Have you heard of Hunger 4 Words? Christina Hunger is a speech pathologist who has started using Augmented and Alternative Communication techniques to help her dog communicate. You can read about Christina and her lovely dog Stella over on Christina’s website here.
Needless to say, I was immediately fascinated.
Christina has a great introductory post here which I recommend you read to verse yourself in AAC. Athena certainly is able to express herself, often with different vocalisations, but often with behavioural cues. And she’s pretty good at understanding what we mean with our vocal and behavioural cues. Things like ‘food’, ‘play’ and ‘bedtime’ are all easily communicated between us.
We know that Athena will learn a behaviour – she has a whole host of ‘tricks’ that she will do (despite me being a terrible trainer). So why am I interested in button pushing? Well I want to know if Athena can generalise and predict.
If Athena knows what ‘ball’ is, can she press ‘ball’ to tell me that’s what she wants, even if she can’t see it? Would she ever be able to press ‘food’ + ‘ball’ to tell me she wants her puzzle-feeder filled? Would I ever be able to say ‘food’ + ‘ball’ and would she be able to say ‘no’ + ‘food’ + ‘hedgehog’?
To be honest, I don’t believe she ever will. I think that’s a step too far for a cat. I don’t think I’ve ever seen scientific evidence that a cat can conceptualise of two different futures and choose one or the other. I think they’re more reactive than that. But one of the things I love about social media is how it can give us access to larger sample sizes, to more information, to more examples of what’s possible.
So I’ve started Theenie on her AAC journey. If you’re interested in following her, she has her own Instagram now!