I’ve been thinking about starting a blog quite a while ago. For some, taking that first step is the toughest. For me, it’s that first word. I share that in common with my students, I guess.
Recently, I’ve been cleaning out our home office. That means shredding old bills, wading through papers and artwork for the kids and generally procrastinating while I walk down memory lane. When I found a presentation that I delivered while in graduate school, I knew where I wanted to start my blog.
Back then, I was just a wife, mom and graphic designer taking graduate courses in the area of communication disorders. I had the crazy notion that I might become a speech-language pathologist. I was asked by one of my favorite professors to talk to her class about my experiences as a mom of a child who uses an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device to communicate. Today, I AM a speech-language pathologist and I’m still a little crazy–maybe even more than I was back then. I continue to learn from Mateo every day. Similarly, I learn from my students every day. Most of my students have moderate-to-intensive needs and struggle to find their voices just as Mateo does. My worlds collide every day and I am one lucky lady.
Mistake #1: We have a bright kid, so this will be a piece of cake
Lesson: AAC communication is learned and unnatural to the user
First, I assumed that if someone wants to talk, but can’t, they’ll be so highly motivated to communicate that they quickly learn how to use an AAC device. Well, that most certainly is not the case.
Mateo IS bright and will do everything he can to make himself heard. But even now, he still prefers to use his voice, despite the fact that most people, sadly, do not understand him. He will not give up on being understood. It’s just not natural to go to a box and make it talk. Other parents who have been on this journey longer have told me that it took about 5 years for it to really sink in with their child.
However, we got a glimpse very early on during our assessment process during a meeting with a Dynavox sales representative with Mateo’s many teachers, SLPs, occupational therapists and myself. Mateo was given a few different devices and just asked to explore. Within minutes, while I was asking the sales representative questions. From across the room, I hear “mom” and Mateo is sitting by himself grinning at me. Once he had my attention, he added, “I love you” and ran over (nearly dropping the device) to give me a giant hug. I knew then that he was ready and it was really a beautiful thing.
Fast forward to today–I witness first words every day while I’m working my students. They take the form of a PECS symbol exchange, the press of a button on a NovaChat or a glance (and smile) at a PODD book. Mateo is on his third AAC device–a beautiful Dynavox Maestro with Wordpower 100 as his vocabulary. He is 14 years old now and has finally accepted his alternative voice.