I was working with a family last week and taking some time to understand how the ALL Toy Story (Disney / Pixar) learning content was working with their young autistic son. We had started working with this young boy some weeks prior and the data being generated by the system suggested he was making good progress in learning how to navigate his laptop and the ALL language process. As I discussed with Mom how he was doing I repeatedly explored her perspective on the overall learning and how the new language being introduced could benefit her son.
I could sense she was a little apprehensive discussing the scary world of language. As the conversation winded on, I knew I was getting lost in all my theories of concepts and language, reading and writing and literacy. It all felt so disconnected from this young bundle who was clearly suffering from the kind of isolation and frustration that comes with communication delays. On top of this Mom was having trouble trying to understand the clinical specialists surrounding her son and was struggling to frame questions in a way that would help her understand if progress was really being made.
And then it happened…… one of those huge insights that we often miss because we are too busy sweating the small stuff. Her son had started pretend play with Mister Potato Head, who had been lying around for almost two years. Charging around the house with Mister Potato Head, building Mister Potato Head, wearing his hat and spelling his name on the fridge least anyone would forget it.
And there it was, the little boy was ‘being’ Mister Potato Head, exploring Mister Potato Head, putting his name out there for everyone to see and if that wasn’t enough working on saying it as well. Here was joy in the learning of something new, with language, which had been so elusive. Here were the beginnings of new conceptual language, but most importantly the joy of expression.
When I started this journey with my own twin autistic sons my favorite Professor at college put it very simply: Language is about life and life is for living. Beyond all the analysis, jargon and supposition, here was a little boy enjoying a new concept and the language that goes with it.
Suddenly it all seemed so clear, while we had a long way to go, we knew we had made a good start.