Tuesday, November 15, 2005

All Modesty Aside

Have I said lately how impressive Oliver is? Well, all modesty aside, I believe he is one of the most impressive people I know. While he may have drawn the short stick in the genetic lottery of autism he clearly has inherited some pretty remarkable traits that I doubt came from my side of things. I am in awe of this little boy with his mischevious smile that goes all the way to his eyes. And I am humbled by his good nature. Everyday I am thoroughly impressed by our little Oliver.

Yesterday, for example, L:indsey had just arrived and we were sitting in the kitchen and I was trying to feed Sam and peel an orange for Oliver. Mindful that I should be eliciting requests from Oliver whenever possible and that orange slices are highly motivating, I withheld a slice trying to get him to request it. "I want Orange" is a phrase that he has been using quite a bit these days so I reasonably expected that he would comply. Holding the slice out of reach I modeled the request. "Do you want the orange, Oliver?" then "Yes, I want the Orange." But as is so often the case Oliver seemed to lose interest when a demand was placed on him and he raced into the next room while I continued my conversation with Lindsey about the day's therapy. Then, much to our shock and amazement, Oliver returned to the kitchen and placed a PECs icon in my hand indicating that he wanted the Orange. Now, for those who don't know about PECs, that is huge. He was motivated enough to get the orange that he left the room, found the icon and returned to give it to me! That means that he understands the concept of requesting items by using a picture to let us know what he wants. I noted in an earlier post that Oliver doesn't appear to have a processing problem with regard to speech but rather that he isn't motivated to use words. He hasn't figured out yet that communication can be rewarding. The first step in teaching this is to show that a request will be gratified. So when Oliver raced to find his icon he was demonstrating that he now understands that most basic of principles.

I have often worried that we are teaching Oliver to communicate using pictures when what I really want is for him to speak. It has been found that verbal abilities increase by teaching a child the principles of communication using the picture system. But I still need constant reassurance from his therapists and I continually search the internet for documentation. It seems so counter-intuitive. But when Oliver presented me with that icon I knew that something had "clicked" with him and that one little act reminded me of his boundless potential. These are the things that keep us going.

I sent my rather impressive little boy on the bus to school today wearing plaid pants and a striped shirt. Now you may wonder why I would want to do that to a little boy who clearly has some disadvantages in life already. Well, I did it because those are the clothes that Oliver chose to wear. For the last couple of months we have been working on dressing skills and now I'm pretty satisfied that Oliver can mostly dress himself as well as other three year olds. Now we are working on making choices. When presented with two things and asked to choose Oliver will normally just not do anything. He will stare off to one side and not move. So in the morning when it is time to dress I say: "Oliver, let's go downstairs and have our Yummy Cake. But first let's get dressed." With the promise of his yummy-almond-flour-muffin ahead, he is motivated to get dressed in a hurry. On the floor in front of him will be two shirts and two pairs of pants. It is up to him which ones to wear. I'm pretty sure that he just grabs one or the other without giving a thought to choice, but this morning he changed his mind mid-shirt. He actually stopped putting on the first one, took it off and picked up the other saying, "shirt." The aesthetic side of me groaned a little bit but as he scrambled down the stairs for his muffin I couldn't have been more proud.

He just impresses the heck out of me.

We'll save the lesson on color coordination for another day.


  1. He is amazing! Way to go Oliver!!

  2. I second Sam's "way to go"!

    We learned that the PECS pictures are visual prompts that can be faded out. The point is, as you note, that Oliver understands how to communicate and that is the huge thing.