Thanks for reading! Next post will be more EJ writings. I just did this one after bedtime so I wasn’t able to get his help.
Looking back on the last incredible 2 years from being considered “a non-verbal, low functioning autistic child” to the point where EJ is planning retreats for spellers/typers and being asked to put together a book. We truly hope that by sharing our story we help encourage others to follow their gut and if nothing else expose ALL people to the wonders of an engaging education. Even for those who believe there are kids who “can’t learn” (a completely false assumption) why not just read interesting material instead of preschool readers. If they aren’t learning anyway at least their aides will be less bored. And maybe just maybe they’ll start to engage and realize there are MUCH better ways to teach MUCH more interesting material. (steps off soap box)
OK, so EJ is now typing and spelling purposefully & fluently with pretty much any well-trained communication and regulation partner, but as this blog is going to jump back and forth thru the journey here is a clip from 2 years ago just after returning from our first camp with Soma Mukhopadhyay.
It’s cringe-worthy for me to see this because I have learned SOOOOO much and I see all the things I could be doing better, but I’m hoping that showing some of these early lessons will be helpful to others. We would love to help others to identify the best and most effective ways to teach. -Sabrina
WOW, OUR LESSONS LOOK VERY DIFFERENT NOW. I LOOK FORWARD TO HELPING WITH THIS (blog). I WAS ALWAYS LISTENING BUT NEEDED HELP TO GET IT OUT PROPERLY. IT HAS MADE MY LIFE MORE FULL. – EJ
So we’re back to this blog with great news from the communication front. It’s an interesting perspective that we hope will be helpful to others at any stage of this journey. Today seemed like a great day to look back at the incredible journey of the last 2 years. From goals of the alphabet and the numbers 1-20 to being assessed at grade level in math (5th) and 7th grade level in language arts. I kept up with our journey on facebook so often I will link back to the videos there. My hope is to offer insights and updates on our current achievements while also looking back at the steps along the way. EJs hard work and dedication have been super inspiring and kept us all in awe. It was 2 years ago today we headed to Austin, TX and our true RPM journey began.
We had just started homeschooling and something in my gut said, “we gotta see Soma”. I was prepared to just end up wrestling with him on the floor while trying to absorb her wisdom and then lo and behold he just sat with her and went at it. At some point she breezily asked him what airline we flew to get there and he pointed to S-O-U-… after I picked up my jaw from the floor I thought, “now we have got some work to do” We’ve all learned so much these last 2 years (huge understatement). We still use TouchChat for basics but as a wise fellow Speller once said, “(with an AAC app) I could order a cheeseburger, now I can write the menu” ❤️
At the end of this lesson EJs verbalized 3 syllables at a time…that was huge for us. I loved that it was the highly motivating name of his wonderful stepmom Meredith so he could wish her a Happy Birthday 🙂
My main goal with this session was to make sure it was fun and interesting and keep him engaged. In my wildest dreams I did not expect him to sit with me for almost 40 minutes!
I can’t imagine many of you will want to watch this whole thing so I wanna hit on a few highlights…
In the very beginning he says “morning” which was such a shocker by itself. Then he’s making animal noises and all sorts of fun stuff. I had heard at a TACA Support Group at WRTS Whittier that the best therapy for nonverbal kids with apraxia (although I still need him to get an official diagnosis) is PROMPT. Now that we had decided to homeschool I contacted Leann Schouten of Jump & Schout Therapy because she is the best at PROMPT and we happened to know each other from swim lessons and gymnastics over the years…small world for sure.
OK, but I digress…the other amazing moment in this session was that at 26:30 when I’m sure he needs a break he actually asks for MORE…wow! He asked to learn more. It struck me that if I could work learning into his high interest areas with lots of stuff to make it fun that the sky really would be the limit.
Knowing that he learns best with visuals I thought we’d use google images to pull up pictures of what he types. He decides to take over and do the typing. He even starts to figure out how to use a track pad and mouse since it’s not a touch screen.
There’s such a soft spot in my heart for this session because believe me there are days we get very little accomplished. On those days I take the advice of a fellow homeschooler and just curl up with a good book and read to him…oh sure sometimes we plop on the gym floor and he swings while I read.
