For the first ten years of Archie’s life I probably made pretty much every decision for him. Until he was about 5 he had really no concept of having a choice and would treat every suggestion as a command. To complicate matters further it took until he was about 10 before he had a functional yes and no. By this I mean it took that long until he had a way to communicate yes and no and an understanding of the concept of yes and no, in other words an understanding of what yes and no actually means. It’s hard to imagine not understanding the words, but they’re abstract and for a long time Archie didn’t. The upshot of this was that we couldn’t have simple ‘do you want to go to the park’ type conversations because Archie had no way of saying yes, or indeed no.
Gradually we developed a simple way of offering choices; ‘would you like this or this – using a picture or symbol to offer the choice’. If Archie wanted neither option then we would start a guessing game. It was slow, frustrating and often resulted in no resolution. Once an understanding of yes and no developed it made running through options easier but we were still limited to me having to think of various options while hoping to stumble on an acceptable one. Archie’s choices were limited to my imagination and he struggled to communicate a choice without me first offering it.
The talker has made all this much easier, and this improved communication has resulted in less frustration and Archie being able to have more agency over his life. We had a fine example of this this week. I booked a surf for today as soon as I realised that Archie had a non-pupil day at school. It seemed ideal, his brothers would be at school and it would occupy the first day of the half term. Except last weekend he went down with a really grotty cold. He’s been insisting on going to school but has been coughing and spluttering all week and really didn’t seem to be 100% fit to be dunked in the sea in February. In the past this would have been problematic. If I had said something was happening it had to happen, or a massive meltdown would result. There was no way to negotiate an alternative or even explore what Archie actually wanted to happen. I had to try and guess. And, as might be expected, frequently guessed wrong. The talker has made all this easy. By Wednesday when he was still spluttering everywhere I reminded him he was booked in to surf on Friday, but asked him whether he wanted to go given his cold. Different day came the reply. I was able to check ‘do you want to surf on Friday?’ no. So I asked when. Sunday. Okay Sunday, but he clarified further. Downham Saturday surfing Sunday.He wants to surf the Sunday after he’s been to respite on the Saturday. And all decided without a meltdown or me having to tie myself in knots trying to guess what he might want to happen. The day pinpointed all I have to do now is keep an eye on the surf forecast. If it’s forecast to be flat we’ll use the talker to renegotiate.
It was Richard’s birthday this week. He’s a nightmare to buy for, all he ever wants is chess books (yawn). However, he did have a fantastic surprise this year. Staff at Archie’s school turned one of his pieces of artwork into a card. Apparently he did all the work himself, copying from an adult demonstration. A long way from the scribble we had for so many years. I’m pretty impressed with how well he’s written his name as well.
The picture is recognisable I think; Plymouth Hoe – and a fab representation of Smeaton’s Tower (as an aside Archie loves a trip up Smeaton’s Tower but gives me the heebie jeebies when we visit by pressing flat against the lighthouse glass and leaning over the railings at the top).
It has been a successful couple of days here. Particularly for middle son, he found out today that he’s passed his eleven plus and that he was successful in an audition that he thought he’d messed up. Not wanting to miss an opportunity I quickly asked him to pick some lottery numbers. We had a celebratory take away pizza and watched Strictly followed by the new series of Merlin. We know how to party on in this house.
It was a good day for Archie yesterday as well. He arrived home from school with the Star of the Week certificate. These were introduced last year and are given out weekly (the clue’s in the name I guess) – one for each class – the certificates celebrate a wide range of achievements. Sometimes the list of successes in the newsletter can bring me close to tears as they can capture the very real challenges faced by the children at his school. Archie’s was for ‘excellent helping/doing jobs’.
Archie has been Star of the Week a few times now but has never really shown that much interest. Yesterday was different, I did my usual congratulations and cheers and he became really embarrassed, hiding his face but looking quietly pleased with himself. Later, when Richard arrived home, he used the talker to tell Richard; weak star weak week! Notice how he’s been exploring different ways of producing the word week/weak.
I’m sorry my phone camera is really rubbish.
We surf tomorrow. The forecast is looking great! The luck continues….
This is perhaps a bit of a geek post – one for those who are really interested in the data collecting down to business nitty gritty statistics of LAMP in Archie’s life. Communication is about far more than utterance length, but an increase in expressive vocabulary and ability to combine words has greatly improved Archie’s opportunities to communicate. So sometimes I like to count the number of words he’s coming out with.
Last night we had Joseph swimming Monday Archie not (talking about his brother’s after school swimming lessons), followed by Louis car tomorrow Archie not (talking about his other brother’s violin lessons). Five words in each utterance. The not is still at the end, but this is just becoming a quirk of Archie’s communication (and I’ve grown rather fond of it to be honest).
As an aside extra curricular activities aren’t easy to find for Archie (with the exception of surfing of course), but last week at the beach a friendly stranger stopped me to tell me about a trampoline class for children with autism starting in Saltash on Thursday evening. It sounded really good, there was mention of foam pits as well as trampolines. I was given the contact details which I managed to lose while wrestling with Archie over some handbrake related incident. I’m not sure that we could make it anyway as Thursday is a regular respite night, but if anyone knows anything about it please let me know, and if interested in the class for your child it might be worth asking around. Sorry to be so vague.
I finish with a picture of Archie with his brothers, it’s only recently that he’s really posed for photos so it’s still a bit of a novelty to get the three of them in the same photo. Louis appears to be eating a sweet and Joseph’s t-shirt seems to be covered in dinner. Hey ho.
This week Archie has been mainly sounding like someone from Wayne’s World and has been busy telling me what he’s not doing.
His sentence construction is slightly back to front so we’ve had ‘chip shop not‘ ‘tomorrow Granddad black car not‘ ‘hotel not‘ (I think this was very wishful thinking on his part – Archie loves hotels) and ‘Archie Daddy car not‘. These descriptions of what he’s not doing have been pretty constant throughout the week. By which I mean all day every day. It’s been an interesting insight into what he would rather like to be doing. (Mainly it appears traveling in anyone’s car except mine).
However, Archie has also used the construction in slightly more complex ways. For example when talking about one of the surf coaches ‘Harry car not bike‘ (Harry doesn’t drive a car he has a motorbike) . I think my favourite came this afternoon. On the way back from surfing Archie was messing around trying to get me to tell him off for wriggling under his seatbelt. I obliged by telling him to behave and he immediately replied ‘funny not HA HA HA’ (yes the talker really does say HA HA HA). What’s that about people with autism not having a sense of humour?
Archie had a good surf session today, the waves were pretty big ‘surfing good‘. I do not have any photos from today but last night I put together a video from the session mentioned in this post. Archie looks fed up with the lack of swell, but he was pretty chilled and everyone else appears to be having a good time.
The music is by Ruth Stavrik from her forthcoming album.
We’ve had a lot of talk about car handbrakes (a new obsession) in the last couple of weeks, but today Archie surprised me.
Archie was on the computer and came to fetch me. Click clicked his way to google maps and using that together with the talker told me my neighbour has a new car (she does, although I don’t know which car it is, her husband told me last week they were changing cars). Then he showed me another car that has changed.
Archie could have communicated this pre-talker day by pointing to the cars that have changed on google maps and saying ‘nanee’ whilst signing ‘broken’ (nanee was his pronunciation for broken). But today he could use a lot of other words as well. ‘Car gone’ ‘different car’ ‘green car gone new black car’ ‘car finished’ and variations of these. All these words – car, different, gone, finished, green, black, he didn’t really have a way to express easily prior to the talker.
It was a short interaction but the variety of language used and the flexibility Archie showed in joining different words was noteworthy.