Can you remember your child's first word? The delight you felt when you heard them say "Mummy/Daddy I love you?" I could never have imagined how brilliant that felt, until today. Tyler didn't say Mummy I love you or say a recognisable word or even just Mamma. No, today my eyes welled up and I almost burst with pride when he simply handed a picture to his speech therapist.
We were doing PECS training. The Picture Exchange Communication System is a form of communication where children use pictures to communicate. It's a very structured approach and is relatively easy to implement given the right support and commitment. There are 6 phases to implementing PECS and by the end of the process, children (or adults) are able to easily communicate with others using their pictures. Due to the structured nature of PECS it has been proven to work with those on the Autistic spectrum and has also been shown to help develop speech. For more detailed info on PECS click the links below.
|An example of a PECS book.|
Tyler only started phase 1 of PECS last week. The preparation for starting PECS can take a while as it is important to have a good sense of what motivates your child and then you have to get all the pictures ready. It's not until you have to find a picture for things that you realise how much we take communication for granted. There are so many words in the world! It must be so confusing not to understand what any of them mean. We also found it difficult working out things that Tyler would want enough to make him want to communicate. It wasn't until we started to think of this that we realised how set in his ways Tyler is, but in a strangely good way. Most kids would be motivated by sweets or chocolate, but Tyler doesn't like anything like that. Instead he would bite your hand off for a breadstick, now I just need him to let me clean his teeth and he'll have a great set of nashers.
Once we figured out what motivated him we were able to start phase 1, which is designed to teach Tyler to initiate communication. We teach him to hand over a picture for something he wants. This is done by someone sitting behind him and when he reaches for the object, we take his hand, lift the picture and release it into the other person's hand. In return, Tyler gets what he wants from the person to whom he has given the picture. And on his second session today my boy did it without me having to help him!!
The tears were in my eyes and I could have squeezed him until he was blue. It might not seem like much of a milestone, but to me it meant more than winning X Factor (or what I would imagine that would feel like). I think it meant even more given the past few days we've had, and even the morning we had had up to that point. Tyler had been in 'Meltdown City', as I like to call it, ever since I'd cleaned his teeth this morning and was really not cooperating when we first arrived. Ciara, his brilliant speech therapist, and I both thought we were getting nowhere but then he got his cars and it all changed.
It was just another great example of how progress can be made if autistic children are engaged in the right way. Tyler has played with this wooden car track since he was 9 months old - it has fascinated him ever since and because he was comfortable playing with it, he could open his mind enough to take in the new form of communication. It might have only been a tiny bit of progress, but it was progress. That means we are one bit of progress closer to him being able to communicate in a way others can understand, which will make everything easier and less confusing for him.
Now we just have to keep building on this. As with everything in the world of autism, it's one piece of the puzzle at a time. I can't imagine what state I'll be in when he does eventually say Mummy I love you!