As parents, we’re conditioned to expect and anticipate certain milestones from our children. We eagerly anticipate their first words, the sweet “mama” and “dada”. Those wobbly first steps towards independence. Harrison has and continues to teach us that not all milestones are made the same.
Until now, we haven’t openly acknowledged that Harrison is non-speaking. To be frank, it has been one of the more painful things to shoulder and work through the past few years, especially when you consider that before his hip surgery, he was giving us an occasional “da da da” to harass his mom with.
Since that point, nearly 2 years ago, only an occasional word has been spoken, but they’re random and are few and far between. While he hasn’t been formally diagnosed, there are a few theories as to why he currently isn’t speaking. His speech therapists continue to believe he will eventually talk, and if you know Harrison, you know he has no issue communicating. However, as he has gotten older, we’ve acknowledged that he needs ways to communicate. To let us know things.
We started with flash cards. Simple cards with yes, no, more, etc. on them. The first time we ever attempted using them, I was fortunate enough to be at that therapy. He had no problem grasping the concept and leaning his head in to touch the appropriate card.
That is, however, until he figured out how to beat the system, and refused to answer anything but “no” until asked if he was ready to go home, which received an immediate “yes”
We still use flashcards at home, but he can only lean into them from a seated position and tap the card with his head to answer or choose since he has minimal use of his arms.
Functional? Yes. Is it an optimal way for him to communicate? Not really.
We’ve been able to use this same concept for other games and tasks, including using puzzle pieces that have handles or knobs that he could grasp with his mouth. That method has proven that he knows his colors, shapes, farm animals (his pappy has drilled into his head what a cow is from day 1!), and more.
But again, not the most optimal of methods for him. Not really.
So, as part of our continued stride towards gaining more independence, in hopes of being able to attend preschool in the next few years, we continue to find new ways and forms of communication.
This week, saw a return to therapy, going full steam ahead! A week after surgery and two trips to Greenville, it was time to get back to work and one of Harrison’s therapists, Ms. Morgan, came in swinging, introducing Harrison to an eye gaze device.
An eye gaze device is an electronic device that allows a person to control a computer or tablet by looking at words or commands on a video screen. Think of it as essentially a traditional tablet that you would use, however, instead of using your hands or a mouse to navigate the screen, you use your eyes to do the scrolling and clicking.
Just like with the flashcards last year, Harrison picked up on how the eye gaze device worked rather quickly. Highlighting his knack for figuring things out, but also his drive and desire to communicate.
Over the following weeks and months, Harrison will continue to learn and explore to use of the eye gaze device. Between this new potential way for him to communicate, while still working towards speaking, on top of learning to weight-bearing on his feet and work towards walking, the next few months are going to no doubt prove to be a cornucopia of breakthroughs, frustrations, successes, and failures. So, a really exciting time!
Harrison’s journey with eye gaze technology highlights the importance of breaking stereotypes and embracing innovative solutions for non-speaking individuals. While his story is unique, there are countless other children like Harrison whose potential remains untapped because society often underestimates their abilities.
We hope that by sharing Harrison’s story, we can raise awareness about the incredible potential of assistive technologies like eye gaze and advocate for greater accessibility for all individuals, regardless of their communication abilities. Every child deserves the chance to be heard and understood.
Check out some of the videos below, showing Harrison’s first attempts at using the eye gaze device.