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This is my youngest son Dylan. He is perpetually happy, curious and energetic. He loves music, Sesame Street and can eat his weight in waffles.
And he has autism.
Autism is characterized by difficulty with social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. It has its start in early childhood, with most children showing obvious symptoms around age 2-3 years. According to the CDC, around 1 in 68 children are affected by this disorder, a ten-fold increase over the past forty years. An estimated 1 out of 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls in the US have been diagnosed. This increase can only partly be explained by improved diagnosis. The cause of autism is unclear, but recent research indicates there is a genetic component, which is exacerbated by various environmental stresses, such as toxins.
My journey as the mother of an autistic child has been filled with an abundance of joy and blessings. There is not one day that goes by that I don’t grow as a person thanks to Dylan. He shows me the world in a new and exciting way. One where the littlest things bring great happiness. It has also made me love my husband more. You can really learn something about the depths of someone’s heart when you see them with a special needs child, and my husband’s love for Dylan has just made me love him more.
Our life isn’t without struggles. But we try to see each one as an opportunity to learn and grow and change. After all, our struggles are nothing compared to those Dylan will have living with autism and if he can do it, we certainly can.
And speaking of change, we have a few HUGE changes going on in our lives right now. First off, I have prayerfully decided to homeschool Dylan beginning with the 2014-2015 school year. I started a new blog HomeschoolingAutism.com to document our journey. This is an exciting and scary time, but I am blessed to have some wise and experienced mentors and friends to help me along the way. I look forward to sharing our journey.
Next, you may remember that we will be embarking on a one-year road trip in the coming months. We will be living full-time in a 5th wheel while homeschooling our children. I am sharing our adventures in another blog called 7 Happy Hobos. Here is a sneak peek at what you can expect.
You can always catch up on our progress by checking our our Instagram page. Currently we are remodeling an older 5th wheel we bought, and organizing it for our trip.
A FINAL THOUGHT FOR AUTISM MOMS
Often, moms who have newly diagnosed children will ask for my advice. So here it is. If your loved one has been diagnosed with autism, please know that this is not a life sentence. It’s true, your life isn’t going to look like what you thought it would look like. Nothing will ever be the same. But trust me when I say it will be exceedingly better.
DON’T DOUBT YOURSELF for one second. God gave you this blessing, and he isn’t going to give you a job without also giving you the tools to do it. Seek out other moms by way of a support group. Never stop reading and learning about autism. And prayerfully follow your gut. You have joined the ranks of some of the most fun, fearless and courageous moms I have ever known. You were chosen for this. Embrace it, and hold on for the ride of your life.
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Those of you who have followed this blog for a while may remember my youngest son Dylan. He is six years old and autistic, with severe speech delays. For the past two years, we have been working with the school to find the best communication device for him with little success. When I found this new app, I was excited to give it a try.
Aacorn is not like other AAC devices, which can be complicated for young children to navigate. It uses a unique “Tree” system to provide a limited number of word options based on past communication choices. It’s the first app of its kind with an artificial intelligence that learns and adapts to word preferences. Here’s an example.
- For this sentence, I started with the word “I” shown in the center of the tree (#1). From there, the tree grew to predict my next word, “want”.
- After pressing “want” a new tree appears predicting what my next word might be. I chose “to”.
- Finally, I arrive at my final word, “swim”.
- You can see the sentence growing at the top of the screen as we add more words. Once it is complete, we can click the word bubble at the bottom right of the screen to hear the entire sentence spoken aloud.
- If the word I need is not available on the tree, I can click the “+” plus sign to see more options.
All of the words appearing in this example were available because of Dylan’s past word preferences. So if you have a child who loves to swim, you’ll use the word “swim” a lot, and consequently it will appear in the word tree a lot. Make sense?
Once Dylan got the hang of this app, he was able to navigate other words easily from the screen shown below. Here, you’ll find hundreds of words listed by category for easy retrieval. We use this screen when he has a request for something unusual that will not appear on his word tree. For example, if he would like to paint a picture (not a common request), he could find the words he needs to communicate this to us on this screen.
What I like:
- Word trees provide limited choices, which means less complication and more success!
- Having success with communication has encouraged even more communication.
- Because it’s an intelligent app, the word choices shown are often right on the money for what my son wants to say.
- You can “save” favorite sentences for easy retrieval.
- You have the option of “pruning” the tree to give your child even fewer options until he/she is familiar with the system.
- You can add your own words and voices.
- You can remove words that are not relevant.
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