The road to success is paved with phonemes.
When Junior walked through the doors in 2016, he had limited social skills and almost no language ability.
What he did have was a great arm.
The three-year-old would pick up anything nearby—toys, books, crayons—and with a release that would make Drew Brees proud, let it fly. No matter how Spartan the room, Junior would find a way to trash the place. And it’s not because he’s a bad kid; the behaviors were a manifestation of his inability to communicate his wants, needs, and emotions.
This was his experience for the first few months at Ready, Set, Connect!, Crotched Mountain’s treatment clinic for young children with autism. With no communication skills at his disposal, Junior would resort to tantrums and other behaviors to make his point – anger, sadness, hunger, a need for attention – if he wanted it, there was a good chance a nearby random object would soon be airborne.
“We asked ourselves what the function of his behavior was, why was he doing it?” said Amy Dalphonse, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst for Ready, Set, Connect! “Our assessment showed us his current skill level and what skills he needed to communicate.”
Amy and the other therapists parsed these needed skills into bite-sized goals, building on small successes one at a time. For Junior that meant simple exercises like verbal imitation; the therapists would say “ooh” or “ah” or “uh,” and his mimicked response would result in a reward, like a toy train or a string of bubbles or a few moments with the iPad.
“We asked ourselves what the function of his behavior was, why was he doing it?”
Little by little, Junior mastered these phonemes, sound units even smaller than a syllable, eventually leading him to a major milestone–the teepee boat. What does teepee boat mean? Absolutely nothing! But the magic of the teepee boat lies in its phonetic composition, a smorgasbord of bite sized linguistic sounds that gave Junior enough language command to begin forming words.
These days, Junior is 100% verbal and able to construct complete sentences. He’s mastered 14 sight words (like “the,” “a,” “and”), which put him right in line with the learning of a typical kindergartner. There’s no longer any need for the imitation game or the teepee boat.
In fact, not too long ago, Amy and Junior were sitting down for lunch and Junior told her a joke. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense—something about the table looking like a monster—but a) he’s three and three-year-olds don’t tell jokes that make sense and b) Amy didn’t care. Because that joke showed her the improvement Junior has made in the nine months he’s been part of Ready, Set, Connect!
“He went from being completely isolated to engaging socially with his peers, improving the quality of his life tremendously and greatly increasing his chances for success in public school. It’s just remarkable to see where he was and where he is now.”
Learn more about the fun and learning of Ready, Set, Connect!