On vacation with my family, miles away from Joey, we passed a fire station. My own four-year-old shouted out “FIRE ENGINE!” and I found my fingers immediately itching to push the buttons on Joey’s AAC device. Just the notion of a fire engine stimulates my motor memory. My index finger twitches and I visually see the icons on the screen – hit ride– hit fire engine (top right on the screen). I had not been thinking about Joey, or alternative communication, or anything but beach traffic and what we’d find for lunch. Yet sudden there I was, with a twitchy index finger. I didn’t even respond to my daughter’s exclamation, because my first instinct was to respond with the device.
A sudden wave of understanding came over me. The Alternative Augmentative Communication method Joey is using – LAMP – is based off motor planning for exactly this reason. Although I knew it was based off of motor planning, I hadn’t fully experienced the connection. My twitchy finger made me realize I wanted to learn about motor planning, motor memory, and how it ties in to communication.
Joey is using a type of Alternative Augmentative Communication that is specifically designed to use muscle memory in aiding communication. This is called LAMP, or Language Acquisition through Motor Planning. The idea behind this is that when we learn language we learn a motor skill to go with it. For most of us, this skill is an oral motor skill, such as the placement of our tongue in our mouths to produce a certain letter. This motor skill becomes automatic, and we don’t ever think about it after we learn it. When we say things like “it’s on the tip of my tongue” it is because we have the physical need to say the word we can’t think of. Our motor memory is attached to our speech. For Joey’s Unity system, which follows the LAMP theory, every picture on his screen will always be in the same place. As he learns where the words are over time, the process will become automatic. He will learn the words with the motor movements and will automatically move his eyes to the words just as we automatically speak without thinking about how our mouth should move to produce a sound.
Reading deeper into the LAMP methodology helped me understand a bit of the system. The icons for that represent each oral word do not always make sense, and some buttons have the same icons for different words. Yet once someone starts using it, and begins to learn the movements, the more those pictures themselves do not matter. Suddenly, you can be driving along, far from the device, and find yourself moving your finger to say “fire engine” before your mouth has even produced the sound.
Over the next few weeks I am hoping to dive deeper into research behind the LAMP technology. Motor planning is just a piece of the system.
Potts, M., Satterfield, B., (2013). Studies in AAC and Autism: The Impact of LAMP as a Therapy Intervention. Accessed 7/15/2018 at http://www.gatfl.gatech.edu/tflwiki/images/4/43/LAMP_Rsch_Article.pdf