Like Adrian, Parker has had many challenges. According to his mother, Diana, he was born with congenital heart defects and had to undergo open-heart surgery shortly after birth. He also has had serious medical issues with his eyes, ears and diaphragm, and to date, he has undergone 15 different surgeries.
Parker was diagnosed with autism in January 2009. Diana says they noticed very early on that he was developmentally delayed and enrolled him in therapy when he was just 2 months old. Throughout the years they have seen him make progress with communication, but Diana admits it had been slow.
“When Parker was first diagnosed with autism, the extent of his communication was pointing to cartoon characters on a summary sheet to show us what cartoon he wanted to watch on TV,” Diana says. “He also could indicate yes or no to simple questions and would occasionally sing with some of the characters on TV. But that was it. He really struggled with communicating his wants and needs and would become very frustrated.”
Diana first learned about options for communication devices and approaches through a speech and language pathologist who was working with Parker’s older brother, Cameron. When Parker enrolled in kindergarten, Kerry Alexander, the school’s assistive technology coordinator, along with Shannon Troutman, the school’s speech and language pathologist, thought it was time to introduce him to some low-technology communication devices.
“We knew Parker was smart, but he really wasn’t interested in the approaches and devices we initially started with him,” Kerry says.
“Plus, he could only use the devices at school, which meant he couldn’t practice with them at home,” Diana adds. “We were at a loss with what to do next.”
LAMP: Creating a ‘Little Superstar’
Once Kerry learned about LAMP, she and Shannon spoke to Diana and suggested that they try the approach with Parker. And, similar to Adrian’s story, the entire team – Kerry, Megan (also Parker’s teacher), Shannon, the school’s educational assistants and Parker’s parents – all attended LAMP trainings.
And after just one year, Diana is blown away by the progress Parker has made.
“He’s been a superstar with LAMP,” she says. “It’s allowed him to use his imagination. With other devices, all he could do was simple requests like, ‘I want this’ or ‘I want that.’ With this, he is able to comment, spell and use his imagination. Things are really starting to click.”
“Before, Parker had a few speech words,” Kerry adds. “Now, he is using five or six words, which is incredible. I believe he had the language in there all along; he just didn’t have an output. He is making so much progress.”
In fact, Diana and her husband, Randy, say they make it a point to celebrate even small strides Parker makes with LAMP. “Just recently, Parker quietly walked into my bedroom. I said, ‘Who is it?’ and he said, ‘It’s me, Parker.’ I’ve never heard him say something like that. It was incredible. Others have no idea what it’s like hearing things like this.”
Parker’s progress also is evident at school. “LAMP allows Parker to have a much wider language capacity,” Megan says. “I saw him walk up to another parent and say, ‘I want to read.’ I ask him things like, ‘What’s your favorite book?’ and he’s able to respond. For me as the teacher, it’s incredibly reinforcing, and I know Parker feels very proud.
“He’s also showing really great strides in sounding out letter sounds and is able to express emotional feelings like, ‘I am hurt,’” Megan adds. “Parker now has his emotions unlocked.”
Diana admits that when first hearing about LAMP it seemed overwhelming. But after talking with Shannon and attending the training, her concerns were addressed. “Shannon, along with the therapist Parker works with outside of school, showed us how LAMP could really expand Parker’s vocabulary and do so much more,” she says. This approach makes all the sense in the world.
“With LAMP, everything stays the same,” she continues. “With other systems, everything is always changing. This is more automatic. It also has a lot more language than other systems and is much more personalized. It allows Parker to create sentences the way he wants to say them.”
Diana also believes it has taken an entire team approach to make Parker’s transition to LAMP a success. “I don’t know what I would have done without the team,” she says. “Shannon was wonderful and really pushed both of us.”
And that team only plans to build upon Parker’s progress during the next school year.
“Now that Parker has this communication assistance, it forces me to think about his communication in a much different way,” Megan says. “For instance, I ask different questions that require one- or two-word answers so Parker can answer fairly quickly with his device. We’ll plan to expand and build upon that.”
“At home, we now see Parker learning adverbs and correcting himself,” Diana adds. “It’s really opened up his world.”
The Team Approach
Both Kerry and Megan are extremely pleased with the success LAMP has allowed their students to achieve.
“With Parker and Adrian, we knew they were both smart. But we couldn’t get them to show it through previous communication methods, which really stumped us,” Kerry says. “Now they are going to town with their devices.
“The support of both boys’ parents has been huge,” she adds. “Both parents have seen the power of this approach and have embraced it.
“Also, I believe this has been successful because we received proper training from The Center for AAC & Autism and were able to see the approach in action,” Kerry continues. “The presenter worked with our students and videotaped them, and everyone attending the training could see how it worked. That created immediate buy-in. Our PRC representative visits regularly and helps support students, too. It was truly one of the best trainings. LAMP made sense to me immediately.
“When I am able to give students assistive technology that immediately helps them be more independent like Adrian and Parker, I feel like Santa Clause. It feels really good.”
“Working with the entire team – Kerry, Shannon, the educational assistants, everyone at PRC, and the parents – has been the key to the success,” Megan adds. “Getting the parents on board at the beginning has made a huge difference, because the learning doesn’t end when the school day ends.
“The best part about my job is establishing the environment for the students to succeed. It’s so rewarding to see how far they’ve come,” she continues. “I really enjoy seeing the students’ capabilities and finding the right magical combination to help them develop and thrive. There are many times I’ve been known to cry tears of joy because I’m so proud of them. But I can’t take credit. They’re the ones learning; I just set up the environment for them.
“The exciting part is I believe we’re at the tip of the iceberg,” Megan adds. “To see a student go from saying nothing to saying words is awesome. I believe the sky’s the limit for them.”