July 24, 2017
Joining the world around him: A story of success at the Children's Center
By Kara St. Hilaire, Autism Program Supervisor
Several years ago, the Augusta-based Children's Center welcomed one remarkable little boy to the autism program when he was only 2 years old. He entered into services with no functional form of communication, which caused him a great deal of frustration. He sometimes cried, screamed, flopped, and stomped his feet when he was unable to find a way to meet his wants and needs. He showed no interest in engaging with others, often avoiding eye contact and focusing solely on objects.
Once he began learning symbol-based communications—an alternative to speech that includes gazing and pointing at symbols—he quickly understood the concept and excelled with the skill. He realized the process required another person to receive the message and address the want or need. This awareness created even more opportunities for interaction and engagement in activities. Staff could hardly keep up with his rapidly developing skills.
After his team completed an augmentative communication device assessment, staff introduced an iPad to use for communication. The first time he was able to meet a want by pressing symbols on the device, hearing the device state, "I want juice," and witnessing a staff person respond promptly to that request, the entire classroom jumped for joy and beamed with pride, including this little boy. He had figured it out, and he knew it.
Now, the child has become so advanced with the device, he has been teaching staff. He's not only communicating wants and needs but commenting about things going on around him and interacting with peers. He's able to say he misses his mother when she's at work and inform staff when he doesn't feel well. Now that he has a way to communicate, he can participate in the world around him. He talks with his friends using the device, and they talk back to him without reservation.
This young boy’s new form of communication has unveiled his strong creativity, problem-solving skills, and perseverance. He is even reading, requesting songs during circle, and spelling his name. He will undoubtedly continue to make enormous gains over the course of the next year before entering public school. The possibilities are truly endless for this inspiring little boy.
The Children's Center's autism program is made possible in part through funding from United Way of Kennebec Valley. When you give to United Way, you are supporting today's youth at the Children's Center and beyond.
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