In previous blogs I have talked about my daughter being nonverbal and how being nonverbal doesn’t always mean unable to communicate.
Communication can be accomplished in many different ways, such as through body language, verbal language, sign language, eye gaze interpretation, switch activated devices that “speak” for an individual, and this is just to name a few.
When our daughter Olivia was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy and we had learned how muscle control and cognitive function can be affected as a result of this condition; we were eager to assist in her development of the abilities she could strengthen. The first step was to understand how Olivia communicated.
We didn’t know if verbal language would ever develop, but what we did know was how alert and focused Olivia was within her environment. We quickly discovered her ability to control her eye gaze. She could track objects easily and appeared to pause on objects she was most interested in. Olivia’s speech/language therapist and occupational therapist suggested we build communication from this.
We began by giving Olivia the opportunity to choose between a “preferred item” and a “non-preferred item”. For example, her therapist presented her with a piece of tissue and a bright red ball. This exercise was to determine if Olivia understood her ability to choose something she really wanted, by looking at the object she favored most. It didn’t take long for her to pick that bright red ball over a measly piece of tissue. This was a profound moment! We learned that not only did Olivia completely understand the instruction of the exercise, she could also make choices!
Olivia has been practicing Eye Gaze communication for the last three years. Because she communicates so often using eye gaze, Olivia’s facial expressions have become more animated and bright. She will often smile for a “yes” answer or become expressionless for a “no”. We have learned to focus clearly on her eyes when we interact with her; building upon our ability to interpret what she is trying to tell us.
If Olivia has taught us anything it is this, open your eyes to the world around and you will hear what I’m trying to say.