Communicating Differently

“Parker was an early talker,” Ann Moore pauses, “and then it all just went away.”

Her son, Parker, was diagnosed with autism at an early age. Ever since, his speech, communication skills, and ability to perform complex tasks have been greatly impeded; he speaks mainly using sign language and a few small words.

Parker is now 20 years old and needs help with daily tasks such as brushing his teeth and going to the restroom. His mother, Ann, says that she tries to let him be as independent as possible. He can dress himself in the morning, take out the trash, put away dishes, fold laundry, get the mail, and make his bed, all with little help.

Melissa, his behavioral specialist, comes to the Moore house every day from 3 p.m to 6 p.m. to help Parker with his chores and watch him while Ann completes hers. Although she’s only been working for the Moore family for a few months, she can read Parker fairly well, even if he doesn’t use sign language. For example, when Parker watches videos, he closes his right hand like he’s holding the remote (Melissa usually is), and moves it up and down slightly signaling that he wants Melissa to fast forward.

Parker also does a number of self-stimulatory behaviors like spinning around in circles, pressing his thumbs against objects, and smelling Ann’s hair, all of which help him alleviate stress. Ann says that she will let him spin for hours in his room before he goes to bed at night.

Although Parker barely speaks, he can still communicate his needs to others. He may not do it in the way you or I do, but he is constantly learning and developing new ways of communication.n