Before he started using his communication device, most of my son’s wants and needs were decided for him. Being non-verbal, Lucas had no way of letting us know what he specifically desired or when. It led to others making all the choices for him.
In hindsight, nine times out of ten, I feel I was right. I proudly declared that I knew pizza was his favorite because, the day he started punching out his words on his augmented and alternative communication device was the day he first verified it. To a dad who guessed at all of his choices based on intuition and response, hearing him request “pizza” was a personal victory.
Thanks to this new line of communication, I had the opportunity to ask him about his menu selections. It’s a great moment as a parent to learn that your son, who some experts said might never be able to express himself, can tell you what he wants and show he understands what you’ve given him.
I can remember the early days of the AAC. It would blow my mind to find Lucas responding to me. I’d lay a plate of chicken in front of him and, as he began to scarf it down like a starving hyena, I’d ask him.
Hey. What is this? What food is this?
Then I’d put his communication device in front of him and, after a brief scan, he’d press the picture.
The robotic voice did the talking but his finger did the walking. He understood so much more than we ever imagined. I’d beam with pride and kiss him on the head. Before my lips had even left his hair, I’d hear the robot voice continue.
Um, OK. Must be a mistake. Maybe he doesn’t know this thing as well as I thought.
No, buddy. Orange juice and chicken? Yuck. You want water? Apple juice? You tell me.
He’d stare at me for a brief moment and then, like a mad scientist shouting “Eureka”, his face would light up. He knew his mistake. With that, his pointing finger would scan the screen.
I. Want. Orange Juice.
Ugh. He really does want orange juice, I guess. I’d go the fridge and, before pouring, show him the bottle for one last attempt to save him from a gross decision. Instead, he’d give it his signature double tap as if to say, “Yes, James. Very well. This shall do.” Then he’d go back to hyena chow time.
Dinner started out more predictable. If he had his way, dinner would almost always be pizza. Pizza, as mentioned earlier, was my victory food. It was the thing I was positive about before his iPad talker. Of course, now he had to make sure that my victory was more of a split decision.
I. Want. Pizza.
You got it, buddy. Pizza coming up!
Seriously? With pizza?
I. Want. Orange Juice.
Fine. You’re weird.
And that he is. Just like his sister, who can use words and loves to put avocado on everything or me, his dad, who mixes corn with ketchup…and, well likes to put avocado on everything, we all have bizarre food cravings that, without the ability to tell others, would never be guessed by those serving our meals.
Before communication, orange juice was an occasional breakfast thing for my pint-sized fella. Apple juice and water dominated his beverage selections. Looking back, I know now that the whole time, he just wanted OJ. Morning. Noon. Night. Orange juice.
He appeased us at the time because, as I’ve come to learn, he just figured we didn’t know. He had no way of telling us about his citrus obsession. So he dealt with water and second-rate juices. We gave him water and he’d drink it. In his head, though, my poor little guy wanted something completely different.
Now, when we give him water, it’s a silent battle. He does something that, to this day, remains one of the funniest things he does.
I fill up his cup and straw combo with water from the refrigerator dispenser. He takes one sip and hands it back to me. I can hear a voice ringing out in my head that says, “Go home and get your freakin’ shine box.”
No, Lucas. Water. We’re drinking water. Take it.
That’s when, this little boy who had professionals lament over his probable life of never expressing his wants, wraps one hand around the straw while gripping the base of the cup in his other. Then, with an incredible Hulk wince upon his face, he pulls until the two pieces come apart.
Then he hands them back to me as if to say, “Oh no. What happened to your cup? It broke?”
It seems like a small thing, but my son’s love of certain drinks and foods is important to him and, therefore, important to me. It took a device to find his voice and it took that voice to ask for them. Had I dug my heels in, insisted that he would one day speak, and turned down any robotic assistance, he’d still be unhappily drinking water. He’d still be not getting what he wanted…even when what he wanted was right in the kitchen waiting.
Do I want Lucas to one day speak words? Sure I do. But, I also know that it’s not about words. It’s about communicating. We found that outlet for him to do that and he couldn’t be happier. He never has to say a thing. He just needs to know we’re listening.