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Logan was born in 1997 and is now aged 12, what a journey we have all had! He was born 2 years after Maia, his sister, and in the early years developed as we expected him to. He was a very easy baby, sleeping soundly with very little disruption. His motor development was normal and early language development – including several words such as “mummy”, “daddy”, “kitty” etc. – seemed to indicate that all was well.
However all of this was to change when Logan was around 2 years old. He stopped talking completely and began to cry a lot. He became very active and often ran off without any reason. He started a habit of clearing entire shelves in supermarkets, dumping boxes of toys and emptying out drawers. In the US, children are monitored by the “Birth to 3 team”, and it was this group who picked up the changes and suggested that we began an intervention on an education level. Logan was 2½ years old at this point. Our early attempts to get the situation properly diagnosed at Yale University led to the too often used PDD NOS or “pervasive development delay – not other wised specified”. To all the people who directly work with Logan it was obvious he had something quite close to autism. Eventually we had a well known behavioral analyst see Logan and he was diagnosed with autism. We were told that he may be one of the most severe cases in the state of Connecticut – at the time we did not really know what that implied.
Logan was a very fast runner. His bolting away tendencies expanded to include trying to escape from the house at any given opportunity. One could not take one’s eye off him for more then about five seconds without the possibility of Logan putting himself in physical danger. To illustrate, one trip to the emergency room was resulted of trying to do the dishes’ while Logan decided to eat the red Christmas tree lights. “Logan, that is not snack food”, my wife Kristi informed him as she rushed him to the hospital. Fortunately he was fine but we ceased to have Christmas trees after that. He would try to open the car door when moving, he would attempt to jump of a ferryboat from 10 meters up into frigid cold water in winter to go swimming. He had no fear of heights, moving water, moving automobile traffic or any other that most people his age had develop a healthy fear of. His sense of self-preservation was essentially nonexistent. As a result it took an enormous level of energy simply to keep him safe. Logan was not toilet training normally. As a result of that and his autistic behaviors he often made quite a mess in the bedroom.
Logan first visited with a Speech and Language Pathologist when he was around 4 years old. It was at this time that we were recommended that he be introduced to PECS (Picture Exchange Communication). My reaction? “I am not going to have my child use little pictures to communicate – that is a copout. You are a speech therapist – you make people talk isn’t that what you do?” Little did I understand how wrong I was and how little I knew at the time. How ironic!
Once I had realized that we had an actual problem I worked out that a technological solution might be in order. I had heard of these great computer based devices so we looked at lots of AAC devices and very quickly realized these were not going to be for Logan (who would through remote controls on the floor just to see the bits fly everywhere.) He could not get to grips with the dynamic devices at all, where were the words stored? How did you get to them? SO, back to PECS we went and I am happy to say, very positively. Logan worked well with PECS and had input from the top, Andy Bondi himself!
The use of PECS followed Logan through several schools and the protocol allowed him to transition smoothly. I now believe PECS is a very good place to start with a non-verbal autistic child.
However, I am sure I am not alone as a parent of a non-verbal child we wanted Logan to have a “voice”. By this time he was in residential school in the next state; he had developed good use of PECS but it did not help him order his Taco Bell or McDonalds, nor did it allow him to communicate with us on the phone.
The engineer in me took over – for the entire time that we were looking at devices I was sure there had to be something that Logan could use which would enable him to build on his skills. When we didn’t find it I decided to built it! After many long hours over drinks with close friends and colleague we hatched the idea to design and build something for Logan to use, to give him a voice. We had achieved this with the PROXTALKER® device and from that point my life took a different path, but that is a different story.