Tempting as it might be, stop trying to read the child’s mind. Consider what the next level of communication might be and expect that…expect the child to respond in a way that just a bit more difficult than [his or] her current means of communication.
I always try to keep that in mind when I talk to Norrin. He’s been much more expressive and so now I expect a little more each time we talk.
Here are my 6 simple rules for prompting conversation with my son:
Set the mood. Make sure your child is relaxed and ready to talk. Turn off all distractions so they can focus on you. And give yourself at least 10 – 15 minutes to commit to giving them your full attention. Go for a walk in the neighborhood and talk about what you see. Sit at the table while they are having an afternoon snack. I like talking to Norrin right before bed. He’s had his bath, he’s winding down and open to talking.
Keep it simple and specific. Don’t go into a whole monologue and/or fire off a bunch of questions. Use simple language and ask them one specific question at a time.
Follow up. Conversations are all about the follow up question. Build your conversation based on the answers your child provides.
Be patient and wait for response. Some kids need a few minutes to digest the question and think about the answer. So wait a minute or two.
Repeat and/or rephrase the question. If you’ve asked a question and too much time has passed. Ask again. If you have to ask a third time, rephrase the question. If they need help, provide two choices or use pictures and have them point.
Look for inspiration. There is inspiration everywhere. Show them a picture of something fun you did together and ask your child about it. Sometimes I’ll point out something as we’re walking around the neighborhood and ask him to tell me about the specific object.
It really doesn’t matter what you talk to your child about. The important thing is to take the time to talk to your child and get them into a back and forth dialogue. And with each conversation, always expect a little bit more.
Want to encourage your child with autism to say what it is he wants? Hide favorite objects—in boxes, in a closet, anywhere out of reach–then wait. That’s one of several good tips from this video featuring Maurya Farah, a speech therapist at Children’s Specialized Hospital in New Jersey. It’s part of the Real Life Tips video series for kids with autism, sponsored in part by Kohl’s Autism Awareness. The tips apply to any children with verbal challenges.
It’s an achievement and honor for any student to speak at their school graduation. But for Dillan Barmache, 14, it was an opportunity to let people to know he has a voice.
Dillan has autism, and is non-verbal. He used an iPad and a letter-board to address the graduating class of Hale Charter Academy in Woodland Hills, California, rapidly choosing letters to form sentences. He got a standing ovation from classmates, parents and teachers—along with a social media one from special needs parents like me. This gives me so much hope for my son, Max, who has cerebral palsy and who uses the Proloquo2Go speech app as his main form of communication. Next year Dillan starts high school; he’ll take general education classes, and might study psychology, per KABC news.
I love not just that Dillan did this, but that the school welcomed it. My dream is for more schools, programs, workplaces and the world in general to have this open-mindedness toward people with special needs. As Dillan’s mom, Tami, said, “We all want to share who we are, we all want to share our thoughts and ideas and questions and worries, and I think every individual has that right.”
“When I examine each day, it’s just incredible how a student, an autistic one, could ever feel a part of a class of future academics. Education is a better institution when all students have opportunity, plus a chance to take an idea and see the lessons within. With your mind, no one can place limits on where an idea can take you. Living without a voice creates almost no way to be heard, but there are people who refuse to think in a box. Open your mind in high school. You will learn to think about different ideas, and examine new findings. Always look inside other peoples experience in order to gain another perspective outside of books. Only then are we able to start opening our eyes to the amazing things around us. I so believe that there is so much more each one of us can do for other people, causes, and fields of study. I know too that the thought of high school is daunting, and also exciting. We will be challenged to think for ourselves as we live each day out. Part of education is showing what we have learned, so then tests measure our ability to learn, and are necessary. However, another measure of learning often seems based on insight and guidance. Insight is a guide that separates our knowledge into what we are taught and what we are capable of doing. Take a chance to experience your education in a meaningful way, and think outside the box, into yourselves. Insight always leads to truths that an individual either chooses to accept or not. Always consider looking to your own insight and seeking another viewpoint. We are the reality of our thinking life and are capable of so much if we just open our minds.”
This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.
A few weeks ago in an effort to get my seven-year-old son, Norrin, settled into a routine, we (our amazing therapist) created a visual schedule. It’s been so helpful for us that I was thinking of creating schedules for other parts of our day – after school, bedtime, weekends. But I’m as crafty as Norrin’s therapist and it’s just one more thing on my never ending to do list. So when I was asked to review AutisMate, a new app for the iPad, I immediately said yes!
AutisMate is an iPad app that is designed to overcome the developmental challenges associated with autism by utilizing a more comprehensive, holistic approach that emphasizes the interconnected issues of communication and behavioral skills together.
