Any autism parent will tell you that by far the biggest challenge we face is getting our children to speak and communicate. It is a startling statistic, but roughly 40% of children diagnosed with autism will remain non-verbal for their entire lives. And, many who do develop speech may have major communication deficits to the point where they’ll require some form of Assisted Communication Technology. The lack of speech/communication can have a profoundly negative impact on one’s life because we are a very verbal society…one that puts a premium on those who communicate without difficulty and communicate well.
Now, there are those persons diagnosed with autism who have been able to carve out good lives for themselves despite being non-verbal or having communication difficulties. A few days ago I was revisiting one of my autism DVDs called Loving Lampposts. One of the people featured in the DVD is Dora Raymaker, Co-Director of The Academic Autistic Spectrum Partnership in Research Education. She is an adult with autism who uses Assisted Communication to talk. I admire people like her because she’s a wonderful role model for those who need something extra in order to express themselves effectively. Ms. Raymaker appears to be employed, independent, and sounds quite intelligent on her Assisted Communication System.
I’m inspired by Ms. Raymaker and wish hers was the fate of the majority of persons with autism who have language deficits; but, it’s not. Employment and independence are almost non-existent for those who cannot speak. That’s why I think a huge emphasis should be placed from early diagnosis on getting our children to talk or communicate effectively; moreso than what we’re doing today.
Many newly-diagnosed kids aren’t getting nearly as much speech therapy as they need — and it’s the doggone truth. This has got to be the number one complaint I hear from families. School districts are under-staffed so they give the minimum. Insurance companies are tight when it comes to doling out speech and your paperwork has to have specific coding that permits it. And, children who remain non-verbal past age three are not offered assisted forms of communication early enough, if at all. Then there are the auditory issues. Auditory issues, which play a huge role in speech-language development, aren’t even addressed.
The majority of our children see Occupational Therapists for sensory integration issues, yet you’ll be hard-pressed to find an OT that addresses hearing. I feel they should because they, of all people, are the first line of defense when it comes to spotting Auditory Integration Dysfunction because OT is one of the first therapies our kids get early on. Who better to spot it, help address it, and refer kids up the chain of medical command than an OT? Yet, they don’t recommend the child sees an Ears, Nose, and Throat Specialist. They don’t recommend the kids have an audiogram. They don’t recommend Auditory Integration Therapy. And, it’s such a shame because how do we expect our kids to speak if they cannot hear? You can throw all the therapies in the world at a non-verbal child, but if they cannot process your words auditorily…it’s futile!
So, one of the things I do when I meet newly-diagnosed parents in my community is that I encourage them to make sure they get their kids’ hearing and auditory integration checked. On top of that, I encourage them to make it their life’s mission to get their children to talk. I share with them that one thing that really helped my children was that I read to them and had a book in front of their cute little faces during every waking hour when they weren’t in therapy. And, that’s where the wonderful Dr. Seuss comes in.
Dr. Seuss’ books played a huge role in my children being able to speak and communicate. I purchased all of his books along with the Read-With-Me DVDs by Scholastic. We read them night and day for years. In addition to Dr. Seuss, another author that I feel played a role in their speech-language development is Eric Carle. Last, but not least, there are the Bob Books and the “My Baby Can Read” DVD series. So, along with the speech exercises given by our SLT, all-of-the-above were instrumental, in-home resources that we used. And, I believe they helped. They helped to produce sounds which lead to language because we were working on decoding, alliteration, articulation, and motivation. And, I’m not a licensed Speech-Language Pathologist. I just knew how books played an important role in my own development, so I used them to help my children. And, my kids really loved these books, especially Dr. Seuss.
By the time my children started kindergarten, not only could they talk, but they could read Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham from start to finish without skipping a beat. And, although my son was hyperlexic, we made sure he was understanding the words (not just decoding) because we asked him questions about the story, its characters, and things like sequencing. Today, I have my kids in the library reading at least twice a week and nine times out of ten, we’re working on reading or English.
Now, I’m not implying that Dr. Seuss is the magic bullet that’s going to get kids to talk. I’m not saying that at all. What I’m saying is that parents, particularly newly-diagnosed parents, don’t have to rely solely on service providers and therapists to promote speech. In addition to what the professionals do, you can supplement your child’s intervention at home (or at the library) because you are your child’s teacher/therapist as well.
The only speech issues my children have are pretty much related to staying-on-topic and rambling — things could be a whole lot worse. They are articulate, opinionated, and curious about the world. They are always asking “Who, What, When, Where, Why” questions. And, Dr. Seuss played a role in that. So, I’m happy to say on National Dr. Seuss Day that they are children of Theodor Seuss Geisel. They have grown up reading and loving his books and I am so grateful for what these books have done for my kids.
Thank you Dr. Seuss!
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