A dream toy developed for an autistic child has been concocted in my mind. My little son about two years ago had very limited language skills. Of course we took him to speech therapy, and we really loved our therapist at The Children’s Developmental center. She was such a blessing both to him and to me. She took extra time to talk and educate me with tapes and books about this problem my son is facing. She had books and toys and computers, but she did most of her work with quiet one on one time. That was exactly what he needed at that point, but now he has grown and advanced. He has a huge vocabulary but still limited in using correct sentence structure, and especially in saying the appropriate thing at the appropriate time. Available social stories seem to be bent around the basic needs of life for children with much more difficult problems. Things like getting them to the doctor, or helping them take a bath are covered very well. My little guy needs to learn how to talk to his friends. What to say when he meets someone new. How to behave when mom is on the phone or if he answers the phone. So I have a dream. It is a big fun dream with music, applause, and flashing lights.
Here’s what I see, a big screen TV and a microphone. My son loves microphones. We actually bought him a karaoke machine to help him learn to talk. Songs are words after all, but there is only so much he can do in real life with the words from Old McDonald, and Jingle Bells. Can a karaoke machine be built that will play a movie scenario, pause and offer both in sound and in writing a few possible responses that can be spoken or repeated into a microphone. If one of the responses is spoken correctly into the microphone, each response would then have it’s own video response. The person in the video would say back what is appropriate and then there would be balloons, explosions, applause, positive reinforcements. The scenario possibilities are endless and the video CD sales could be profitable I would suppose.
Now even bigger. Imagine a room in a speech clinic that is all set up for a program like this.
A big screen TV. A banner above it that says you are the star! The room decked out in bright colors and shapes. A microphone stand on the floor that is on a dolled up vinyl sticker star adhered to the floor. A place for a little star to stand. Beside him the speech therapist. She has her own shape maybe a heart that says she is the stars helper. She knows the child’s strengths and weaknesses and will choose and repeat as necessary the levels of programs or scenarios the child is in need of, and determine degrees of success. The program could also have an evaluation screen, where the therapist can chart correct responses and the degree of help needed to complete a scenario.
On the screen a fast food clerk says, “May I take your order?” The responses appear in writing and each is high lighted as it is spoken. (Maybe there can be a way to offer only one response if the child needs to go slowly) The child picks up the microphone and tries to say response one. He flubs it. The screen indicates he needs to try again. The machine repeats the phrases. The therapist offers him the words one at a time. The child says the words into the microphone. The fast food clerk says that will be $1.99 thank you for your order, please step to the side and we will bring it to you. Now the screen says “Great Job” there is music, applause, flashing lights, and in the room there are actual lights that blink and flash and speakers that make sounds of honking and shouts of “your a star”.
What do you think. I know not all autistic children would like this kind of therapy. There are those with sound and light sensitivity issues that would hate it. But maybe there could be some kind of remote or switches to tone it down or up according to the child’s needs. There must be more kids out there like mine, who could use a lot of virtual life experience practice. So they can figure out how to interact in the world without feeling horrible when they mess up.
Scenario ideas: Meeting other children. Answering the phone. Meeting danger strangers. Asking for help in school. Asking other children if they would like to play with them. Polite restraunt or table manner behavior. “May I have some potatoes, please.” Any generic thing that gets the sentence structure, pronouns, and verb tenses correct. Maybe even those children who are using a computer to speak their words for them, could benefit from this sort of therapy. They still need to be able to choose the appropriate response. See the more I think about this the more possibilites there are. I know someone smart (a programmer) and with money or the correct influential credentials could make this happen.
I’d love to know what you think about this idea. I would better love to hear that someone wants to steal my idea and manufacture them. Get going, we are waiting.