Sarah was 6 years old when we met her. She was, and still is, a lover of all things dinosaur and animals related. She has a wonderful imagination, creating elaborate scenes with her many toy dinosaurs and animals. Sarah was non speaking but communicated her basic needs (favourite snacks, wanting to out in the car), with a picture exchange system which her parents taught her through help from Autism NI. Sarah had been supported by her school to try and learn a more extensive picture communication but she never used the new system independently and did not seem to understand the expectations. Her parents were concerned that Sarah wanted to communicate more yet she wasn’t making progress, and they wanted to see if she could make progress in speech production as a way to communicate her needs, while also seeing if we could expand her picture communication system in case speech wasn’t the right modality for her.
Well, we got to go on an amazing journey with Sarah. She started with 8 hours of therapy a week with her 1:1 therapist in February 2021. Our first priority, as we provided therapy in her home which was her personal space, was to teach her how to communicate with a sign when she was ready to learn, or when she wanted us to give her space. She quickly understood. Happily, for us, as she was having so much fun she chose to learn together most days her therapist came home, only sometimes when tired or not feeling her best she would communicate she wanted some space! We focused from the start on the skill of copying and imitating simple playful actions of her therapist, eventually building up to the day we tried encouraging Sarah to copy single sounds. Sarah responded wonderfully gradually trying to copy more and more sounds. She absolutely loved the power of using her voice, even if at this point it was only single sounds, to make things happen. Over the course of the year we gradually able to support Sarah to grow her repertoire of single sounds then build to blending sounds together to make word approximations, to then whole words.
For quite some time Sarah continued to find it hard to produce the sounds and words she needed on her own, but she loved to copy us as we said the words. She continued to use her picture system to communicate at times when she didn’t want to speak. Through her therapist and parents gradually helping her with less and less of the word and allowing her to finish the word herself that she became more confident at independently producing the words she needed on her own to ask for what she wanted.
Although Sarah and her family were delighted when she finally learnt to ask for things she wanted using single words, the biggest excitement and joy came when she independently started to call them by name and share things that she was excited about in the moment by naming it while pointing and checking to see they were also listening and looking.