Speech Therapy That Wasn’t

September 16, 2016

In December of 1995, during PCDI conference, I watched a video of a group of preteens (or teens) with autism working on some sort of art project and simultaneously “conversing”. At first, to start the conversation going, the students read whole questions prepared by the teachers/therapists. Initiating the conversation is usually the hardest thing for a person with autism. Later, the written prompts were reduced to three, two, one word. or just the question mark as a prompt to ask for something.
Although in 1995, Robert still didn’t understand one word we were saying and rarely used two or three word approximation to demand something, I, nonetheless, hoped that at some point my son would have enough prerequisite skills to benefit from such approach. And the matter of fact, I believe, he gained enough skills to participate in such program. What I didn’t realize was that his speech therapists would never learn about such approach and thus would never apply it to Robert.
Below are those aspects of the “therapy” presented in the video that I considered then in 1995, and still consider it today the most beneficial :
1. The children were sitting around the rectangular table, next to each other and facing each other. They knew each other names.
2. They concentrated on their art projects and thus the pressure related to talking was clearly decreased. “Talking” seemed like a supplement to the art project and not a main thing to fret about.
3. The emphasis was on students starting the conversation, not on them answering questions from speech therapist.
4. Written questions as the starting point (and not the speech therapist verbal prompts) were the easiest for students to internalize.
Sadly, none of Robert’s speech therapists had ever attended such conference or any other conference (for instance on verbal behavior). They were expensive, the administration didn’t want to found them, and the therapists didn’t feel the need to attend anyway.
Thus Robert has never had a chance to have his most serious language deficits addressed.
He never had such speech intervention.

I spent a lot of time working on Robert’s language. Increasing vocabulary, understanding two, three or four steps directions, understanding basic verbal concepts in different contexts, extending long vowel sounds, pacing to increase clarity, answering wh questions, talking in sentences, asking questions and more, and more, and more. But all of that was in the 1:1 setting in a format so disconnected from the real needs that it couldn’t offer Robert any real language benefits.

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