I was reminded today of a story that happened when John was in primary school and it brought back some funny memories.
John was always looking for new ways to communicate however the Speech and Language Therapist was negative about his efforts. She didn’t believe that he understood everything that was being said and kept referring to something called The Derbyshire Scale or something like that. It appeared that in Derbyshire he only understood two words out of a sentence of ten. Whereas in Cheshire he understood ten words out of ten but she was not going to be convinced.
The school had recently acquired a wonderful piece of new technology, a communication device which was a kind of early touch screen, computery, iPaddy type of thing that had icons which when touched would say things like ” Hello my name is John Ellsmoor, I am 9yrs old’ or ‘Please can I have a drink’ and so on. You could programme them to suit each individual child.
Now as you can imagine these things didn’t come cheap and this particular one cost £1500.00, it was the schools pride and joy. John quickly learned how to use it to his best advantage, asking for biscuits and drinks and changing the Stephen Hawking type man’s voice called Brian, when no one was looking, to an all American boy’s voice called Bradley, who sounded too precocious for his own good. There were six different voices to choose from and John thought it was highly entertaining to change them several times a day. The speech terrorist didn’t share his enthusiasm or his sense of humour. Boo… Hiss.
John also discovered it was programmed to play songs which to him was like having an Ipod at a time when apples were still just fruit. This meant he was in a constant battle with the speech terrorist because he wanted to take it home but only the children who she perceived were higher up the Derbyshire whatsit would be afforded the priviledge.
I had a review meeting with her during this time and suggested that she be a bit more positive to Johns right to a voice, albeit an irritating American one. I pointed out that he could reprogram the talker and add icons onto the screen without any problem whatsoever when one of the other kids asked him, so he must understand what they were saying. He was very proficient in signing and we understood his speech but this communication tool was something we wanted him to access with the possibility of us fundraising to buy him one of his own in the future.
Reluctantly she agreed and a date was allocated for John to have it for a whole weekend.
He was over the moon and counting the number of sleeps out loud to the class several times an hour.
As the big weekend approached no one could get any sense out of John who had taken to carrying the calendar around with him showing everyone just exactly which weekend it was that he would be having the ‘talker’, as it was now known.
On the Friday afternoon the class were having a science lesson and learning which items floated and which sank. John called this lesson “Sin and Flo ” and he discovered that a piece of paper, a feather, a matchstick and his socks all floed.
Whereas a pebble, a spoon and his left shoe definitely did not. They were all sinners.
John arrived home with one shoe on and the other in a plastic bag with his socks, followed by his escort carefully carrying the box with the talker in it as if it was the Ark Of The Covenant which to John it was.
” The Speech Therapist wants me to remind you that it is not a toy” said the escort with a knowing look “Therefore you must be careful where John leaves it. Make sure it is put back in the box at night or when it is not in use”
I nodded gravely to indicate I understood my orders and the weight of responsibility.
What could possibly go wrong?
John or should I say Bradley, had a wonderful weekend giving me orders. “Good morning” boomed Bradley at 5 a.m. ” I would like some fries and a coke please” followed by ” My name is Carly and I am nine years old”
John had been fiddling with the settings and thought it was hilarious to have Bradley’s voice under Carly’s name. I wonder why he always thinks things are funny at 5 a.m.
“Go back to bed Carly” I replied smiling to myself inspite of the hour, which caused much chortling from John.
” I would like an ice cream please” said a butch sounding Carly pushing her luck.
” If you, Bradley and Carly don’t go back to sleep in two minutes, there will be trouble” I said as I took the talker away and wondered how John had managed to get it out of the box in the dark in the first place.
I took it back into my room where it would be safe.
In the morning as John was getting washed we played an impromptu game of Sin and flo. Mummy’ s cotton wool buds ” floed” but John’s toothpaste sind” soon the sink was full of floes and sinners, John was guffawing loudly and I was soaking wet.
I was delighted that he had learned the principle so quickly.
The rest of the weekend was spent with a very bossy Carly interrupting everyones conversations with her demands for food and drink and constantly reminding us that she had a dog called Dennis and a hamster called Janice, who the hell gave them those names!
“John for goodness sake, you are supposed to be using it to tell us what you want not what Carly wants and anyway her pets have weird names. Please change the name back to John and use the talker properly, its not supposed to be a game”
The speech terrorist would not be amused.
Sunday afternoon was lovely and sunny and so we left Carly, Dennis, Janice, Brian and Bradly at home and went for a bike ride, afterwards John played happily in his paddling pool until teatime. We set his slide up so that he slid right into the pool yahooing and spraying us with water. A great way to have fun and keep cool all at the same time. Life was good.
John used the talker properly for one final time ” I am happy” ” I like to play” “Thank you for my drink” I was delighted that he was being serious and not using it as a toy all of the time, maybe we would look into raising funds to buy him one. We wanted him to verbalise as much as possible but there would be times when John would be with people who wouldn’t always know what he saying or what he wanted and this is where the talker would be useful. It could give John some independence and reduce his frustration.
John found some songs on the talker and entertained us with a medley of Christmas Carols which on a hot midsummer evening was a bit bizarre but nonetheless enjoyable,
Later as I was making John some toast for his supper I was reflecting on the success of the weekend and looking forward to proving to the speech terrorist that John was capable of understanding anything Derbyshire threw at him. He was bright, intelligent and more than capable of communicating through a talker.
I heard Johns dad shouting me from the garden and John was hooting with laughter in the background, they were supposed to be putting the outdoor toys away.
I popped my head out of the door to see what he wanted. They were both standing by the paddling pool looking into the water, John was clapping and jumping up and down clearly pleased with himself.
“What?” I said wondering what they were looking at and walking over to join them.
“Sind” said John proudly pointing at Carly, Dennis, Janice, Brian and Bradley lying lifeless at the bottom of the paddling pool.