For the Love of PECS

August 1, 2011

Over a year ago, our speech therapist arrived with a picture board of her different floortime activities.  For months she persisted in helping Evan connect the picture board with the actual activities.  Many days he cried when she would use hand-over-hand assistance to help him reach for the pictures.  Then, in September of last year, he started choosing between two pictures, then three.  Every now and then, he would Evan grab the picture and hand it to her.  To be honest, I wondered what on earth she was doing.  I thought she was supposed to teach him to talk!

That was before I knew or understood that Evan would be diagnosed with Autism.  I could tell by the way she systematically did things and her professionalism that I should trust her.   And so I did trust her, which was one of my better decisions as a mom.

By Christmas of that year, Evan would come and grab our hands.  He would pull us to the kitchen if he wanted to eat. He would hand us his sippy cup.  He no longer cried for the things he wanted – he communicated.  He did not ‘talk’, but he communicated.

Instinctively, infants cry when they need something.  As they grow older, they instinctively begin to imitate the sounds that adults make. One day, when mommy is being goofy and saying ‘mommy’ over and over again.  The baby says it too.  Of course, mommy gushes at this point and rewards the baby with a hug, smile and other such delights.  Soon the baby knows that if she says ‘mommy’, then her mommy will come.  And so the process of communication has been cemented for the baby, who now understands the value of those noises everyone is making.

My little boy, and many children with autism, did not progress this way.  I remember thinking when he was six months old that he didn’t ‘coo’ or ‘ga-ga’ at all.  However, I shrugged it off.  At one year, he made some noises and said ‘uh-oh’.  I thought speech was coming.  At eighteen months, he had learned the word ‘no’.  With no changes at 20 months, we were advised to begin speech therapy.  Some people looked at us strangely.  I’m sure they thought he would grow out of it.  After all, in the 70’s and 80’s it was not abnormal for a child to begin talking around age three.  What my friends and I did not understand is that the problem was not speech delay.  It was communication delay.  Thankfully, our speech therapist understood this and worked endlessly to establish the pattern of communication for Evan.

The technique she used is called the Picture Exchange Communication System or PECS.  It was developed in the 80’s to help children with autism and other developmental disorders learn to communicate. It was designed to be accessible to everyone.  In fact, it is the least expensive intervention system I have come across!!!  (Please applaud the person who came up with that idea).

The official PECS website describes it this way:

“PECS begins by teaching an individual to give a picture of a desired item to a ‘communicative partner’, who immediately honors the exchange as a request. The system goes on to teach discrimination of pictures and how to put them together in sentences.”

PECS is a very effective tool for therapists and others who are involved in one-on-one interactions.  As a parent of three children, I have found that its implementation can be difficult.  I remember posting frequently used pictures, such as snacks and sippy cups, on our refrigerator for Evan to use. Twenty minutes later I came around the corner with some laundry and the pictures were scattered across our living room. The dog was eating one picture, Arianna was coloring another and Tessa was trying to put them in her toy teapot. Evan, the one who should be using them, was at the kitchen table rolling trains back in forth at his eye level. Sighing, I collected the package and resigned myself to finding some other method of use.

My next route was fairly effective – one picture at a time. The therapist took a picture of our van so that every time we were getting ready to go, we could show Evan with the picture. This worked really well.  My only advice is make thirty-thousand copies of that picture, because you will leave it in the van or in your purse at least that many times!

My most recent effort has been a picture schedule and chore board.  This is what it will look like once it is fully implemented. 

However, it is still one picture at a time – starting with breakfast for a couple weeks, then we will add in getting dressed.  Perhaps in a year we will have the whole thing down!  I’ll keep you posted, for sure!

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Evan Turns Three!

July 21, 2011

Believe it or not, the little man has turned three!  Its hard to believe this little guy…

Has grown into this little dude…

We love him so much and are celebrating his birthday today! 

When I see people at church or in the grocery store, they sometimes ask me ‘How is Evan doing?’  For a long time, it was a hard to spit out an answer.  ‘He still doesn’t talk…’ is not quite the best response, as you can imagine. 

Awhile ago, I determined that it might be good to just respond with the good things Evan had been up to.  In fact, I notice that more people take an interest in him now that I do this.  So, in an effort to keep those of you reading my blog up-to-date, I think I am going to start posting a progress report monthly. 

I hope you enjoy reading about the little miracles, as much as I enjoy seeing them!

July’s Miracles

  • Evan gave me a kiss!  I did not ask for one, nor was it bedtime (which is when we normally kiss).  Loved it!
  • Evan said ‘Apple’ on the Fourth of July!
  • He is still bringing us his sippy cup when he needs more to drink.
  • We prompt him to say ‘eat’ when he is hungry and he actually does it!
  • He has graduated from First Steps and will start full-time ABA therapy in September! 
  • When we ask for a hug, he comes and gives us one.
  • Evan understands the word ‘go’ in many different contexts now – pretty useful when we need to transition!
  • Evan can walk up and down 6-7 steps with a hand on the wall or railing.  When we hold his hand, he even alterntes feet!
  • Tessa spilled Evan’s bowl of crackers last week.  Evan picked them up himself without ANY prompting – even putting them in his bowl!
  • One of the skills we are emphasizing lately is getting dressed.  Evan can now pull up his pants all by himself (with prompting).  He also slips his shoes on (with visual prompting) and tugs on his shirt to get it over his head (no prompting). 

Changes Made in July

  • We have begun praying over Evan nightly, before bed.  We pray that God will super-charge his development.  And, most importantly, we tell Autism to go away in the name of Jesus!  He seems to really like this whole process, because he smiles and giggles at us (making lots of eye contact).  He is probably thinking, “What are you crazy people doing now?” 
  • We actually stopped the GFCFSF diet!  Our doctor wanted to see if Evan had changes in his behavior when he was taken off of the diet.  Things are looking good so far – its been about a week and a half!  And our budget has certainly benefited!

To wrap it up…

I read a book by Mother Teresa in high school.  In it, she wrote…

“We can do no great things. Only small things with great love.”

This quote speaks strongly to my ‘mother’s heart’.  Sometimes we can look over the small things in our day, like filling a sippy cup or playing with blocks.  Yet, these are the most important moments.  Evan learns in completely different ways than other children.  Words, actions – they mean nothing to him most of the time.  But the moment I take my hand, put it on his and help him do something – it becomes real.  Its ‘mothering’ to the extreme. 

When I first started this journey with Evan, I thought one thing would make the difference and help him turn the corner.  Now, I know it is the little things.  It is the daily prayers.  The hand-over-hand, the extra mile when I am tired – that he needs most. 

Pray for me.  Its hard to fill every action with love.

And I will pray for you – that every action is filled with love.