It has been a year since we took delivery of the talker. In that time it’s become an extension of Archie and I think of it very much as his voice. Below I’ll post the video taken a year ago straight after the talker had arrived, followed by a video of a general chat taken this week.
Archie is becoming creative with the talker, in a way I hoped he would. So last week for example, on arrival at the beach I asked him whether he wanted to wear his coat or my furry one. It occurred to me as I said it, that there probably was no word for ‘furry’ on the talker. This made no difference, without hesitation Archie said ‘ferry’, it’s close enough to be obvious what he meant. It also demonstrates that he is not using the talker as a symbolic device. The sequence for ‘ferry’ may end with the picture of some sort of boat, but the key clearly does not represent ‘some sort of boat in which I travel to Ireland’ in Archie’s head. He’s using the talker in the way we use our mouth to speak, or perhaps more similarly our hands to type. A fixed motor pattern produced by Archie results in the talker broadcasting a collection of sounds which allows him to be understood. The same motor pattern produces the same word each and every time. Incidentally Archie has previously used the ‘ferry’ key to mean ‘some sort of boat’, so this is not a case of misidentification. It was a choice of way to communicate the word ‘furry’.
The talker has also allowed Archie to have more say over what he does and his wishes and desires. My parents have been away for the last three weeks and so Archie has been accompanying me in picking his brothers up from school. He’s always quite enjoyed this but by the end of the second week was beginning to become anxious and we had a difficult pick up on Thursday. In the past I would probably have assumed this was a one off and would have taken him with me again the next day. Using the talker he was able to say Joseph Louis school tomorrow daddy car. And so Daddy did pick them up and we had a peaceful, relaxed time at home. He’s been able to check that he won’t be doing the pick ups next week Monday Joseph Louis granddad car.
Archie is using the talker well at school, both academically (e.g. in literacy) and in general commenting. This week he had a TA from a different class covering in his class for the day and he was able to check back class tomorrow. Archie being Archie he’ll use it to tease as well, such as talking about taking people’s glasses off. And he’ll use it to apologise. A real sign that he cannot always control the way he behaves. Such are the trials of severe autism.
This year, for the first time ever I have found myself saying things like ‘Archie said…’ or ‘Archie told me….’ I have seen the relationship between Archie and his brothers strengthen. They even argue now, another first. The first year has been a series of small steps but we seem to have travelled a long way.