It has been nearly two months since Evan was issued his loaner iPad from the school. The results have been interesting. Evan has gotten pretty good at tapping on the pictures to answer our questions, but we have to basically shove it in his face and require him to do so. We are trying to train him to verbalize his requests instead of merely leading us by hand to the things he wants. So when he tries to drag me to the fridge to get the apple juice, I put the iPad in front of him and ask him “What do you want?” At this point, he either taps the picture for “I want juice, please,” and then repeats that phrase after the iPad’s digital voice says it; or, he just looks at the options on the iPad screen and is prompted on his own to ask me verbally.
However, the part he really loves is the mode in which he can type his own words or statements into it.
For example, recently at the pool he cozied up to me and tapped out the phrase “where the wild things are by maurice sendak,” and presented it to me, looking at me hopefully. I had not brought the book to the pool, so that posed a bit of a problem.
A few nights ago, we had quesadillas for dinner. Evan is a ridiculously picky eater. While he will eat some things, most nights he has some sort of plain, grilled version of the chicken or beef that we are eating; no sauces other than massive quantities of ketchup. He likes cheese quesadillas, though (no salsa, etc; just cheese in a tortilla). On this night, I tried an experiment. I diced grilled pork into very, very tiny pieces and mixed them with the cheese into the kids’ quesadillas. Evan gobbled them, clearly not noticing. He happily ate three helpings before asking to be excused from the table.
Later that night, after eating his dessert, he brought us the iPad. He sat in his chair and slowly, patiently, tapped out a message to us. When he finished typing, he presented the iPad to us. Then he grinned, made awesome eye contact, and asked us, with full inflection in his voice (a rarity), “So, where’s some meat?”
If only there had been a camera on Randy and I at the time. We were absolutely flabbergasted. A completely spontaneous conversation starter. We tried to remember if that phrase existed in any books or movies he had seen recently, but came up empty. I think we may have broken new ground.
As always, progress comes in fits and starts. He still needs to be reminded to use the iPad for regular communication, and sometimes he just gets too annoyed or frustrated to do even that. Sometimes he uses it to just type random words or phrases from books or movies, merely for his own enjoyment. Other times, he seems to decide that if typing his favorite phrases on an electronic device is good, writing them on the wall is even better.
This is an excerpt from Evan’s little wall-writing project from earlier in the week. He thought it would be a brilliant idea to transcribe the vast majority of Where the Wild Things Are onto the playroom walls, from memory. Some communication is more stressful than others.
Clearly, the pattern that is emerging is that progress doesn’t come when and where and how anyone expects it. As has always been the case with Evan, little bits of clarity and insight bubble to the surface in their own way and at their own pace. We just have to keep trying to give him tools to let it happen, and we need to be available and pay attention when it does.