John, age 4, is nonverbal and may never talk, but speech therapy at Riverwood is teaching him how to communicate. He has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and syngap, which causes intellectual disability, seizures and developmental delays.
“My husband, Jeff, and I had to teach John how to do everything since he was a baby,” Colby explained. “In addition to being unable to talk, he has weak muscles and when he fell he didn’t know how to land on his butt or put his arms out to break his fall. We had to teach him how to chew his food and many other things that help him with daily living tasks.”
Autism spectrum disorder begins in early childhood and eventually causes problems functioning socially and in school. In John’s case, he was diagnosed at age 2 1/2. While there is no cure for this condition, intensive, early treatment can make a big difference in the lives of many children—and it is making a difference in John’s life.
John uses limited sign language to communicate but has some difficulty due to a lack of fine motor coordination. He is learning to communicate with another tool called an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device. He has been working with Amanda Rumpca, speech-language pathologist at Riverwood with expertise in pediatric care, to learn how to use the device.
AAC is so broad and the tools therapists use are highly individualized to the patient. This can range from using a pen and paper to write to pointing to pictures printed on a board to a high-tech, programmable communication device like John has. AAC can be used for a wide variety of patients including adults who have had a stroke or children with autism.
“I started working with John and his family in September 2017,” Amanda explained. “We began working on pre-communication skills or skills he needs prior to being able to effectively communicate such as making eye contact, engaging in an activity with someone else, taking turns during an activity or interaction, and learning that he has power to communicate and that his communication will generate a response from his communication partner. Many children with autism need to be taught these skills because they don’t learn them naturally.”
“John made tremendous progress toward these goals so it was time to help him establish a more reliable way to communicate. After much discussion with Colby about what would work best for John and their family life, we decided to trial a speech-generating device with a special communication program called LAMP Words for Life. During the trial of this device, we noticed a decrease in frustration and aggression because John was able to effectively communicate with others.”
Colby added: “We are so excited to finally get an AAC device to use with John at home. He’ll have so much less anxiety when he has a communication tool that works for him. Amanda has helped John progress so much. She has shown him he needs to touch the AAC device to get what he wants instead of acting out. His social skills have improved and he’s learning about time; for example, how to patiently wait for the water to be turned on so he can play in it again.”
Colby and Jeff feel blessed to have found pediatric therapy for John that is close to home and connecting him with opportunities to foster his social and communication skills. When Riverwood’s new Therapy Services department opens this fall in its new larger location with a pediatric gym and treatment rooms, John will begin occupational and physical therapy too.
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