Fast ForWord Week 1

Our Fast ForWord experience started out with a couple of setup phone calls. The first was with a helpful woman who talked me through the login process and some of the exercises Sulli will be playing in demo mode. Outside of watching a few videos on their website, I didn’t know exactly what to expect, so this conversation was very helpful in terms of understanding what we would be doing daily.

The Education Consultant

The second phone call was with our assigned Education Consultant. Since we are participating in Fast ForWord’s home-based program, we are assigned a consultant that will be our guide for the duration of the program.

I always enjoy hearing from people their history and how they come to hold they job they do. I’ve certainly had many forks in my own road, all which magically seem to build upon one another despite the bits of unpredictable chaos. I learned our consultant, once a freelance technical writer, turned mom, turned substitute teacher, turned full time substitute teacher, came to know Fast ForWord when her school decided to utilize the program for their students with learning differences. She witnessed some pretty spectacular results, decided to implement the program with her own children, continued to be impressed, eventually ended up working for the company and has been there now for 7 years.

Why does this matter? Well, it just does. Through her years working with the program, you can tell she’s become passionate about this program because she’s seen the results first hand. I genuinely got the vibe that she truly wants to see Sulli succeed and I’ll take that vibe on our team any day.

The Setup

If you know how to login to a website, you are good to go. The program is web-based, so there are no special parts or pieces other than a pair of headphones. Well, actually two pairs of headphones with a Y-splitter so Sullivan and I can listen in at the same time. We bought our “parent pack” here, an affordable website recommended by our consultant.

The Program

Fast ForWord has several different levels available. Sullivan is starting with their Language v.2. This program includes 7 exercises (we call them “games”) with fun names like Robo-Dog, Space Commander and Hoop Nut. The graphics are cute and with each game, the program provides intermittent incentives such as Robo-Dog getting to eat some bones or the fish food in Whalien Match flying into the fish tank. It helps keep the kids engaged which is helpful because those 30 minutes can feel a little long, especially when carving out that time in a day full of school and other therapies.


If I’m being honest …

When I first tried the exercises myself via demo mode on my first setup phone call, I was feeling a little skeptical. I was concerned they might be too simple, or too boring. In the beginning the spoken sounds and words are slowed w-a-y down and stretched w-a-y out and are delivered via a voice that sounds robotic given the speed adjustment. My ears weren’t loving it and frankly I felt like I had to listen very hard to understand.

I guess that is the point, right? And it didn’t take me long to figure out the challenge these games would be for my little guy. While Sulli is bright and a quick learner, like many kids with autism, his skills are extremely scattered and most of his struggles today are a result of how he processes language.  How he hears it, speaks it and reads it.

Play time.

PS – we are selling this to Sulli as “daily brain games”. Not work. Not therapy. Fun, fun, fun!!! I’m not sure he is 100% buying it yet, but we do have a sticker chart with incentives and lots of high-fives.

Since the program is web based, it can be used from a computer or tablet. We have both but Sulli is comfortable with a mouse, so we opted for the computer, at the desk for a more structured environment. Every day when logging into the account, we see all seven games listed, with 3-4  of them highlighted. Those are our assigned games for the day. Sulli can select the games in any order but we were advised that once we spent a few days with the program, we would figure out which games are easier and which ones are harder for Sulli. They suggested getting the harder on out of the way first, while the brain is fresh and not so tired.

Day 1 was a bit of a struggle. Some of the games are very self-explanatory, others took a little more trial and error before he was able to get into the swing of things. All of the games make a “ding” when answered correctly and a “clunk” for incorrect answers. It didn’t take too long for him to figure out the point of the game but I could tell they were indeed work for him.

Self-adjusting programming.

This software is cool because it gets to know the child. And it self adjusts based on how the child is doing with an exercise, increasing or decreasing the difficulty as needed. Our consultant explained to us that, ideally, the kids are feeling comfortable with the exercises about 80% of the time and are really being pushed 20% of the time. If it were too hard all of the time, compliance would be a big problem. And even when they feel confident with a game, it doesn’t mean they aren’t receiving the benefit. One of the most important aspects of the program is the consistent repetitions because that is how those new connections are formed.

How’s he doing?

Well folks, pretty darn good. At this writing we’ve completed 9 sessions. The first three days he protested having to do his “new computer games” but the sticker chart has been a good motivator and now that he understands what is being required from him, he is gaining confidence.

It’s also been a huge eye opener for me. These seemingly mundane games are challenging for him and every day they increase with difficulty. Even the ones that come more easily to him are challenging in the sense that he struggles with maintaining focus for the duration of the game.

I know we aren’t yet two weeks into the program, so I’m hesitant to even think about results at this point, however I have noticed a change in Sulli’s language and processing time. It’s a nuanced change that would go unnoticed by most, but when you are an autism mom, we quickly pick up on the slightest of improvements. Worried that I might be the victim of the placebo effect, I asked my husband if he thought I was crazy. He said, “If you’re crazy, then I’m crazy too because I’ve noticed the same thing.”

We can’t quite put our finger on it yet, but stay tuned.

Till next time ~ Mama Woz