able to see options on the screen allows kids to make intentional choices from the items presented. 
Head Control: Keeping your head still while using eye gaze is helpful because the cameras can follow your eye movement more accurately.
Eye Control:  Ability to move your eyes while maintaining head position is ideal.  The ability to affix eyes to a specific target and hold that position also makes the system work more accurately.  

Factors that make eye gaze system more challenging (sometimes still possible but harder!)

Glasses: The glare from glasses can sometimes make it harder for the eye gaze systems to work.  It is definitely worthwhile trying it out to see if this is an issue and make adjustments to the position of the device and lighting to see if improvements can be made.
Lighting: Reflection of light and amount of light can impact performance of the system.  Try adjustments with these to see if you can optimize the environment for this type of technology.
Positioning of the Device:  There are a variety of mounting options for eye gaze systems.  Consider the weight of the device (often heavy) and plan for the need of adjustability of height and angles.  This may need be adjusted often depending on the position of the person using the device.
Dry Eyes/Fatigue: Using your eyes can be a workout!  Plan to provide some regular breaks to help reduce dry eyes and general fatigue.

How do I try it out?
In Ontario, there are a few systems that are approved for funding assistance from the Assistive Device Program (ADP).  Talk with your ACS therapist to learn more about the options available for you.  It's worth trying more than one system if possible as one may work better for you than another.

Rett's Syndrome and Eye Gaze
Recently there has been lots of excitement about the possibility of using eye gaze with girls who have Rett's Syndrome.  Rett's Syndrome is neurodevelopmental condition that is often characterized by loss of spoken language and hand use, coupled with the development of a repetitive hand movements.   Here are some resources related to eye gaze and Rett's Syndrome: 
  • Judy Lariviere, Occupational Therapist 

Eye Gaze Painting - Check out some of this amazing art work completed by someone who uses eye gaze! 

I a Star!
Teaghan is doing a great job learning how to use eye gaze (both low tech and high tech) to ask for her favourite snack, read a book aloud and tell others how what she thinks!  Way to go Teaghan!

This video demonstrates how Teaghan uses eye gaze with symbols and real objects to make choices during snack. Her EA Deb is doing a great job shaping her communication by telling Teaghan what she is seeing so that the communication exchange is clear.

In this video, Teaghan uses eye gaze technology to read a book aloud and share her thoughts.  She is using a Dynavox VMax with Eye Max.  The cameras that are picking up her eye gaze are located at the bottom of the device.  Watch how her EA is responding to her messages and how she is helping to draw her attention to the choices on the screen. 

Upcoming Events:

TVCC ACS Education Events 2013
If you are a TVCC client, please take a moment to check out our upcoming education sessions:

  • How to Choose Powerful Words: April 10th, 2013
  • Adapted Books December 4th, 2013
For more information and registration: 

 The Forest City Road Race is fast approaching on April 28th, 2013! The net proceeds from this event support enhanced programs at Thames Valley Children's Centre, such as the Resource Centre, the Adapted Fitness Facility and the Equipment lending library. 
Sign Up:

It's time to play the music, it's time to light the lights, it's time to get things started...with this year's theatre camps:
Setting the Stage and On with the Show!
These camps are for TVCC clients who use a Speech Generating Device (SGD) as primary means of communication and want to try acting. This is a joint partnership with the Original Kids Theatre Company. 
When: August 12-16th, 2013
Sign up information available in the latest "Opportunities to Participate" brochure online:
Performance day is open to everyone! 
Mark your calendar to come see the stars on August 16th, 2013 at the Spriet Family Theatre!