Here's another story that I'm hoping warms your heart a little.
A few years ago, our growing school split and a new school was opened. I was placed at the new school. It was my first time to be full time at one place, and I was a little nervous. Being itinerant has a way of letting you fly under the radar a little...maybe get away with not taking many of the tough cases or not having much focus on you. I was about to get a lot more students with complicated situations and difficulties.
One of the students I inherited was a sweet, beautiful little boy that we'll call JJ. He was autistic and nonverbal at six years old. He loved swings and electronics and laughing at everything. JJ's teachers and parents really wanted him to speak. I just wanted him to communicate...to be motivated to communicate.
At first I tried everything I could to get him to produce words. I tried ABA techniques, whole language techniques, building his receptive language, and everything else I researched. It wasn't happening. He didn't want it. JJ just wanted to stare at youtube videos and google images. Yes, this kid was a computer genius. That's when I decided to use his computer skills to my advantage.
Scratch all the effort of getting him to speak. I wanted to see if I could motivate him to communicate at all. While watching him on the computer, I discovered that JJ could recognize words. I began to put words of his favorite cartoons and videos on strips of paper for him to request what he wanted to watch. He did great with it. He'd even grab the word and take my hand and put it on the keyboard. I always pushed for him to type the words himself, though he'd get frustrated at times.
We kept at it. He started to match words to pictures and built his vocabulary. He would even write words or finish a written sentence on a dry-erase board.
I really feel like this opened the door to communication for him. Eventually, his parents and teachers got on board with alternative communication techniques, and he now does amazing things on his iPad. He still has a ways to go, but he continues to learn and grow every day. I'm so proud of him.
This experience really taught me that sometimes you have to think outside the box. Think about what interests the child and go from there. Also, it's ok to give things a try if what you're doing isn't working. It might even give you great data to show parents on what their child is able to do.
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