Have you ever had laryngitis so severe that absolutely no voice came out? Or maybe a sore throat so painful you just couldn't talk? If you have, you can probably recall the frustration of not being able to clearly communicate with those around you. What can be doubly frustrating in such situations is when others guess what you would be saying if you could, and the guesses are way off base.
Imagine if not being able to verbally communicate was your permanent situation. For many with autism, certain physical conditions, and/or disabilities, challenges with verbal communication fill every moment. There may be reliance on pen and paper, sign language, picture communication, gestures, or assistive communication devices - or not. It depends on the individual.
When circumstances dictate the need for alternative communication, most parents will do anything in their power to provide their child with a voice. Many years ago, when devices could run apps with voice output based on what was pressed or typed, I worked with the school district to provide my son Zach with a voice. It was one of the best things we ever did.
Fast forward a few years. Spring was in the air. Days were getting longer, and people seemed to be emerging from their winter dens. One sunny day while discussing weekend plans, Zach began ardently looking through the pages on his device. Set up with "menus," the device has preprogrammed pages with hundreds of standard buttons. It is also customizable, so we have added dozens of buttons through the years.
He tapped and scrolled and searched. He closed menus and opened others, scanning buttons with his eyes. We patiently waited, giving him ample time to fish for the button he needed. Eventually, but hesitatingly, he pressed Black Bear Diner. But then, he nodded his head no.
"You don't want Black Bear Diner?" No. He kept searching.
A few minutes later, and remarkably with no signs of frustration, Zach came to the page and the button he sought with perseverance. And, oh boy, did it put a smile on all our faces. Our Saturday plans were made in an instant.
"I want to see the bears."
"Bears!" I exclaimed. "Like in the zoo?"
Yes! Smile. Yes! Laugh. Yes! Jumping around the room.
"I want to see the bears," came the button push again. He looked at us expectantly.
"OK! We will go to a zoo tomorrow, and we will see bears!" Zach was so excited. I almost wanted to call ahead and make sure that at least one bear was currently occupying one enclosure. I thought it might be going a bit too far to ask if we could schedule an appointment with the bear to be out and walking around the perimeter for optimal viewing.
When Saturday morning rolled around, there was no delay in getting out of the house. Zach pawed his way to the car before we could unlock it. And off to the zoo we went. Not only was the bear outside: he was lumbering around in true bear fashion, nosing a ball
and kicking up dirt. We were even treated to a few chuffing sounds.
Zach watched intently. He camped out in one spot and tracked the animal as it moved around doing its bear thing. It was a joyful moment, standing back and seeing the full scope of a thought becoming a silent wish that morphed into an intentional request. Here he was, with full satisfaction of doing something he yearned to do, after letting his parents know what he wanted. And all without the use of a physical voice.
Zach's interest in bears extends to polar bears, as well. In fact, while on a trip to see family during Christmas one year, he found a rather large polar bear meant for an outdoor display. If it was inflatable, it might have come home with us in our luggage. But, alas, Mr. Polar Bear was too large and remained in the store.
So far, Zach hasn't asked for a bear for Christmas. But I'd consider how to renovate our yard to make room for one if he did!
About the Author:
Keri Horon is a writer, educator, and special needs parent. She joined Vest in 2019 as a Vest Success Manager.
She is also a Vest subscriber where she uses Vest to plan for the ongoing and future care of her precious son.