Communication is one of the main difficulties our boys face with autism. Both boys struggle with communication, though in very different ways.
Sawyer only has a handful of very short, simple words - hi, bye, go, pad. There are others, but you get the idea. Right now, a lot of his speech therapy focuses on clear articulation of sounds and also combining and blending sounds. We're getting there. It's can be a painfully slow process, but there's been a lot of improvement from where we started. And he's always willing to try. Whether it's making a request for something he wants, or doing an exercise, or working on school work. He tries, and that's the most important thing.
We also have his school iPad, which is locked into ProLoquo2go all the time. He can navigate the program like you would not believe. He has no trouble asking for the things that he wants or needs, and once you show him a routine, he can even breeze through a social interaction. One of our favorite requests he makes on the iPad is "When are we eating pretzels?" The kid is always hungry, and apparently he always wants pretzels (it's one of the extra snacks we send into school to help with keeping him focused). My second favorite is one that I wish we didn't have to use. "I'm sorry I pinched." The good news is that he uses it very functionally and also very consistently. The bad news is there are several variations on similar behaviors. It's a work in progress ...
Beyond the iPad, there is also signs. From the very beginning, his early therapists and his early start teachers and staff used sign language in addition to spoken language. And Sawyer has always picked up on them. He understands most basic signs (especially in the school setting) and frequently engages them rather than speaking, though we still prompt for both.
This particular picture from this weekend made me smile, though he doesn't look too happy in it.
Sawyer's signing was mostly "please" and "more" because it usually was efficient to get him what he wanted. Simple, short and practical are the hallmarks of autism communication in our experience. But this sign is so much more. It's "help." He's seeking out someone and actively asking for help with something he cannot do on his own.
And that is HUGE.
In this instance, his shoelaces had come untied. He wanted my help to fix it so that he could continue bouncing on the trampoline. And I gladly put the camera down to do just that.
An independent, unprompted communication. Huge.
And that brings us to Xander.
Because he cannot stand to be left out or outdone in any way, he took matters into his own hands. Just after the photo of Sawyer above was taken, he quickly untied not one but both of his shoes. Clearly he will show us.
And he was quick with his words as well. "I need help shoes, please!"
Xander has words, lots and lots of words. Many of them are scripted and memorized, but many of them are also incredibly functional. You'll also notice that he tends to omit any unnecessary words. Who needs to use extra words like "with" and "my" anyway? Short, simple, and very direct. That's Xander. (The "please" and "thank you" have been forcibly required all of their short lives).
Right now in Xander's speech therapy, we work on things like receptive language, understanding what people are saying and what is being read in a story. We also work on expressive language, particularly moving away from the scripted language into spontaneous language. We work on abstract concepts, like directors and pronouns. We work on the impulsive behaviors, like the non-functional scripting.
We're hoping there will eventually be a day where Pixar movies are not quoted all day, every day. Right now he's particularly obsessed with Wall-E, so there's lots of references to "Ev-a," and, yes, you must do the elongated, robotic pronunciation that Wall-E uses. There is no other way, apparently. We also are still celebrating Christmas right now, because Prep and Landing is another obsession. "Rev up the engines. Instruments are holly jolly. Open hanger doors." I could go on. And on and on. But I think you get the idea.
And that's where we are right now. Moving forward, for the most part. Lots of trial and error, lots of practicing and lots of still scripting, both functional and not. Sign language. Technology. A little combination of all of the above.
As long as they're saying something ... we're listening, or trying to.