At the time I had no idea we would end up homeschooling EJ and just tried to do all his work at home or the gym as he continued to refuse to go to class. We actually homeschooled our other 3 children but I never really thought I would be able to teach EJ.
Since the heat was subsiding we tried really hard to get him back to class. He went 1 or 2 more times but then started to refuse with a lot of passion. One day he was clinging to the seatbelt for dear life and then reached over and shut the door.
I figured he wanted to just have fun lazy days so I made it very clear that if he didn’t go to school he would still be doing schoolwork with mommy. He seemed totally fine with that idea.
While going thru a 2nd grade curriculum book I realized he was really far behind in math particularly. Of course he was behind in most subjects but with words I could do cut outs and RPM and help him grasp the material. Math was gonna be a toughy. He hadn’t shown mastery of the numbers 1-20 so he hadn’t been able to move past that.
It suddenly dawned on me that we wouldn’t be held to the same stringent restrictions of a school special ed program and could start to teach him more complex math.
I had heard great things about MathUSee so we go those manipulatives and the Primer book. I believe with all my heart that EJ can learn math. His visual memory is really remarkable because he learns to spell words correctly in just a couple tries.
I can’t be sure of course, but I hope someday to ask EJ exactly why he decided to homeschool. I think our AAC/RPM sessions may have been part of it. I know another huge benefit was that therapies we couldn’t get into because of the limits of after school hours were now a possibility for us.
In the interest of keeping it real I posted this session on September 10, 2015. We were nearing the end of the 2nd week of ridiculous heat. It was keeping the kids in the classrooms all day which is pretty much torture for EJ. He was really not in the mood so I was trying to stick to something he’d want to chat about…animals.
He has a voracious sensory appetite. I’m not sure I have ever seen him truly reach the point of satiation to be honest. I think he does a pretty good job at the gym getting himself regulated but then all of the sudden he’ll be back flying on the swings or climbing everything in sight. So naturally this crazy heat wave that was making all of us tired and irritable was taking it’s toll. He finally typed WATER in all caps and then packed up when I went to get it. He’s a smart one for sure.
I am so thankful that we have the We Rock to get all this input in a safe and healthy setting. Since we had to rush to different therapies we weren’t getting as much gym time as he probably needed to come back from the confines of the classroom without being able to play outside for recess or lunch.
The next morning when we pulled up to school he started to get very agitated and upset. I handed him his iPad and first he just pushed it away. I gently handed it back saying, “if you don’t want to get out of the car you need to tell me why because it’s time for school”. He grabbed it and said, “I want to go to my house”. I said, “why? how are you feeling?”. He replied, “I feel scared, I feel bored, I feel tired”. He was visibly shaken and upset. Short of attempting to wrestle him out there was no way to get him into school and also I wanted to honor his first true communication during a time which normally would’ve escalated into a full meltdown.
This was 9/11/15 and at about the exact time tragedy struck across town when a non-verbal autistic young man named Paul Lee was left in a school bus on this horrible hot day. I’m not at all saying EJ was scared because he sensed that but I do think this heat was doing a number on all of us. Please join me in doing anything we can to help those who are not able to communicate.
So here we are after just a couple weeks of working more specifically with alternative teaching methods and assistive technology. Specifically RPM with lots of visuals and TouchChat as an AAC app.
This lesson was so significant to me because he really started verbalizing a lot. I was so caught off guard that I didn’t even notice him proudly saying “brown” until I watched the video. I have to say that I started video taping mostly so I could share with friends and family on Facebook but I’ve found that I learn a lot from watching the videos. First, I get to see what I’m doing and how he responds. I love that as I’m writing out “light blue” and “dark blue” he is watching me over my shoulder. I had been reading in one of Soma’s books about open learning channels and I just feel like somehow these approaches are helping us find and open EJ to a whole new world of learning opportunities.
Watching him trying to sound out “orange” with all the side to side mouth movement is probably one of my favorite parts of this session. One of the biggest misconceptions about AAC devices and teaching nonverbal kids to type is that they won’t develop verbal language. I believe the exact opposite is true. It certainly has been for EJ.
