Monthly Archives: May 2013

Language Barrier

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When I was in high school, I spent a few weeks in Spain as part of a school program.  My classmates and I were divided into groups of two or three and sent to live with Spanish families in their homes in Madrid, while taking classes and sightseeing during the day.  I think, at this point, I might have only been in Spanish Two.  My Spanish was, to put it generously, not very good.  I largely depended on my classmates to help me with communicating with our host, an older woman who did not speak English at all.

One afternoon, however, my American classmates were not around and I was at home with our host.  She asked me something—I forget what—maybe if I was hungry?  I don’t remember.  What I do remember is grabbing my Spanish-to-English dictionary in a complete panic and flipping through it furiously so that I could answer her simple question.  I was looking for a word for “later.”  In my panic, I forgot that I already knew how to say “más tarde.”  I ended up finding the phrase for “at a later date.”  My host first looked baffled, and then smiled.  I knew I didn’t quite get it right, and I felt rather embarrassed.  But I sort of got my point across.

I think of that story often when I work with Evan.  When we ask him a question, and we know he knows the answer but he just can’t find the words to tell us, I picture someone in his brain flipping through a little dictionary, trying to find a word that he knows he knows, but just can’t seem to remember.

A few days ago, I was still sleeping and Randy was in the shower.  Evan came into our room and opened the bathroom door.  He looked at Randy in the shower and announced, “Water Water Wet!”  He paused for a few beats, then again, “Water Water Wet Wet Wet!”  We praised him for describing the shower, ‘Yes, Evan, the water in the shower is wet.  Daddy’s taking a shower, so we are going to close the door to give him privacy.  He’ll be out in a minute.”  Evan wandered downstairs.  He then refused to sit at the table to eat his breakfast, again saying “Water Wet Wet!”  Hmmm.  “Evan, how about you go to the bathroom before breakfast?”  Randy led him into the bathroom in order to help him pull down his pjs.  That’s when he discovered that Evan was soaking wet.  He had wet the bed.  Water water wet, indeed.

Another favorite word is “stuck.”  Stuck can mean that his foot is stuck in the rung of the kitchen chair.  It can mean that his tooth is wiggling, but still in his mouth.  Stuck is used to describe a stuffy nose, a wonky seatbelt, or constipation.  I suspect it is sometimes his attempt to give us a little metaphysical update, as well.  Stuck.

Although Evan seems to be rocking his report cards in first grade, he struggles with abstract concepts and anything that requires higher-level language or communication.  He can tell time, read, write, and do addition and subtraction like a pro.  His spelling and handwriting are impressive.  But read him a simple story and ask “who was the main character?” or “where did the boy go?”  and you will get absolutely no response.  We know that the successive grades will require him to be able to communicate and display reading comprehension, so we are doing whatever we can to figure out how to get those words out of him.

His speech pathologist had him evaluated for assistive technology.  This can be any number of AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) devices or techniques that could help bolster and encourage communication for Evan.  A representative from the county intermediate unit came to school to meet with Evan and to interview his teachers.  From the things she learned about Evan, she was to make recommendations.

That meeting was yesterday morning.  The result of the meeting is that Evan’s teachers will use a loaned iPad with some software that is pre-loaded for communication.  These applications (TouchTalk and Proloquo2Go) {nitpicky side note–why is everything run together as one word now?}  have been successful (when used correctly) in encouraging language use in kids like Evan.  Depending on the child’s level of cognition or schooling, he can tap pictures, make sentences from pictures, or type words into the iPad apps, and the iPad speaks the words or sentences he types.  Evan then must be required to repeat those words in order to get what he wants.  [Example:  Evan finds the pictures for “I want juice.” Or he types the words “I want juice.”  The iPad speaks, “I want juice.”  Evan does not get juice until he also says “I want juice.”]

This is similar to a PECS (picture board) system he used when he was much younger, but the iPad technology provides more robust language and allows more opportunities for growth as Evan’s abilities improve.

We must all (teachers, therapists, family) collect data on Evan’s use of the device, and if it seems to be working for him, we may be granted our own device in the future.  Evan’s siblings are obviously insanely jealous and wish they couldn’t speak so that they, too, could get an iPad.  Sibling compassion is no match for sibling rivalry.

While I’m hopeful that this technology could help Evan communicate with us, I have been in this game long enough to know that there is no magic pill.  We will try this out, and I will update everyone on our level of success in the fall.  At a later date.  Más tarde.