Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Say My Name

Charlie doesn't talk.

He grunts, whines, cries, laughs, and makes happy noises, but as of yet, no actual talking. I'd love to hear "Mommy," "I love you," or, you know, "all the medical bills are worth it," but I'm mostly zen about this. You can read about kids all over the net who are communicating a variety of ways--sign language, communication computers--and I think that he'll definitely find a way to communicate. Also, we live in a very computer-centered world and I find myself communicating in different ways all the time, so who knows what the future holds? I mean, if someone had told me seven years ago that I would be sending written messages with my phone, I would have asked them where they got the crack because that's just ridiculous. Now, I text not only to annoy my friends who are working, but also to update my Twitter page about things that irritate me. Side note: you should seriously follow me on Twitter--how else are you gonna know there's a long line at Chick-fil-a? I'm your eyes and ears on the ground when it comes to Chicken Minis.

A while back we ordered a GoTalk 4 through Early Steps (our state's Early Intervention Program). The GoTalk is an "augmentative communication device." We call her Tina the Talker. Well, Tina arrived and the Speech Therapist and I were giddy with excitement. I mean, this was communication in box! You take that seriously or your kid might skip over "mama" and "dada" and head straight to "I need borrow the car" and "where do babies come from?" So we took the magical Tina out of the box and programmed her with officious words like "water," "cracker," "yes" and "no."

But nothing happened. Charlie hit every button in rapid succession, lost interest, and tossed Tina on the floor.

So, we re-grouped and decided to try an activity with Tina. We cut out pictures from a magazine of ears, eyes, a nose, and a mouth and paired them with my voice saying these same words. We wanted to work up to the point where we would touch something on Charlie and he could tell us what it was called. This time it was nose, nose, nose, nose, nose and BAM! Tina was on the floor again. Really, Tina ain't gettin' no respect around here.

So there we were: the lovely Tina neglected in a corner and I feeling pretty mommiocre for failing to bring out the inner Walter Cronkite in my child. Or even his inner Sarah Palin. Charlie's speech therapist was as stumped as I was. She doesn't have a ton of kids using augmentative communication, so she's like me--just figuring it out as we go along--but she had heard about an augmentative communication specialist at Children's Hospital in New Orleans and I thought maybe we should make an appointment.

So today I called. Actually, I called last week and again this week when my call wasn't returned because I'm one of those parents. (I also have my own laminator. Sue me.) The man at Children's asked me questions for at least five minutes: how old is he? what activities have we tried? how many different levels does the GoTalk hold? I ended up not really needing an appointment--he just gave me a bunch of advice. How nice! and Unexpected! Usually they want charge your insurance company ten dollars a minute for allowing you to breath the same air as them.

Here's the breakdown:
  1. Normal two-year-olds have very short attention spans. When planning a therapy session, count on having to change activities every five minutes.

  2. In the beginning, I shouldn't expect him to use Tina for more than ten minutes TOPS! Poor Tina, she'll remain abused and neglected.

  3. We should be using all five levels of the GoTalk with each level representing a different activity. One could be for foods, one for a few toys, one for a puzzle, and one for song. We'd been doing the opposite--we'd been using only one level because we didn't want to overwhelm him. Apparently, we were underwhelming him by expecting him to be interested in nose, mouth, eyes, and ears for more than five minutes.
  4. The POINT of augmentative communication with a two-year-old is really just to get them used to using a device--it's not going to be life-altering with a total of twenty words.

  5. All children have good days and bad days, so it's OK if he doesn't want to practice every day.

  6. Advancement and avoiding frustration might be mutually exclusive. Basically, we might have to push him a little to achieve on the GoTalk.

I called his speech therapist right after the conversation and we discussed everything. We're jazzed and ready to start planning some activities--I'm getting ready to fire up that laminator right now.