July 17, 2016: Busy Week!

Happy mid-July, folks! Hope you all are enjoying the lazy days of summer. Not that we’re ever really lazy around here—so much going on! Theo had camp as usual this week, and he had a great time. Their big field trip this weekend was to Muir Woods, a coastal redwood forest north of San Francisco, which I’ve been dying to visit! And a couple of days before that, they visited the John Muir home, a national historic site, and learned about John Muir’s life and legacy. Theo came home with all sorts of facts about John Muir’s life and work, which was fun—although I’ve been dying to go to Muir Woods, I don’t really know that many details about the man’s life. Thanks to Theo, I now know more!

Theo did take one afternoon off day camp to go to his friend’s birthday party, which was a rather epic playdate in which his friend’s dad took five boys to a movie (The Secret Life of Pets), to play laser tag, and to a pizza parlor for dinner. Theo had a grand time, not surprisingly!

Sam continued his CRP program, and we have now been issued an AAC (augmented alternative communication) device for him—in other words, an iPad loaded only with a PECS-inspired app. PECS stands for picture exchange communication system; the traditional PECS system is a board with a bunch of laminated pictures of words and activities. Nonverbal children or children with limited communication skills can choose laminated picture cards to express their wants or needs, or parents/teachers can paste/Velcro on the board groups of PECS images to give visual prompts for children who learn visually. For example, a child who has difficulty learning the morning routine might have a PECS board with a picture of using the toilet, a picture of washing hands, and picture of brushing teeth, and a picture of brushing hair, or something along those lines. Really, the sky is the limit—there are PECS picture cards for everything, and many parents/teachers make their own, too. The pictures generally also have the printed word on them, so the child also gets to work on recognizing the word for the activity or item in print.

Anyway, Sam’s PECS app works exactly like that. There are various pictures of people in his family and short phrases like “I want…” and “I like…” There are then various categories where he can choose words to fill in. For example, there’s a Food/Drink category that has images he can tap for his favorite foods and drinks. So if he wants milk, he can tap “I want…” and then go to the Food/Drink section and tap “Milk.” The device then speaks it out loud for him. And in cases where children are capable of mimicking speech (as Sam is), the kids usually try to repeat the words naturally—they hear them spoken by the device, and then usually try to repeat them using their own voices. For kids who can’t speak, the device alone does the talking.

I’m not sure whether we’ll keep the iPad/PECS system; we’ll give it several weeks and see how it goes. The woman who facilitates the CRP program told me she’s sort of borderline on whether Sam even needs it (because he is indeed trying to talk, even if it’s not very understandable), but she said they see a huge gap in what he understands versus what he can say (intelligibly), and the PECS system will allow him to express himself to people until such time as he can speak intelligibly enough for people other than his immediate family to understand! (Apparently not everyone can decipher “Eye-wahhhhhn….psss.” as “I want Peas”—referring, of course, to the Black Eyed Peas!) So we’ll see how it goes. Right now he’s still in the exploring phase of pushing the picture buttons at random, but my friend whose son was issued one last year said that after about six weeks of use he clued into the fact that he could actually use the device to make requests and express himself, and now he is using it as intended much of the time, which has been a godsend for them because he is almost 100 percent nonverbal.

These are really fun times for us, though, as we watch Sam try to say more and more things! In the car today, he said, “Mom! Eat…a ball!” to tell me that he was going to pretend to eat the ball he was holding. Two weeks ago, he would’ve never strung together four words at once!

Sam also started swim lessons this week, which was a mixed bag. He loved a few days of it, and he’s actually very good at putting his face in the water as long as he’s sitting on a step of the pool. But when his teacher tries to work with him on putting has face in the water while “swimming” (she’s holding him but mimicking swimming movements with him), all hell breaks loose. And he is not fond of reaching out for the wall and grabbing on, which he certainly needs to learn as a safety measure. He only has three more days of swimming, though, and I’m sure he will probably be glad to be finished!

This weekend we had a visitor: Grandma Diane! She is moving down to our area in about two weeks, so she came down to pick out a new couch and to figure out how much of her existing furniture will fit in her apartment. As usual, Theo talked her ear off in the mornings…and she got to witness Sam’s little temper, which is rather amusing and semi-exasperating. He’s generally a very mellow kid, but he can be a little stinker now and then. He’s taken to throwing shoes at people the last couple of days, so that made for some discipline moments! Poor Theo got clocked in the head by one of Chris’s semi-heavy athletic shoes. I must say, he took it pretty well. I might not have been as mellow about it if it had been me….

Not too many pictures for you this week, I’m afraid. Stay tuned for more next week! And pretty soon we will venture on our annual vacation, and I’m sure I’ll take way too many pictures. We’re going up to Portland and will be stopping for a few days on the far Northern California coast on the way back. My sister has recently moved just north of Portland, so we’ll be visiting her and a bunch of our friends up there, plus just enjoying Portland, which is a really fun city to visit! And I’m excited to visit the redwoods and the tidepools up in Northern CA, as that’s an area where I haven’t spent much time. (Plus, there’s a maximum-security prison there if the kids get out of line. Kidding. Sort of…)

Happy week, all!

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