The Bean has a lot to say lately. And we can actually understand what she is saying! I attribute much of this to two programs that I never imagined we would be using: PECS and Zoo Phonics.
First, PECS. It stands for Picture Exchange Communication System. I’ve had a great deal of training, through my job, for working with kids with autism. I knew PECS as a program that nonverbal children (mostly children who would never become verbal) could use to get their needs met. There was an episode of House where a kid used PECS.
When the Bean started speech therapy, it became very clear that she is a visual learner. So we started trying to teach her signs, with some success. Our biggest challenge was getting into power struggles with her. We would tell her to say something, and she would absolutely refuse, to the point of flopping on the floor. We did hand-over-hand to make her do the signs, but that still upset her. Her school therapist theorized that the Bean’s receptive language was not as good as we thought, and that she did not understand why she was being asked to say and sign these words. She suggested using PECS, because she could be more specific about her needs and wants, and it would lead to teaching sentence structure. I was surprised that we would use this system with a kid who would definitely become verbal.
So Rob brought in some of Beanie’s favorite snacks to her first school speech session. Her therapist took pictures of them, and made little laminated cards. She would hold a piece of the snack (Funky Monkey, for example) and set the card in front of the Bean. She held out her hand. If the Bean did not give her the card, Rob would do hand-over-hand to help Beanie do it. Then, the therapist would say, “Funky Monkey, please!” and give Beanie a piece. This worked like a charm. Now, when we do it at home, Beanie always hands me the card, with much enthusiasm. And, better yet, she has started saying the names of food when she wants them. It appears that she had not realized that she could use words to make a request. And she spontaneously says “please,” which is something she NEVER would have done before.
The second thing her school therapist introduced was Zoo Phonics. I always questioned the teaching of phonics to preschoolers, since they have yet to develop phonemic awareness. Still, her therapist showed her some of the animals and sounds, and the Bean was immediately fascinated. She would interact with us and with her therapist. She loves the alphabet, and she loves animals. She learned the sounds very quickly, and she seemed to be more careful in making those sounds in her daily speech. The teaching of sounds in isolation seems to be increasing her phonemic awareness, which goes against everything I’ve been taught about phonics instruction.
The best thing is that Zoo Phonics interests the Bean so much. She wants to practice it all the time. We joke that she will learn to read before she learns to talk!