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    Posted March 20, 2014 by
    Morgantown, West Virginia
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Communicating through autism

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    Learning To Talk At 9 Years Old


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     Two year ago, Cheri Smith wondered if she and her son Bobby would ever be able to communicate effectively (Read her 2012 post here). Since working with a behavior specialist, his verbal ability and comprehension has grown leaps and bounds, she says. "She knew that Bobby had the ability to talk ... She pushed Bobby like none of us had before."

    Bobby will turn 10 soon, and "he actually understands what we are saying to him now and he listens to our verbal prompts ... We went from being a family where our child was physically aggressive and having constant meltdowns, to one that is enjoying experiencing the world through Bobby's eyes."

    He talks more and is also learning to type. And he has his own way of communicating, too, she says: "Bobby loves to go for car rides and when he wants me to turn down a particular road, he will put on his own turn signal. He clicks his tongue and makes it sound exactly like a car's turn signal, and that is how I have known where he wants to go. This is how I figured out what he wants when he says "Santa Claus." I followed his turn signals and he directed me to the facility in which our annual special needs Christmas party is held; he wanted to go inside there and play on the slide!"

    Do you have autism or a loved one on the spectrum? How do you communicate? Add your story to this assignment and it could be featured on CNN.
    - dsashin, CNN iReport producer

    When Bobby was born I instantly fell in love with this baby boy. It didn't take long before I understood his language. Which cry meant hungry, which meant he needed a diaper change and which cry meant that he was tired? I felt pretty capable of understanding his needs. Of course there are times with every baby that you just are not really sure what the problem is, do they have gas, are they teething, is something hurting? I remember looking forward to the day that he could tell me what was wrong. Now that he is almost 10 years old, I am still looking forward to that day.


    Bobby's lack of verbal communication at 2 years old was the first major red flag that lead us to our ultimate diagnosis of autism just a few months shy of his 3rd birthday. He was verbal in the fact that he could make letter sounds and he even could sing some word combinations from his favorite children's songs. However, he didn't have much functional communication even around age 6.


    To make his needs known, Bobby generally just took us by the hand and placed it on whatever it was that he wanted. If he was hungry, he would take me by the hand to the pantry or refrigerator and place my hand on the door. If he wanted to watch tv, he would bring me the remote. When he wanted to go somewhere, he would bring me my purse. So even though he wasn't talking, he had developed his own communication system and it worked fairly well, except for the same instances that caused us communication issues when he was a baby...does something hurt, why was he sad?


    I had pretty much given up on the fact that Bobby would be a talker because his verbal communication just wasn't progressing. But every once in a while, his verbal skills would just blow me away. One day he was wearing a shirt with a USA flag on the front and he went to stand in front of the mirror so that he could look at the flag. I happened to say, "I pledge allegiance," and he proceeded to recite the rest of the Pledge Of Allegiance. I could not even believe it! He heard it recited every morning at school, yet had never participated in saying the pledge. He was also to the point that he could sing full children's songs like Bingo, Wheels on the Bus, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.


    The older that Bobby was getting, the worse that his behavior was getting. At age 7 he was getting aggressive and by age 8, his aggression was getting much worse. Anxiety would rise through me as I pulled into the school parking lot everyday when I picked up Bobby from school during this time period. Did he hit his teacher today? Even worse, did he hit another child? He stayed in the special needs autism classroom for the most part of his school day except for lunch and recess.


    I needed help! I started taking Bobby to a BCBA (Board Certified Behavioral Analyst) during this time period and she implemented an ABA (applied behavior analysis) program. She is a person who I totally believe was heaven sent to work with Bobby. She helped save my family. Her main goal for Bobby....he is going to talk. He has the physical ability to talk and she taught us how to make him talk. This was not an easy process by any stretch of the imagination, but she pushed Bobby like none of us had before.


    Bobby has been working with his behavioral therapist 4 days a week for almost 2 years now. His language is progressing every day. He can now verbally identify his letters, colors, animals, some shapes, about 100 vocabulary words, 30 verbs, 20 people, numbers to 20, and around 50 sight words. A couple of years ago I would have never believed that this could be true. He can answer some questions, what is your name, what is your address, when is your birthday, how old are you, how are you? Bobby is even learning to read!! I honestly never even had this dream for my son, but he is reading!!! The greatest benefit in all of this, his behavioral issues are all but gone.


    Bobby has also been blessed with a wonderful special needs autism teacher in our elementary school. She has been Bobby's teacher for 4 years and never gave up on him through the time when he was demonstrating behavioral issues. She was interested in the ways Bobby was learning in his behavioral therapy and integrated these techniques in the classroom. He spends some time with his regular education class this year. Now that he is learning to verbally communicate and understand what people are saying to him, Bobby is starting to play with the other kids at recess and in physical education class.


    We do have an new communication issue, what does Bobby mean? He will come up to us and say, "music be-goner." Inside of our household, that is easy, Bobby wants to watch the "Sheldon the Grumpy Squirrel" episode of Jack's Big Music Show from Nick Jr. However, to the rest of the world, this need probably wouldn't get met. When he says "Santa Claus" it really means that he wants to go to the building where he used to have Speech Therapy and play in the large playroom, because he goes to a Christmas event there every year in which Santa Claus pays a visit. "I want bed," means I want to go home. "Chicken nuggets no sauce," means I want to go to McDonald's and please order me french fries and chicken nuggets with no sauce. We are getting these cute sayings that typically happen when a child is 2 or 3, we are beyond thrilled.


    I remember reading somewhere in one of the hundreds of books and articles that I have read about autism in the past years that if a child didn't develop verbal language by age 5, then they weren't going to get it. Bobby is totally proving that wrong and nothing could make me happier!

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