I was super nervous yesterday because I had to take Boo Bear to the dentist. He does not like the dentist as we have dealt with a truly evil one in the past. His current one is a very gentle soul who looks a bit like Santa Claus. We prepared for the visit by reading a social story about going to the dentist. (Thank you teacher Rosaline.) I picked him up from school a little after lunch time and we headed out. In the waiting room we read the social story again. A very sweet assistant led us into the exam room and Boo willingly sat in the chair. He was holding onto his Nova Chat, his communication device, and talking about the weather and the day of the week. The assistant was really interested in what he had to say and how the device worked. I liked her immediately because she talked to Boo Bear, instead of me. What happened next completely stunned me. Boo flipped through his device and told her “Brush my teeth.” I almost fell on the floor. I did not even know that the phrase was in there, let alone that he knew how to put it in context. “Alright”, said the assistant, “You really like your device, don’t you?” To my absolute astonishment, Boo opened his mouth and said , Uh huh”, clear as day. Boo can go for months or sometimes years without speaking, but when he does speak, it is always accurate. I actively worked on pulling my jaw off the floor as the dentist came in. It was clear that Boo did not like the electric toothbrush, so he quickly switched to a regular one. With some gentle coaxing he got Boo to open his mouth and have his teeth brushed. He checked the teeth and gums, said he looked very healthy and to come back in 6 months. With that, the visit was over and both Boo and I relaxed for a moment and then returned to school to finish up the day.
I wrote to his teacher and his speech therapist about what had happened. Deanna, his speech therapist, said that there is a growing body of research that shows that once non verbal persons begin to have success communicating through a device, actual spoken words start to pop out, too. She thought this was interesting enough to reach out to a friend and colleague who teaches as UM Duluth. The professor was really interested in hearing more and wanted to know if I would be interested in doing an interview with her! I told Deanna yes. The professor (I don’t know her name yet) said that this could be used to shape how future special ed teachers and speech language pathologists teach and understand non verbal students with complex needs.
I am still trying to wrap my head around yesterday. I have always believed that Boo has words in him. It is not important to me if they are words spoken from his lips, words through a device, or sign. When Boo was little the common theory was that is a child did not speak verbally by the time that they were five, they would probably never speak at all. I never put any stock in this theory. For his entire life Boo Bear has done things on his own timeline. My job is to assist him in best using whatever form of communication comes most naturally to him.
Oh, and a side note. The assistant at the dentist office was super cute and Boo was definitely flirting with her. He was smiling, batting his eyes and acting coy. Yes folks, he is an eighteen year old guy. And I am just a proud mom.