From the beginning of Palmer’s diagnosis, practitioners all inferred that Palmer was a visual learner and would be able to communicate using pictures, since he could not yet say any words. I knew this wasn’t true because he wouldn’t even look at a picture. And when I said something to him from another room, he understood. For example; ”Palmer, would you go turn on the light?”…and he would.

All kids—with or without autism, have unique learning styles.

Trusting the experts, I begrudgingly went along with the conviction that Palmer would have to rely on what is called Augmentative and Alternative Communication systems (AAC), Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS) or Sign Language. These preferred methods of instruction were all based on the theory that kids with autism are visual learners.

Because of the erroneous theory (In My Prior Blog) that if a child with autism did not speak by age 4 or 5 that most likely they never would , they should be given tools to communicate their needs. Behavior challenges in children with autism (breaking windows, self biting, biting and scratching others, head banging, etc…) are most often the result of not being able to express their needs or tell someone they are hurting.

I abhorred the thought of my beautiful son lugging an ugly plastic notebook with velcro strips and little pictures around his neck. How stigmatizing. Like holding up a sign “Retard Here!” (how people viewed autism back then). And the images that these systems used were so crude and not representative of their meaning.

As color printers became more of a household commodity, I insisted on real photos of objects that would be recognizable to Palmer, rather than the stick figures used with PECS and AAC that meant nothing. I was a bit biased against these images since for 20 years I had been an illustrator and photographer. The defense reason I got was the images would teach abstraction.

Abstract thought is known to be very difficult for many kids with autism.

So I provided laminated photos I took myself for Palmer’s instruction.

When the iPad hit the market, I advocated for Palmer to use one at school for instruction. This met resistance by his school, as it was still an unfamiliar technology back then (10 years ago). An iPad around my son’s neck would be way more cool than the old PECS notebook or 5 lb. proprietary device costing $7,000. that was commonly used. It was a new sign he was carrying; “Cool Geeky Nerd Here”. I even had a camera strap attached to the case by a local shoe repair shop.

All this while, I continued to teach my son new words and phrases. He was taking to this way faster than using pictures. After all, if he was in a pool or in the bathtub, would it be better for him to have to stop what he is doing to grab a picture or punch a button which he couldn’t have in the water anyway, or use a simple word?

Because he COULD say simple words.

Speech therapies should incorporate the spoken word.

Unfortunately, some kids may not be able to make even a sound. But those who can, need intensive help. And attitudes of how to help need to be changed. Economics should not enter into this equation. These are valuable lives at stake here.

The problem with helping these children

learn to speak is a very difficult one, but not impossible.

New approaches that motivate these kids to WANT to speak is essential and technology can do that for them. It’s been seen that kids with autism will respond to a computer more than to an individual. That does not mean that computers will replace human interaction, but that they can aide our children that are so often underserved.

It is my hope and mission to provide a new tool with Sayin’ It Sam™ Apps to motivate speech from our children with speech delays.

Read this excellent article on how children with autism learn, from the "Autism Now" website.

Back to Our Blog.

How Technology & Observing My Son's Learning Behavior Will Help Motivate Him to Speak

“When you’ve seen one person with autism, you’ve seen one person with autism”

(No two kids with autism are the same.)

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