Oskar is non-verbal. This is fancy medical language that means he doesn’t talk. At least not yet. It’s hard to know exactly how much he understands, but I really do think he understands words like “bath” and “hungry” and “Sesame Street”. I lose him when I discuss the finer points of politics, but with what’s going on right now in this country, do any of us really get it?
About a year and a half ago, we got Oskar an I pad so that we could try some communication apps. I found a good, simple, inexpensive app called icomm (I think it was $9.99). You can download your own pictures and voice and it gives the user a choice of either two or four objects. When you touch the object you want, it expands to fit the screen. Pretty cool, but with Oskar’s motor planning issues, even touching the screen in the right place is challenging.
So we have gone low tech. At school, they started using pictures of toys he liked and seeing if he would use eye gaze to choose the preferred toy. That kind or worked, but since he was picking between two things he liked, it was hard to be sure he was really showing a preference. So they started showing him pictures of a thing he liked next to a picture of something boring, like a sock, just to check.
The verdict: He prefers toys to socks.
We have also been using pictures like this at home. Pictures of his drinking cup, a bowl of food, toys he likes. It kind of worked. I think the objects are a little bit abstract for him though. So this week we decided to take pictures of him with the object. Oskar drinking out of a cup. Oskar taking a bath. Oskar playing with his Ipad. We printed them out and bought a cheap laminator at Target and it’s really working. Now we can show him what we are going to do next, like take a bath, or get on the bus, and he can tell us what he wants. He can look at the pictures of his highchair or his special tomato chair and choose where he wants to sit. He can tell me if he wants to watch Elmo or Bunnytown. He can pick between peek-a –boo barn or the Smule piano app. The other day he even told us he wanted a nap by gazing at a picture of himself in bed.
Master of his own destiny!! A little bit, at least.
I am hopeful that someday he will be able to use something a little more high tech, but this feels like a good place to start.