The Right Tool for the Job

As anyone who does carpentry knows, having the right tool for the job is critical to success.  This  statement does not only pertain to carpentry though – it can be applied to many professions and life skills.  Sure, one may be able to “make do” with other tools but would you really want your surgeon using instruments meant for large bones being used on small, intricate bones?  I shudder to think what the outcome would be.

The same thing is true regarding speech and communication.  I have long held the belief that just because someone talks does not mean that they are able to communicate and make their needs understood by others.  In some respects the fact that a person talks may actually inhibit their ability to communicate because people will assume that since the person talks, they can say what they want to and not look for alternative methods that may work better for that person.

Another example is the use of writing.  We tried for years to encourage my son to learn to write with a pencil.  He had no interest in holding it or using it for things other than trying to stick in his ear or up his nose.  We then tried to get him interested in writing his name, and then at least his initials, which was barely successful before he would drop the pencil and move on to something else that caught his attention.  Yet, he was able to learn to read and reading has continued to be one of his favorite joys.

My son can talk and read so it had been assumed that he would be able to communicate his needs.  People assumed he would ask for help if he needed it or tell them when he was hurt – because he could talk so why wouldn’t he do these things?  I do not know the answer to that but I do know that he would not communicate those needs to others.  I knew that I needed to find another tool for him to use so that he could communicate – not necessarily through his speech since that was not serving the purpose for him.

Finding the right tool for him took time and convincing.  Speech therapy was focused on speech – not communication so he did not qualify any longer.  He had long since stopped improving with his articulation so therefore with no improvement happening, it was assumed he had reached his potential.  My son was able to learn to “type” and given his strong sense of curiosity, he learned that typing would enable him to communicate his needs and desires.  But, there was a problem, he needed to ask to use the computer at his place of residence.  Even though he had a strong desire to communicate he would not ask to use the computer and therefore it was assumed that he didn’t want to use it.  There were other reasons why he would  not use it even if it was offered  – the major reason is that it was in a corner far from the “action” and he didn’t want to miss out on anything.

Since my son did not live at home but in a state-operated residential setting, it was important for him to have communication with us.  We also needed to know when he had a problem and since he would not tell anyone,  there was no way for us to communicate with him either.  I decided that an iPad with internet access would be a great option for him to use to increase his ability to communicate.  The iPad is portable and he can carry it with him so that he doesn’t have to sit in a corner to send an email.  It also enables him to play his educational games with others – a method he uses to communicate – which was again restricted without the use of an iPad.

There were several problems we encountered.  The administration at his place of residence was not supportive  – they were concerned about theft and also did not want to provide internet access.  We persevered and told them that he would have an iPad and he would have internet.  We gave them 3 months notice – time to figure out how to provide him internet services so that his communication was not restricted. They were able to accommodate this need.

The independent use of the iPad greatly increased his ability to communicate.  It gave him a voice that he could use when his speech did not work.  It took a couple of years at school with his teacher and me helping him learn about email and how writing an email could improve his communication.  Once he discovered this tool, he has been unstoppable!

It has proven to be an effective method of communication for him – going from phone messages such as this  – 

with no idea what he is trying to communicate  to emails which are very clear and to the point – communicating his needs and desires.  I have received emails saying that his ankle was swollen and he needed his aircast, many with grocery lists of items he wants to eat, questions about when we will be picking him up for events and general comments about what is going on in his life or asking me how my day was.   I also have fun trying to figure out what he was trying to write because spell check does not understand his writing – sometimes it just cracks me up!

The iPad has greatly improved his independence and self-determination – goals that have been set by the Developmental Disabilities Administrations for people who receive services.

This is one reason that I am appalled by the lack of support in the DDA for internet access and iPad (or tablet) use for those who live in supported and congregate care settings.  Not providing these critical communication tools is a major restriction to these people in accessing their communities and staying in communication with their family and friends.

Rocket science is not needed to provide wireless internet service and the denial of this service is one form of segregation and restriction that needs to be addressed.  Without internet access, many people are isolated and will become more isolated as time goes on.

Here is another example of how this technology benefits not only the user but others in the community.  This young man is non-verbal but was able to write a message which saved a baby’s life. This is truly a magnificent story.  Non-Verbal Man saves baby’s life











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