Cow Seeing

I Want To See Cows

Siobhan in rain at side of road looking at cows grazing and waiting to be let in to milking parlor.
Siobhan up close and personal with beloved cows.

Sight seeing is not for Siobhan, at least in Ireland. Cow seeing is her desire. We make up a calendar for the kitchen with photos for each month. In light of our trip, for the month of October I used a cow picture I took from our last stay here. Siobhan refers to the calendar frequently and as the trip approached she began to say “I want to see cows” with her speech generating device (SGD). She said it more as each day went by until we got here. Now she is saying it all day long. We’re staying between two dairy farms overlooking Ballyheigue Bay, County Kerry, in the southwest of Ireland, on the Atlantic Ocean. Referring to the bay, a tourist asked my cousin how long the “lake” is and my cousin said “it goes all the way to New York!” As the saying goes: the next parish is New York!

Cows grazing in a cliffside field overlooking the bay with mountains in the background
Happiest cows on earth overlooking Ballyheigue Bay and the Dingle Peninsula.


Siobhan’s enthusiasm about the cows has resulted in some complex behaviors we need to reshape. An old behavior from when she was very young is taking an adult’s hand and dragging them to the object of her desire. It wasn’t that we haven’t noticed this, but so many people say “Oh, that’s OK” and let her drag them around. She’s 22 now and stronger. Her obsession with the cows gives her urgency and we’re afraid that she will take the hand of a stranger and overbalance them. This is a communication problem so Linda came up with a communication solution. We added a new icon on the front screen of her SGD and Siobhan is saying “look!” all the time now to get us to look at what she’s looking at. We’re generalizing from the start and if there are no cows we say loudly and with joyful voices “look at the beautiful mountains” or “look at the wonderful ocean.” This is very satisfying to Siobhan and has cut down on the grabbing and dragging.

First screen of speech generating device with ten active icons one of that immediately says look! when pressed
The Look! icon immediately speaks when pressed


By the way, in the DynaVox Xpress SGD, the Susan voice by Loquendo does a really great “look!” in a higher pitch and with just the right enthusiasm. That voice is not available in the DynaVox Compass app for iPad where the best voice available is very flat and cheerless. Note to DynaVox: possible in-app purchase?


Siobhan has been allowed to occasionally pound the rear window on one of our cars. We’ve not done enough to stop this, chalking it up to enthusiasm. Now she’s pounding the windows and sliding glass doors to get us to open them. All behaviors come home to roost. We must avoid running over to stop the pounding which appears to be reinforcing it. To attenuate the pounding we are working on getting her to say “I want help open door” and close door and open and close window. Siobhan learned how to open the window by herself, she just can’t close it. This is working somewhat. We are focused on her future as well as the present. Have to remember not to reinforce behavior that may eventually steer her to a more restrictive placement.

Head’s Up!

Siobhan has moderate inward curving of the spine which we hope to prevent from worsening. Her head tends to droop when in her routine environment. On this trip her head is up because she’s enthusiastic about life. She got a free scone for each of us by saying “I want chocolate chip cookie” at the Ballyheigue Community Center where they were very nice to her. She was very happy to get positive attention and also to eat her scone! Functional communication at its finest!

Functional Communication

The key to Siobhan’s behavior is functional communication. Without it we don’t know what we’d do and are indebted to Donna Banzhof of Pyramid Educational Consultants for her expert help over many years. With all this vocabulary development the dragging around has nearly ceased. We’ve gotten nary a push nor a pinch since we left. There is the pounding to contend with, but we have a strategy that’s working. So as usual we’re bumbling along, capitalizing on opportunities and shaping behavior into functional communication as best we can. Besides, Siobhan is getting some exercise! She must be walking about a mile a day just in the house going between four windows and sliding glass doors to see her beloved cows.