03 June 2011
ACT would like to introduce our readers to Ryan and his family: his mother LeeAndra, his father Dan and his sister Jenna! Ryan is a bright, motivated, charismatic, and loving five-year-old boy. He has also been diagnosed with Autism. Ryan came to ACT when he was just two years old and, at the time, he did not use spoken language. His mother LeeAndra recalls that he would scream or tantrum to express emotions and needs. Ryan would pull people in the direction of desired objects, but he never uttered words. ACT’s therapists and Ryan’s family began using the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) to help him functionally request items. They began to teach food items, since that is what Ryan was most motivated for. LeeAndra recalls that he quickly learned how to request milk and other foods and drinks.
Once he began using PECS well, Ryan’s therapists and family introduced sign language by pairing signs with the pictures he used for PECS. Ryan took to this very quickly and was soon using sign language and PECS equally well. Approximately one year ago, Ryan’s therapists and family decided to use sign language as Ryan’s primary form of communication. Words that were signed by either Ryan or another person were spoken aloud as the sign was being used. Six months later, to everyone’s delight, Ryan began making vocal approximations of the words he was signing. As time went on, Ryan’s vocalizations improved and he decreased his use of sign language.
Now, Ryan uses very few signs and utilizes spoken words as his primary form of communication. With prompting he uses three to five word sentences to request items (e.g., “I want milk please mommy”) and comment on what he sees and feels. LeeAndra says that he teases his older sister, Jenna, by standing close to her and repeating everything she says. He sings his favorite songs loudly in the living room. Ryan is learning new words steadily.
The fact that Ryan now uses spoken language to communicate has changed his family’s life. LeeAndra comments that she now knows that he can understand what she says to him, which is a great relief. Much of the time, instead of screaming or tantrumming, he expresses his feelings appropriately. His use of language has opened the door for many new learning opportunities.
Ryan’s mother credits Ryan for his accomplishments. She says he is motivated to learn and that he has done a lot of hard work. LeeAndra specifically requested that thanks be given to the ACT therapists Richelle, Aimee, and Doug who have had, and will continue to have, an active role in Ryan’s learning.