My little boy Mathew has ASD. He's 5½ years old and you can't shut him up, especially when he wants to talk about his favourite obsession (currently McDonald's and Subway). It wasn't always like that though.
Mathew didn't babble as a baby, at the age of 2 he was still almost completely silent (apart from when he giggled) and we were referred for speech therapy. By age 3 he was still non verbal but had at least progressed to making noises in the back of his throat. By 3½ he still had no words, was just starting pre-school, and our speech therapist was saying she thought he might have verbal dyspraxia.
I did some reading up, and a lot of sources said that using signing alongside speech can really help, so I enrolled for the Beginner's Makaton course with our local tutor, Helen. I mentioned casually at a meeting with the SENCO at school that I was going, and she immediately suggested that Mathew's teacher and teaching assistant should train too. In the end my husband went as well, and we all started to use some basic signing and also symbols with Mathew.
At first he didn't seem to engage with it at all, he didn't seem interested and got quite upset when we tried to get him to sign back. Gradually, however, he started to show an interest in the symbols. School made him some visual aids based on the symbols, and he loved them. I started going through the vocabulary in the course handouts with him and signing the words to him, and after a while he started signing back. We also based all his visual aids at home on Makaton symbols. After a few months, words emerged; at first only a few, and then more and more until by his 4th birthday he was stringing 3 or 4 together to make sentences. Around this time we were referred for the assessment for autism and also the school began the process involved in getting him a statement of special educational needs. Part of that process involved an assessment by the educational psychologist, where his language and communication was assessed as being at the level of a 2 year old.
Since then Mathew's progress has been remarkable.
He was awarded his statement and was diagnosed with ASD earlier this year. He now attends a school for children with special educational needs. His speech is still delayed and his pronunciation is odd sometimes and dyspraxia is still being queried, but the progress he has made is remarkable and he now rarely signs because he can speak the words instead. We do still use the symbols for all his visual aids at home, and he still likes to go through the vocabulary books now and then. He also enjoys signing along to his Singing Hands DVD and to Something Special.
Whenever I get irritated by his constant barrage of questions about "what world is this Subway in?" and "is this Subway in Manchester yes or no?" etc I remind myself about the years and years I waited to hear him say "Mummy" and "I love you" and I'm thankful that we managed to break through the barriers and show him that communicating with us was worthwhile.
I'm positive we have Makaton to thank for that!