Monday, 20 October 2014

How Do I get this kid to communicate?? (PART 1 - Baby Steps)

I thought I would write a blog entry about our endless journey on this Special Needs Train we're on.  One of the biggest hiccups for our son has been his ability to talk which has come and gone.  He used to talk when he was 2 years old, only small words like Mum, Woof Woof (for the dogs) and a few others I can no longer remember.  He also has said 'Hello' and 'Banana' over the years but they have all but vanished.  He just garbles now, I think the official term is 'Jargon' where a toddler knows the vowels and the consonant sounds but doesn't form them into words.  Random words will pop out but we've accepted he is non-verbal.  At 7 years old we just have to leave him to it and hope one day he remembers how to talk.  That aside we realised the only way to help his frustrations was to get him talking SOMEHOW.  It wasn't obviously going to be a voice so where next?


A Mum I met early on suggested we label things in our house with large laminated picture cards so he would be at least exposed to PCS (Picture Communication System) Cards early on and we could continue to point them out.  Of course they were going to be nouns, naming words.  So we set about labeling the toilet door, his bedroom door, the bathroom door, and his drawers in his room to say what was in each drawer.  We also had a 'brush teeth' card by his toothbrush in the bathroom.  They are still there today somewhat ignored by us all now.


So we then moved onto choice boards, and flip books.  We took photos of things around the house and filled a small flip page photo album with familiar photos which he used for comfort at the Preschool.  Every-time he got distressed they could pull out his photo book and sit with him and he would calm down looking at familiar items, Mum, Dad, our Dogs, the car, his bedroom, all sorts of things.  I did put words on them but he really never noticed the words.  So after trolling the internet for advice I landed upon large simple choice cards.  One for FOOD and one for DRINK.  At home we stuck them onto the table in front of him either side of his plate.  We would encourage him to touch each card in order to 'request' some food or a drink.  He would get annoyed at us and wail, but we persevered. He did eventually get the idea and would touch his card when he wanted more FOOD.  We discovered however that even when the card wasn't there he would touch the spot where the card should be and tap.  It was then we discovered the card didn't matter and he wasn't aware of the picture or the word on it.  He had 'motor planned' that in order to get something he needed to tap that spot on the table and people would give him things.  So where to next? How do we get him understanding the pictures and cards have meaning?


Next came the simple strip of choices, and large pieces of paper with 4 photos of food choices that we stuck to the front of the pantry. As we came in for morning tea I would take him to the picture and manually hand over hand touch each picture and state what it was 'CHIPS', 'BANANA' etc and then slowly go back and wait for him to make a choice.  I could tell he was choosing an item by the pressure I felt of his wee hand pushing the page.  As he got better at the choosing he would touch each of the pictures himself and wait for one of us to say what the pictures were.  It was then we realised he was 'auditory scanning' , he needed to hear what each picture was called before he chose what he wanted.  Again we realised the pictures didn't matter it was the words spoken and the motor planning of what each picture was and where.  So we added a second 'Core' choice to his choice boards the 'I WANT' button knowing he wouldn't really get it as such but we would continue to model it with him, tapping the 'I WANT' picture before touching the FOOD picture so he learnt the sequence he needed to do in order to get what he was after.

This went on for a few years and at the same time we were doing Makaton sign language with him.  Over time he developed a means of saying 'Yes' by clapping, it was this definite yes sign that helped for our next level of communication, which was also asking him direct simple questions and getting an answer of YES or a non response which we took to be a NO.  He was still doing great choosing using the simple choice boards as well.

But this is when an SLT (Speech Language Therapist) also came into our lives and things started to change.  Also we purchased an iPad2 at this time and put a basic AAC (Communication App) on it.  We never told the SLT we had done that, we just put the App on and setup a few basics and modelled with our son to choose the items on it.  He couldn't manage the dexterity needed to touch the buttons on the App but again we kept helping him and did educational play (cause & effect) till he got the idea of how to use his hands on an iPad.  I will leave the rest of the story for Part 2 - Next Level

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