Huge news from the therapy front: Nate is graduating to Phase 4 of PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System)!!!! Since Nate is nonverbal, it is primary way to communicate his wants and needs with his therapists, friends, and family.
In February of this year, Nate started using PECS. He started with Phase 1, which required Nate to exchange a small 2″ x 2″ card with a photograph of an item for the actual item. Back and forth he went, passing the across the table to his therapists for a puzzle piece, pen, or toy, such as the musical Piggy Bank. (Oh-oh, I’m a Piggy Bank and I like to eat your coins….)
He graduated to PECS Phase 2 in mid-June. Phase 2 requires Nate to travel to his PECS binder, remove the card from the cover, and deliver the card to the “trainer” (that’s actually the term…) to receive the item.
Exactly two months later, we moved on over to PECS Phase 3: discrimination, which he’s mastered in one month’s time! Now Nate had to travel to his binder and select the correct PECS card from a sea of them on his binder. We started with two PECS and we’re now up to six or seven. I learned that Nate knows what those pictures mean. That’s super exciting because it gives him a voice, and allows Nate to tell us what he wants when he’s really frustrated. On Wednesday during therapy, Nate got very upset. We handed him the binder and he scrolled through and handed me a food card. Oh. Right. Nate hadn’t eaten a snack at school that day because I picked him up early. That was the problem: Nate was hungry.
Phase 4 is AWESOME. Ready for this? Nate is going to “speak” in sentences!!!! It’s a huge leap from what he’s doing now. At the bottom of his binder is a red strip with velcro on the front and back. Nate will have to move a “I want” card from his binder cover to his strip. Then he will have to move the picture card of what he wants, and put it to the right of the “I want” card on the strip. Then he needs to remove the strip and hand it to the trainer. Finally, he needs to point at each card to say “I want Piggy Bank,” and then he gets the item. Way harder than just passing a card over, right?
Nate’s BCBA expects that it will take Nate one month for him to understand what we are asking of him and it will be rough going. But I know, as his therapists do too, that once he gets it, doors will open up wide. Nate’s team is very excited about this development, as most kids in Birth to Three never progress to this phase because they start the program after turning two. Not my Tater! He’s going to be a sentence forming genius!!!
In parallel with PECS, we are still working on signs. Nate knows “eat,” “my turn,” “open” (which he’s modified as just slapping his hands together), and “bubbles.” He also waves “hi” and “bye” and knows how to distally point at an item that he wants. These skills plus his PECS cards gives him a pretty big vocabulary.
And as for verbal words, “Dad” is pretty solid. He’s saying “Hi” with a wave a little bit more, even if it’s under his breath. He’s starting to imitate counting and saying the alphabet; Chad and I have caught him a few times sitting by himself with a bunch of beads counting, “Uh, uh, uh, uh!” in the same rhythm and cadence as we say, “One, two, three, four!” One day, he said, “Hobbes!” and I swear I’ve heard “kit” (for “kitty”) a few times. But, for the most part, verbal language has yet to arrive. So we continue to bridge the gap with these awesome helper tools so that Nate can still boss his parents around. :)