I woke up around 6:30 last Sunday morning, thinking about Joey and the word want. It has been weeks now, and Joey and I continue to fight our War on Want . It is perplexing for all of us who work with him, because he is so quick to use his eye gaze system to answer questions about a book, label objects in his environment, or to tell us how he feels. But using it to make a request seems to be difficult for him. Even using his eye gaze to confirm what he wants using the yes/no buttons can become a fight.
The ongoing struggle means we need to start changing our we are looking at the problem. Now it seems like more than Joey just not wanting to be prompted to use certain words. It’s time to start asking if there are other reasons that Joey isn’t using want.
After my most recent session with Joey, his mom asked if perhaps Joey did not understand that he has the ability to use language to make a request. His whole life he has depended on other people to offer him choices, or to take care of him. Now, are we asking him to use a word he has never needed before, and so he does not fully understand the meaning behind.
In re-watching videos of my sessions with Joey, I see that sometimes he is using the button turn to ask for something. He will even put it into a two-word phrase turn car, to tell us he wants a turn with the toy car. Turn has become a word he uses to ask for something. But not want. For awhile he was persistent in selecting the what icon as well, and frankly, the computer makes what and want sounds almost exactly alike. Was he going into the what icon when he really meant want?
Another observation his mom made is that he often selects the icon closest to the one he wants by mistake. If he wants to say 3, he’ll often select 4. If he wants to find the menu with a list of his favorite toys, he often hits sleep instead, which is a button right under it. Want is surrounded on all sides by other buttons. Is Joey too unsure of his ability to click want, so he selects turn, help, or attempts to use his verbal words instead?
All of these are questions we are trying to figure out as we attempt to move Joey into making two-word requests.
I spent awhile watching the videos of my last session with Joey, and my greatest take away was that despite the lack of his using the word want, he is using as many words as he can to convey his meaning. I am missing out on those attempts when I become hyper-focused on the want.
When my oldest daughter had just turned one we were in the midst of teaching her baby sign language. I remember being at a picnic on one beautiful fall day when I was feeding her cheerios and encouraging her to use the more sign to tell me she wanted more. She was getting more and more frustrated with each cheerio, as she slammed her hands together in anger after I prompted her to ask for more. I finally realized she had been orally saying “more” after each one. I was watching her hands, when in fact she had been using the word orally with each request.
I often feel that my work with Joey is similar. I concentrate on my plan, and miss his words.
I am not going to stop working on Joey’s use of two-word phrases, nor am I going to stop trying to figure out what is keeping him from the word want. Do we need to do more to teach the meaning of want so he better understands it? Does he need to develop a stronger sense of self? Is the want button too close to other buttons so he has trouble holding his eye gaze in one place for that long? Or is he three and does not like to be told which words to use?
Joey, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll keep asking these questions, and keep teaching you with high expectations. I’ll try to remember to see beyond my own lesson plans. You keep being you. Keep being strong and determined. Don’t give up on my ability to see you. Keep showing me who you are and who you can be.