When the Psychologist informed me that Little Man was going to need extensive ABA therapy; I became worried. When I read about ABA therapy and how invasive it can become; I became scared. After asking parents about their opinions and experiences; I was flat out terrified. When I heard from not only parents, but one of the BCBA people (at the office that my son was going to be under), that I wouldn’t be allowed to be in the room with my son during his therapy; it felt like I was falling into a nightmare. When I met the “therapist” that my son was going to be under; I was even more concerned. Sure, she had a degree in language, but she was very young (24). How much experience could she possibly have? But I was WRONG. I was wrong about ALL OF IT! It doesn’t matter what everyone else says, it matters how your child is and how the therapist is, and how they get along.
My son’s therapist is the best thing to happen to my family since this whole journey started (back in January of 2016). Little Man had been displaying a passion for sign language, but the speech therapist provided by the state, was not enthusiastic about his 3 words and pushed PECS on him. She was very friendly and always ready to ask me how things were going and listen to my woes, but looking back, I realize; she did more of that then she did actually DOING any speech therapy. I was so happy for the friendly ear, that I didn’t even notice. She kept talking about PECS and how she wanted to eventually switch him to the tablet. I had mentioned how he wanted to learn sign language, and she ignored me. Now, flash forward to his new ABA therapist.
I told her that I had learned a few signs online and that he was very eager to learn them. He already knew a couple of them; more, food, and all done. She was nervous, but seemed eager to help him. She signed EVERYTHING to him, even grabbing his hands and signing for him. At first, it made me mad, because I knew how he hated people touching him. But he let her. He never screamed. He watched her hands, and imitated her immediately. She played games he liked to play, and taught him new ways to enjoy his toys. She gave him breaks when he needed them, massaged his back when he was stressed, and didn’t take it personally when he refused to let her read to him (and brought me the book instead). When she went home (after her 3rd day of being here) he signed; socks, shoes and mouse to me.
Now, after literally 15 days of therapy, he can say (in sign language); red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, more, help, dad, water, mouse, cat, socks, shoes, food, yummy, car, book, please, cheese, bye, hi, yes, no, all done, ball, yay, again, blanket, cookie, milk, dog, baby, animal, tired and monkey. He even started making up his own words, like “tiger” is rubbing his left eye. And today, he said SISTER in sign language. He heard her call to him, looked around for her, and signed to me “sister.” I almost started crying. He gets sad when other people cry, even when they are happy tears, so I held it in. I was so proud. He not only showed us that he knew it was her calling to him, but he looked for her and was asking me where she was. It was a whole conversation in one single motion. He has NEVER accomplished that with PECS before. And that was just one of 3 instances of firsts today. When we were at Walmart, he grabbed a fruit pouch off the shelf (he was helping me pick them out) then pointed at the cap and signed “red.” I looked at the cap, smiled, and said “that’s right honey, red!” When we got home and were helping Sissy put a tree up in her room, he looked up at her ceiling and signed “star.” We looked up and remembered that her ceiling was covered in glow in the dark stars. We all cheered for him and said “that’s right! There are stars on the ceiling!”
He hears us! He knows and notices things and he finally wants to share them with us! And he is doing it through the use of signs. His therapist may only be 24, but she has an amazing heart, patience, and wants to see him succeed. Not only that, but she didn’t cut me out. We sit there, the three of us, and work together on his progress. She’s more like a wiser/older big sister to him. He sees her, listens to her, and does what she asks. They were made for each other. She only sees him in the morning for 3 hours because he naps after that and she has another little guy she helps during the evening. The company said they were going to find another therapist to help in the afternoons (he’s suppose to get 30+ hours a week). But I told them no. I said that I would rather have a part time her than a full time someone else. Unless they could find me another person who could speak in signs, there was no point. This is Little Man’s language now.
He has 2 speech therapists. One is provided by the state and one that our insurance pays for. Both of them see him for 1/2 hour only once a week. The state provided one wants him to speak with the tablet, and the other one wants him to use PECS for most things and sign for a few others. Neither of them want him to use signs full time. They both say that not very many people can speak in sign language and it’s going to alienate him even more in school (along with the Autism diagnosis). To that, I say; Are you freaking kidding me? Like carrying around a giant binder filled with pictures isn’t going to get him made fun of. Do you know what all you can say using cards you have to pull out and make sentences with? Not a whole heck of a lot. And yes, the tablet could open up a whole new way of communicating, but that’s going to stop bullying as much as signs will. It’s still not “speech.” Not to mention the fact that he may never utter a single sound if he relies completely on the tablet. Oh yeah, and he’s 2. He’s still in the banging stage, and I can’t afford a new tablet each week.
But putting even those points aside; he is finally speaking to us. He is finally telling us about the world he lives in. He’s asking questions and trying to understand what and who things are. He never showed this level of understanding with PECS. He’s finally initiating communication, and they don’t care. I was wrong. It wasn’t the ABA therapist I should have been scared of. The real problem is in people who don’t recognize his current progress and dismiss his attempts at communicating. The speech therapist that was provided by the state, has been working with him since June, and he can only ask for food or a toy with the PECS he has in place. That’s it. After 6 months of speech therapy, he can point to a picture of himself (which represents “I want”) and then point to a picture of a food (say graham crackers) and this represents the sentence “I want graham crackers.” But in the 2 weeks he has been with this ABA therapist, he can sign “I’m hungry,” or “water” or “more food please.” We are working on signing “I want.” It’s really going to piss off his speech therapist.
Am I saying that using PECS is wrong? NO! When we first started trying to get him to communicate with us, he was too young for signs and had no interest in it. But he WANTS to learn signs now, and that’s the key. Children need to learn how to speak in whatever language works for them. If he can’t speak in words that can be heard, and he doesn’t like using pictures, but he wants to use sign language, then that is what I will teach him.
My baby brought me into his world today, and did the same for his daddy and older sister. It’s more than I had ever hoped. I faced my fears (them taking him away from me 4 hours a day) and found a loving and caring therapist to help him (and me) speak to each other and the world. It showed me that it’s important to see and feel things for yourself, and not just rely on the words and feelings of others. I also showed me to trust my instincts. I knew he was interested in signs and I needed to find a way to do more of them. I stuck to it, and stopped shoving PECS down his throat, and now he can finally breathe. If a therapist tells you one thing, but you feel another way; go with your gut! They may be trained professionals, but you are with your child 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A therapist that sees them maybe once a week for like 1/2 hour is NOT more knowledgeable about your child then you are! If you are starting to lose hope, try a new path. I was lost on a city street before, but now I feel as though I am dancing through the woods with my face to the sky. Everything is going to be alright.