An old dog learns new tricks

Back story #1

For the past year or so, Dude has really been into having people do a “karate chop” motion on his upper back so that he can create vibrations with his voice. The way he goes about getting people to do this isn’t always appropriate. Our family is to blame for that. We’re so tuned into Dude’s likes and dislikes that we don’t always encourage him to use his words. We simply know what his intention is and fulfill it. Our bad.

So when Dude wants a “back pat,” he tends to back himself into a person, twist his arm behind him, grab their hand, and direct it to his upper back. If the person doesn’t know Dude that well, they look at us with a sheepish, confused smile and timidly ask, “What does he want me to do?”

Earlier this year, I got tired of Dude coming up to me every five minutes and grabbing for my hands. “NO!” I said, crossing my arms in front of me. “I’m not doing anything unless you use your words.”

Dude looked at me. His expression doesn’t give away much, but I could tell he was weighing the effort against the reward. After a few seconds, he acquiesced, “Patmybackplease,” he requested.

Back story #2

Based on a recommendation from Dude’s day program, we have begun using the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)** with him.

PECS are often used with individuals who are nonverbal or who have limited verbal skills. It’s a way to make their communication more directed and functional.

The main philosophy behind this form of communication is that the individual exchanges a picture of a desired item with someone in their immediate environment. The picture receiver immediately honors the request, if the request is something that can be immediately honored.

Our parents had to come up with a list of items and places that Dude talks about most frequently. The PECS leader then tracked down images for these items, cut them out, laminated them, and stuck velcro on the back. All of these items are then velcroed into a PECS book. The front of the book has two strips of Velcro. The phrase, “I want ____,” stays on the top strip. When the communication partner wants Dude to pick from three specific items, they pull the pictures from the book and place them on the line below the requesting phrase. It is then Dude’s job to pick which one he wants and move it up a line to complete the phrase, “I want (e.g.) cookies.” Ideally, he should be using his words in conjunction with the picture system.

Here is what a PECS book may look like:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dude-ism #114

Dad called me the other night to tell me about an incident that had occurred after dinner.

“Dude finally finished eating, so I broke out the PECS book to ask him what he wanted for dessert. I pulled out cookies, pretzels, and Goldfish and handed the book to him.

Dude immediately started flipping through the book, intently looking for something. He stopped on a page, grabbed a picture of ‘Back pat,’ flipped back to the front, posted it there, turned to me, and said, ‘Patmybackplease!'”

 

I think the PECS are catching on nicely.

 

**Editor’s note: Dude is 22 years old and we JUST started using PECS with success. To any parents who have kids on the spectrum, let this be a lesson that it is NEVER too late to try new ways to promote communication!

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