My son uses an iPad for his communication. As a non-verbal eight-year-old boy with Autism, Lucas can’t simply ask for what he wants, so he needs additional ways to request. Between hand motions, pictures to point to, and his communication iPad, he’s done fairly well.
So much of his iPad-use has centered around requesting. He uses it to ask for apple juice, TV, or sandwiches with the push of a button. School encourages him to punch in the entire statement as in “I want juice”, but we’re pretty lax in that respect. If Lucas says “juice”, Lucas gets juice. It sounds like I’m spoiling him a bit when I write that out, but that’s because it’s true. I spoil him.
It’s that weird guilt that sneaks up on me during those times. I look at how many extra steps my little guy must go through in order to get a simple snack and it kills me. I see these other kids out and about at the TGIFridays screaming, “Give me a soda!” The parents get them soda and everyone is happy. My boy doesn’t have it that easy. He needs to find his device, navigate the menu, figure out what he wants, find the button, and press it. By the time he does that, I crumble. I do prod him to “say the whole thing” and occasionally he will give me an “I Want” add-on. But usually, he just presses the button again.
And I run and get juice.
A few weeks ago, we switched in-home speech therapists. Our outgoing one had lasted just over a month and isn’t worth writing about here. All I can say is that the new one is awesome.
For starters, she pushes him in ways that I’ve never seen him pushed before. His first lesson was all about using his communication device and it was like watching a SAW movie. There was screaming, flailing, and occasionally a robot voice making demands. I watched in horror as I moved to different spots throughout the den to observe and step in, if needed.
She made him ask for everything and, when he did, she made him ask in a complete sentence. She didn’t just let him pound out the “television” button. She made him say “I Want Television.” In some cases, she didn’t even let him have the television as soon as he asked, which is unlike anything we’ve ever done at home. Instead, she would make him first identify an animal or follow another line of questions. He dropped to the ground. He pushed his face against the couch. He stared at me with a look that said, “Who the hell is this woman?!”
She even used the “yes” button with him. I had never seen that. In all the times we’ve communicated through is device, Lucas never indicated yes or no. He would always respond in full sentences as if he was being interviewed for a news broadcast. Ask if he wants cookies and he’ll respond “I want cookies.” I had never even thought about it, but “yes” was far easier although it seemed like an abstract concept for him. He might not get it.
I always assume that whatever Lucas doesn’t do is because of his lack of understanding. I see him shun the iPad or refuse to get out of the car for an event and guess that it must be because he doesn’t know what is going on. Many times, I’m starting to learn, it’s not.
When his teacher left, I brought him upstairs for dinner and asked if he wanted to watch television before he ate. Just like his therapist, I was going to push the iPad agenda on him and make him request it.
Lucas. Come here. Do you want to watch television?
He pushed his hands together in a motion that we know to mean “more”, although he’s evolved it to pretty much mean anything. It’s like the physical manifestation of how the Smurfs use the word “Smurf”.
No, no. You tell me. Here. Use your iPad.
I navigated to the menu that had the buttons for I, Want, and TV. Then, I presented it to him.
Here you go. You say. Do you want to watch TV?
He immediately exited out of the screen. I looked up at the ceiling with a sense of frustration. This woman had just left and already he was forgetting what he needs to do. I had literally just opened the screen with the words he needs and he exited out of it. How does he still not get it? Why would he…
I looked down to see him with his finger on the “yes” and his eyes up at me. It took all the effort I had to not grab him in my arms and jump around the kitchen with pride. Instead, I played it fairly cool.
Great job, Lucas! Yes! You can watch TV. Come on.
We went inside, I put on the Wiggles, and I returned to make him pizza. About twenty minutes later, we were sitting at the counter eating. That’s when I pushed my luck and retrieved the iPad yet again.
Hey. Look. You’re eating pizza. Watch this.
I hit the corresponding buttons to make it say:
I Eat Pizza.
See, Lucas. You do it. I eat pizza. You say it.
With barely a glance up form his plate, my son pressed the home screen button on his app and then the home screen button on the iPad. It all reset to the main menu. Then, with the most apathetic expression I had ever seen him give, he used the back of his hand to nudge it back to me. It was his way of saying, “Get out here with that garbage.”
For those who think I may have misinterpreted it, I agree. That’s why I tried it again and he did the same thing.
He gets it. He gets a lot of it. Sure, he doesn’t get all of it. There are things that we want him to learn that are still beyond his reach, but there are many that aren’t. I’m still learning what those things are. Each day is something new. Where he is today is not where he will be tomorrow. I know that. I’m also comfortable with the possibility that it might not be. Wherever he goes, though, I’ll be there. That’s all that matters.