I first met Nate and his family about a year ago. It was the spring of 2016 and they were visiting Academy360 Lower School for his intake.
At that time, Nate was 4 years old. It was clear that Nate was a smart little boy but he had no expressive language; he didn’t have a reliable way of communicating his wants and needs. He loved playing with a variety of toys and eating yummy snacks, yet he had no way to let others know exactly what he wanted. Can you imagine how frustrated he must have felt? Not surprisingly, this frustration often led to tantrums and aggression at home and school. So, our first job was to help Nate acquire the skills necessary to make his needs and desires understood.
According to a Boston University study, about 30% of individuals with autism have no spoken language or use only a few words. Some individuals do learn to speak, while others do not. Regardless, our goal at Academy360 is to ensure that all our students develop the ability to communicate in a meaningful way.
Since Nate would not be starting at Academy360 Lower School for another two months after his intake, I advised his sending school district to get him started on PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) right away.
PECS is an alternative and augmentative communication system that has been used for almost 35 years. It is an inexpensive and simple system that uses picture symbols to teach children how to initiate interactions and communicate in a social context. While it can be taught at any age, it is ideal for use with young children, and Nate was a perfect candidate!
Nate’s home district child study team started teaching him PECS right away, and two months later Nate entered our school in the beginning phases of PECS. He progressed quickly while in our preschool class, creating 4-word requests and initiating communication with a variety of staff.
His progress was so rapid, steady, and strong that in short order we felt it was time to start Nate with an Augmentative Communication Application on the iPad mini call TouchChat. This program is an app-based auditory communication system for individuals who have difficulty using their natural voice.
One of the amazing things about Nate is that he loves language. TouchChat has allowed his vocabulary skills to grow at a rapid pace while providing an auditory model for supporting speech development. By consistently listening to the voice on TouchChat, Nate hears the same words spoken the exact same way each time. For children who have difficulty acquiring speech, this is extremely helpful in learning language skills. Nate is now using his device to request walks, look out the window, and ask for different facial features for Mr. Potato Head.
Nate’s parents report that there is less aggression at home because he’s starting to communicate. Nate has begun using an Augmentative Communication Application at home and recently on a family vacation, he used it to request “fruit punch.” His parents shared that in general, he has also become more verbal. He’ll say “please” if he really wants something, like a toy or snack, and “hi” or “bye” more frequently, complete with a wave. Sometimes he will say “more” if wants to be played with or tickled some more. And when he’s alone and playing by himself, they hear him singing and saying the alphabet. Nate is also starting to sing the ABC’s with his mom and dad, filling in a letter here and there. And much to the delight of his father, he says “Daddy.”
We are so thrilled for Nate and can’t wait to help him continue his communication journey! We’ll be there to help him every step of the way.
Robin Scheib graduated with her Master’s in Communication Sciences and Disorders in 2003. This is her fourteenth year at Spectrum360. As the Supervisor of the Related Services Department, she oversees the 14 Speech and Language Pathologists working at the school while continuing to provide therapy to Academy360’s youngest students.When not at work, Robin is a busy mom of three children who enjoys finding time for the occasional hike or a good mystery novel.