Before Harry was demanding (and I do mean demanding, not requesting) to use his talker whenever he had something to say and was initiating communication. Before his talker was a permanent part of the paraphernalia that we cart around everywhere. Before any of that, we had to instil one simple habit. Take his voice with us everywhere.
I remember receiving Harry’s first PODD communication book, I was so excited…and absolutely terrified! What is this book filled with symbols? How am I ever going to learn it? And if I’m worried that I can’t learn it, how will Harry ever learn it? We’d already had our expectations for Harry’s communication completely shattered by a rogue neuro-psychologist whilst in hospital, so my hope for real, robust communication had certainly be challenged. (If only I’d known about The Power of Yet then, but that’s a post for another time.)
The first task that we were given by H’s speechie was to carry the PODD book around everywhere for the first couple of weeks and not to pressure ourselves into using it. Just get into the habit of taking it everywhere with you, she said. It was an A4 sized book with a big spiral binder and at least half an inch thick, so it was a sizeable piece of kit. But it was so much more than just a chunky spiral bound book.
Within its colourful symbol-filled pages lay the possibility of real communication, of Harry being able to tell us so much more than what he wants to eat or whether he wants to play with blocks or cars. It held the symbol for “I love you”! Just carry it around and don’t stress about using it, she said. Puh-lease, I was going to be a champion AAC mum and would be talking to Harry in the PODD about ALL. OF. THE. THINGS. and ALL. OF. THE. TIME!
Yep, no prizes for who was right.
Creating a habit to take something with you everywhere is not quite as simple as it may sound. Especially when it doesn’t exactly fit in your back pocket. There was a lot of this kind of chat in those initial weeks and months…
Hmm, it doesn’t’ fit in my bag. Oh okay, we’ll add a shoulder strap. (weeks pass) Good, the shoulder strap definitely helps.
I’m just popping into the shop, we’ll leave it in the car. Hmm, that would have been a good opportunity for communication, wish I had the PODD with me.
Me: Did you bring the PODD? J: No, I thought you brought it.
J: Did you bring the PODD? Me: No, I thought you brought it.
And sometimes I did have it with us, but I just didn’t feel like bringing it out. Maybe I was tired and not in the mood for modelling. Maybe I felt vulnerable and didn’t have the emotional strength that day to deal with people staring.
And you know what, looking back, that was all okay (and sometimes, even now, still is) . What mattered is that we were on the path. We had a robust communication system for Harry and we were absolutely committed to ensuring that he would be able to communicate to anyone about anything, anywhere, any time.
This time, we just had to give ourselves a chance.