Okay, so maybe not a thousand words – but enough words to tell your grandma that you don’t want pizza for lunch, you would rather have chicken nuggets, thank you very much.
My grandson Tyler, is 3-1/2 years old and cannot talk much. He understands what we say. He just cannot talk.
If he wants to show me something, he grabs my hand firmly and takes me there. If he wants a drink or water, he points to the cups. If he wants a yogurt, he opens the fridge and grabs one (oh wait, every grandchild does that). The point is, he has a hard time communicating – and I in turn have a hard time understanding what he wants.
My daughter has taught Tyler some very basic sign language, so he can say, “eat”, “more” and the all-important, “please.” He can say a few words, and parts of words. His favorite word is “No!” But he can also say, “rock”, “Mom”, “Dad”, and the last half of the dog’s name, “Dee” (for “Buddy).
Now, it is interesting how life works. My youngest son, Jake, who is now 16, has been a challenge to raise. Although he was determined to not be autistic according to the Autism Center of Seattle, his psychiatrist felt he had “PDD-NOS” which is short for “Pervasive Developmental Disability – Not Otherwise Specified” – which in reality means, while he did show some characteristics of autism, he did not fit into a specific category, medically speaking (I just learned recently that the categories have changed a bit, and now a diagnosis of “PDD-NOS” is considered to be on the autism spectrum).
Anyway, Jake has been a challenge. His older brother, Asa was challenging as well (ADD, ODD, Learning Disabilities), but not to the extent that Jake has been. So when I applied for a Special Ed Para-educator position at an elementary school, I essentially had years of experience working with disabled children. I got the job, and now work with a 5-year-old kindergartener with autism.
The job is challenging, yet rewarding – and overall I enjoy it quite a bit (getting things thrown at me is not much fun, but seeing a child being able to actively participate with his classmates is awesome!). I learned about using picture cards while working with my student. The picture cards helps us in communicating – but in a different way than you might expect.
Autistic people often see in pictures. Verbal communication can confuse them at times. So, the picture cards I use with my student, are for me to communicate with him. The pictures tell him that after we do a particular activity, the timer will go off, and then we will do a different activity. Or the pictures may communicate that a worksheet has to be completed before going to recess. My student is quite verbal, and very intelligent – but needs the pictures to manage schedules, transitions, expectations and behavior.
Learning about the picture cards has helped me help my grandson Tyler to communicate. I bought a set or premade cards and then made some specific to him (his favorite TV shows and foods). It did not take him long to figure out how to use them!
Recently he visited and he made his hand sign for playing on my Kindle. I got it for him and set it up. He played one app for a minute, then got up, looked through his pictures, found the one he wanted and gave it to me. It was a picture of a different app that he wanted to play! I was so excited that he could actually “tell” me what he wanted! I switched it for him, and a little while later, he brought me a picture of a TV show he wanted to watch. And then later still, he “asked” for a cup of juice, using a picture card. He looked so much more confident – and happy – because he could communicate with me. I was nearly in tears!
I realized that the years of raising my challenging child, helped me to get the job I got, which helped me to learn about the picture cards, that helped me to help my grandson. Without Jake being who he was and how he was, I probably would not have been able to help Tyler in the same way. I am always amazed how God figures things out – the lessons he teaches us, that helps us years later. We only see a small piece of the puzzle, while God sees the whole picture. And remembering that, gives me a sense of security, because I know that God has it all figured out – and I need not worry. And to me, that is one of the greatest gifts of all!