Watson Dollar was born typical, but at the age of two regressed and was eventually diagnosed with autism. Although not seen or discussed everyday, there are many children who develop “normally” the first two years of life—socializing, learning language, communicating, showing emotion—and then eventually, slip away. Watson’s parents, Pam and Don, reflect on his first years as being an active child, singing and dancing around the house, until he became distant and his 150 word vocabulary was no longer there. Watson was enrolled in different therapy programs and learning facilities, but to no avail. He was silent until November 11, 2011 when he communicated his first words with his mother, typing on an IPad.
Both confused and excited, Pam tested her son’s ability to communicate and was impressed to learn he was able to express emotion and recall memories of his childhood to his mother. He remembered growing up, naming names of classmates who were both nice and mean to him, and recalling experiences with his childhood friend, Chaneka Roby. This new-found communication came especially handy, as Watson was now able to express why he was feeling agitated and expressing his wants, rather than having emotional and behavioral meltdowns.
When asked if there was anything he wanted people to know about autism he responded, “For people (to) try to understand me. Then they will be nicer to people with autism.” [i]
The use of non-vocal communication is becoming more prevalent in the autism community, and even here with our students at Shema Kolainu-Hear Our Voices. Using non-verbal communication tools, such as the IPad, enables the child to express his or her needs, and therefore reduce unwanted behaviors.
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[i] “USA Today” Autistic man breaks through the silence. 14 Jul 2013. Web. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/07/14/autistic-man-breaks-through-the-silence/2516527/>