Jonathan Izak, founder of AutisMate, collaborated with over 300 special educators, tech experts, clinicians and parents to create the app. However, Izak, was inspired by his younger brother Oriel who is autistic and nonverbal. Empathetic to the frustrations individuals with autism may have, Izak describes his brother as “someone yearning to communicate with the outside world.” The AutisMate is designed to help alleviate those frustrations. More importantly, AutisMate can be personalized to suit individual needs and to grow with the user.
Within minutes of downloading AutisMate, I was immediately impressed. It is so user friendly and offers plenty of help along the way. The “My House” menu features several rooms in a house. One of the many cool things about this app, is that you can upload pictures of rooms in your own home to replace the default photos. You can also download additional scenes like “My Pets,” “Dining Room” or “The Park.” And since the AutisMate is GPS enabled – you can create your own scenes.
The Kitchen is one of my favorite rooms. Norrin likes to click on the hands by the sink – a video of someone washing their hands pops up.
We are really working on toothbrushing – this scene will be helpful for us. By clicking on the toothbrush a video pops up of a little boy brushing his teeth.
On the bottom right corner of each scene there is a ”1 2 3 star” – by clicking on that, the visual scheduler appears – another of my favorite features! The “Brushing teeth” visual schedule even has a timer to show kids how long they should be brushing. After checking off each step, they work until they reach their reward (goal). Again, you are able to create your own visual schedules and customize it with your own photos.
The sentence builder will be especially useful for individuals who are not only non-verbal but for those who want to expand their vocabulary. By clicking on each picture, you can create a sentence and have the sentence repeated to you.
I’m not tech savvy at all, but this was easy enough for me to navigate and figure out. And I’m excited to create new schedules for Norrin and incorporate this into his daily routine. Norrin has been having fun with it too and the toothbrushing schedule and video is really helping us. This is something I could see us using for years.
This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.
Four years ago I put Norrin on the school bus for the first time. He was still in diapers and he had no language. The autism diagnosis was still so new. I had no idea what to do or what to expect. I was scared but had no choice but to send him to school and put him on the bus.
Next Wednesday he’ll be back on the school bus, off to still a fairly new school. And just because I’ve been putting him on a bus and sending him to school since he was a practically a baby, it doesn’t get any easier. But I’ve learned some things since that first September. Things that have made a difference to make Norrin’s transition easier, to help his teacher understand him better and to put my mind at ease.
Here are a few tips that make the back to school transition a whole lot smoother. And I got some blog pals to share what they’ve learned too.
The Introduction Letter. I’ve been doing this for the last few years. I write an introduction letter to the main teacher and one for each therapist. My letter includes: diagnosis, progress made over the last year, usual disposition, strengths, weaknesses, activities he enjoys, activities that are frustrating, items he’ll work for, our concerns, any self stimulating behaviors (what he does/when he does it/how we redirect him), goals that mean the most to us and contact information. But there’s no one set laundry list of what to include in your letter. (One year, I listed all the words Norrin knew how to say.) Tweak your letter and add information that is critical for your child.
Get contact information for bus driver and matron. Your relationship with the bus driver and matron is just as important as your relationship with your child’s teacher. Be sure to exchange contact information immediately. Ask for their names and remember them. Let them know if your child likes to sit by the window or gets car sick – anything that will make the ride to school easier for everyone. This year I plan on trying something new. I’m going to greet the bus driver and matron with gift card for a local coffee shop. It doesn’t need to be much, just enough for a coffee and sweet treat. I want them to know how much I appreciate them.
Know who is in your child’s class. On the second or third day of school, I ask the teacher for the names of the other students. It’s rare that Norrin tells me who he’s played with or sat next to and most times he just blurts out random names. When I know the names of his classmates, I use that in our conversation to try and figure out Norrin’s day.
Provide book suggestions. If you have a young child in a “typical” public school or in an inclusion class, provide some material to educate the other students. Two books I really like are This is Gabriel Making Sense of School and My Friend with Autism. Both books are written in a clear and simple language for children to understand the diagnosis and let them know what to expect from your child.
More tips from a few blog pals:
Jean Stimey Winegardner of Stimeyland: Make sure your child’s IEP is being followed. Your child’s IEP is a legal document and his school has to follow it. At your first meeting with your child’s teacher, tell her that you will stop by or email at the end of the week to see if she has any questions specific to the IEP after she has read it. Being clear about your expectations from the beginning makes any relationship easier. For more of Jean’s tips clickHERE.
Tim Tucker of Both Hands and a Flashlight: Don’t push your child toward new skills or goals until they get settled into school. For example, if you’re working on getting your child to look people in the eyes more, don’t push that when school starts. Your goal the first week of school is just to get back into the routine and see where things are. For more Tim’s strategies clickHERE.
Every year is different and I still start every school year not knowing what to expect. But I take comfort in knowing what to do to set my child up for a successful school year.