A speech language pathologist (SLP) took to Twitter this month to share her experience helping a nonverbal 10-year-old boy with autism communicate with his father.
In her seven-part recounting of the incident, SLP Rachel Romeo explained that she had crossed paths with the boy and his father after being seated next to them on an international flight.
“On my 8hr intl flight back from a conference, I sat next to a father/son,” Romeo wrote. “In broken English, the father began to apologize/warn me that his ~10 yr-old son had severe nonverbal autism, and that this would like be a difficult journey.”
Unfazed, Romeo explained that she was a speech language pathologist and was experienced in working with nonverbal children. The father’s prediction soon came true, even before take-off, the boy began screaming, hitting, and grabbing Romeo’s things. The father apologized, though he was unable to stop the behavior.
It was then that Romeo decided to try and use her expertise to relieve the situation.
“I tried to see if he was stimulable for a communication board,” Romeo wrote. “I started by pulling up some standard images for basic nouns on my computer, but I could tell that screens really bothered him. So, I summoned my god-awful drawing skills and tried to create a (very!) low-tech board.”
Thankfully, this approach worked. Romeo began making symbols for the things the boy was grabbing at, such as his favorite stuffed toy and his father. By the end of the flight, Romeo wrote that the boy’s behavior had improved, and that he had made several requests and initiated his wants/needs several times. According to Romeo, the boy’s father was amazed, since no one had tried an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) approach with his son before.
Romeo wrote that the therapy tapped into the basic need for communication that all human beings have.
“This was the human desire for communication, pure and simple,” she observed. “To connect with another person and share a thought. Communication is a basic human right, and I was overjoyed to help someone find it. What a privilege and a gift.”
Romeo’s posts were liked almost 4000,000 times, generating an extremely positive response from commenters, especially those who are parents of children with autism.
“You're my hero, plain and simple,” one father wrote. “My son is high-functioning autistic and we've been blessed with people like yourself who made it their mission to see him improve. I thank God everyday for them so please know that you're valued and appreciated beyond words."
“This brings tears to my eye as a mom who traveled with my son 2 years ago and vowed never again,” a mother wrote. “I'm gonna look into this AA.”
As for herself, Romeo described the episode as morale-boosting.
“As I face the upcoming job cycle and the nearly endless imposter syndrome of academia, this was precisely the reminder I needed about why I love studying language/communication development,” she wrote. “It was a good day to be an SLP!”