New perspectives are welcome!
That’s one of the things my son Matthew was able to tell us this past weekend when my wife and I attended an outreach session for an autism therapy called ‘Spelling to Communicate”. What Matthew was able to express by using letter boards was truly an eye-opening experience for me; one that makes me see him in a different light.
Matthew was diagnosed with classic autism when he was 3-years-old. Communication was always a challenge for him, as were other issues like repetitive behaviours. Over the years, he has developed the ability to speak, yet communication is still his biggest challenge. To put it another way, he is able to ask us for things that will fulfill his wants and needs, but we have never really been able to have a conversation with him. So, it has been difficult for us to gauge how much he knows, and what he really thinks about things going on around him.
We always assumed that his knowledge and understanding was far below his years. After all, that’s what all the assessments have showed us. At school, he has learned, but honestly, he is probably only being challenged at a Grade 2 or 3 level. Needless to say, what he showed us this weekend was quite a surprise.
Spelling to communicate
As the name suggests, spelling to communicate is a therapy that helps kids communicate by spelling out words on plastic letter boards. The idea behind it is that children on the autism spectrum are not delayed in the way we think they are. They are unable to express their thoughts due to a disconnection between the knowledge centres of the brain, and the portions that control speech. Even the ones who can speak, like Matthew, will often repeat scripted text or the last thing that they heard. Spelling to communicate works at developing new pathways that allow the child to break down the communication barriers that were there before.
The outreach session we attended was given my Virginia-based Growing Kids Therapy Center and was aimed partly at building a community for this type of therapy in Montreal. Matthew worked with the therapist for six 45-minute sessions. In each session, some information was read aloud on a particular topic; Montreal’s 375th anniversary, extended stays in space and Amelia Earhart were a few of the topics for Matthew. After he was read the information, he then answered questions with the letter boards.
Early on, as it is for Matthew, the therapist provides some prompting to help him get to the letters on the boards. But as things went on, we could see that he was really answering the questions. A few things surprised us:
- He was able to answer questions even when he didn’t seem to be listening when the lesson was being read.
- The text he was read said the Pope sent a message from the Vatican to Montreal. So, when Matthew was asked where the Pope lived, we expected him to spell out ‘V-A-T-I-C-A-N’, but he didn’t. He spelled out ‘R-O-M-E’. It seems he has some prior knowledge!
- When the therapist asked him what he thought would be the most difficult thing about extended stays in space, he answered ‘Definitely, over-stimulation”! We never expected that.
- And when he was asked what he thought about it when two friends had different opinions, he answered ‘New perspectives are welcome’! Wow.
It took some time and some prompting from the therapist for him to complete those sentences, but you could see that it was coming from him.
Indeed, a new perspective
Because of this, our own perspectives have been changed. We now realize that he hears everything, even when he doesn’t appear to be listening. We know that he understands lessons well beyond the level he was given credit for before this. We know that he has opinions and wants to express them.
We know we’ll help him.
(Note: Here is a link to my wife’s guest post)
Has anyone else tried this therapy? What has been your experience?
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I think it is wonderful that Matthew has found a communication method he is most comfortable with. I love hearing new perspectives from #actuallyautistic people like Matthew.
Awesome blog Mike. Truly great perspective you have shared. You did fantastic on the boards yourself on the last day! You are all naturals for sure. You were great in the boards on the last day of coaching… keep it up! 10 minutes a day… then 25, then 20….. in no time you will be fluent and flying along!