I hope everyone is having an “AU-SOME” start to 2017 and keeping those New Year resolutions!
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I just saw a commercial for a new documentary that is supposed to air tonight on A&E called, “Life Animated” which features a boy with Autism who uses Disney movies and characters to communicate with the world after he stopped talking at the age of 3.
In my profession, I’ve personally seen this phenomenon hundreds – if not thousands – of times over the years, where parents have told me that their non-verbal kiddo suddenly stopped talking after the age of 2. Up until that age, their child was developing normally and meeting child milestones such as walking, transitioning from baby foods to adult solid foods, and talking. Stopping talking is often a pretty big indicator of Autism or other developmental issue occurring and a common concern for families with a kiddo who has special needs.
What I love about this documentary that is airing tonight is that it touches on a very common issue for families living with Autism: Our child is no longer talking, so how do we reach them?
As a parent myself, the anguish of not being able to communicate with your child anymore is heartbreaking and frustrating. Luckily, there are professionals out there like me, who understand this issue and have worked with hundreds of families to help recreate that line of communication.
When working with a child with special needs, it’s a matter of getting into their world —-of jumping into it wholeheartedly and understanding wherethey are coming from. For example, I’ve worked with children who were able to speak, but refused to – kind of similar to the boy in the documentary that airs tonight.
I remember the parents of a client I was working with had informed me that their child loved anything “Wiggles” (that Australian children’s music group that sang and danced on their show with Wags the Dog, memba’ them?) So, I made sure to record every Wiggles song and video I could, and spent a small fortune buying costumes and Captain Feathersword’s…well, sword and hat for my client and I to use for playtime. To this day, I can still recite all the lyrics from the Wiggle’s song Fruit Salad….yummy yummy!
Ok, I derailed for a second. But the point is that I jumped into my client’s world: I made the effort to understand how the Wiggle’s music affected my client and made him feel, how he giggled during some of the Wiggle’s performances. I used these things to focus on increasing his communication. Over time, my client was using Wiggle’s references for communication, and we used their videos and songs as reinforcers for my client’s program. Over time, intense intervention and consistency from his family, behavior interventions, speech pathologists and teachers (“It Takes A Village….), my client was speaking more independently and consistently. I firmly believe that jumping into his world and his passion for the Wiggles helped his independence in vocal speech.
So, while a child who once spoke is now not speaking is scary and concerning for parents, finding alternative ways to reach a child through their passions and things they like, may help them reconnect to our world.