First of all we have no right to restrict any type of learning that could enable communication. But more importantly it’s giving him an avenue to learn more and get constant verbal feedback while building the words visually. The more senses we can involve the better shot we have of retaining that learning.
Think about the early deaf schools when people thought that teaching sign language would impede verbal language. Kids would secretly teach each other in the restroom so they could communicate. Teaching someone any method of more effective communication is our duty. OK, I’m climbing down off my soap box now…
There were 2 main things I was hoping for during this lesson.
The first was that if we talked about something very high interest it would keep him engaged. He’d been watching this Max and Ruby episode so I hoped he would let me pause and discuss.
There were 3 colors that I had yet to have him spell and he got “yellow” perfect on the first try. It’s amazing to me what words he already knows how to spell. Most of the words he knows from videos, but I’m not sure where he picked up the colors. Perhaps at school?
One thing that I found hugely encouraging was that when he misspelled a color, I could show it to him on the paper and he was actually eager to spell it correctly.
During the few weeks of doing lessons I feel like he was getting to express stuff that he hadn’t before. RPM and AAC are giving him a glimpse of the possibilities that communication can provide.
Looking back at this lesson I wish I had asked him more. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say. It is so encouraging to see his actual desire to learn. Just about 1 month before I could never have imagined him sitting still with me for this long. As long as I can work learning into high interest subjects and keep things fun I think the sky is truly the limit for EJ…and for every child as we find the learning methods that resonate with each individual.
It’s really been interesting for me to go back and watch these first videos of EJ and I typing and using AAC and RPM together. There were a couple more where I’m on his left and then read about how I should be on his right. In this video we start talking about colors and I’m trying to wait to see if he can find the answer without choices.
I end up giving him 2 choices and only write if I think he needs to see it. He would love to copy type everything I think but I know I need to help him pull the words out and not depend on the crutch of copy typing.
During a lot of my reading on RPM, I read about using the stencils even if the child can type. This has been really difficult for us because he seems to really resist the stencils and some of the other basics of RPM. He sometimes doesn’t even point to the choice and just types it.
I think one of the things that is so critical in teaching is finding ways to make it fun and interesting. Wouldn’t we all hate sitting through something boring and repetitive? I fear that so often our children are given drills that build more walls than they tear down.
I know EJ loves animals so I tend to gravitate toward them in every lesson somehow. I love that he giggles at the notion that a grasshopper would RRROOAAR like a lion. It’s one of those “silly mommy” giggles that I hope keep him sort of amused during our lessons.
In these early lessons, I was just thrilled if he’d sit with me for 5 minutes. As I look back I realize how much I enjoy these moments with him. I feel so blessed to be able to witness these moments.
EJs favorite thing to type is still animals and anything from Baby Einstein videos. As we were waiting for his AAC Device (and iPad with an AAC app) we tried several others. We got EJs iPad just before the school year ended so he could work with it over the summer. It was loaded with LAMP Words for Life which is an amazing program but almost too involved for most of the people who would be helping him master it. He actually picked it up like a charm and any path we taught him he can still do months later.
In August, I had the amazing good fortune to get to attend the West Coast Symposium on Communication right here in Whittier thanks to Regional Center and of course WAPADH/REACH who put it all together. Not only did I get to meet all sorts of communicators but I attended my first RPM workshops AND was introduced to TouchChat.
It seemed like a perfect AAC app for EJ. It has a completely customizable student format and there could be a keyboard option on each screen. My hope is that if he does not see the choice he wants he can just go to the keyboard and type away. Meanwhile any standard stuff he would have quick access too.
OK, many MANY times in this journey good fortune has smiled on us. Over this summer our school district hired a new AAC person who had tons of experience with TouchChat and agreed it would be a wonderful fit for EJ. She came to WRTS Whittier and installed it right then and there.
That week after OT I asked him where he wanted to go…I expected “home” or the “kids gym” but it was an extremely hot day and I only had warm water in the car so he navigated to “I want to go to STARBUCKS”…love this kid.