Dr. James D. MacDonald's Website
Helping Parents Help Children. Programs for Parents, Therapists & Educators
I came to feel that it was not only okay, but imperative, to relax and play with Noah in a balanced, challenging fashion and enjoy these his childhood years.. It was such a relief after following the myriad of stress-invoking traditions imposed on us. Most importantly, he now has a strong desire to communicate; this was definitely not the case before. Both of us live with less stress and we communicate much more.
At first I thought all I wanted was for my son to talk. I soon realized that he wasn't even on the same planet as the rest of us. He had totally blocked us out of his world and no teaching or demanding could get him to enter our world. Then we began imitating all of his sounds and actions and getting into his world and matching him. We did a lot of turn taking with anything he wanted to do. It was a lot of work sometimes, but a lot of it was also easy to fit right into our lives and it just became a natural part of our lives. It took over two years before Jon started to say words, but he was really communicating with us long before that.
We have been doing an experiment you suggested, for me to play with Jacob silently unless he said something. I am truly amazed at what has been happening. Typically as we watch Sesame Street on TV, I would run a monologue of what's going on, talking all the time thinking that the more language he heard the more he would learn. Then I tried being quiet and I was surprised how much more Jacob vocalized. He even tried some words that I had not idea he knew. I realize now that I was drowning him out and making it impossible for him to practice the sounds and little wordlets that he could do. This doesn't mean I am silent all the time. When he makes sounds I respond with sounds or a word but I don not talk on and on. I wait again and let him do more. I guess I was actually making it impossible for him to talk with all my talking.
Learning to communicate with a delayed child is a slow but enjoyable process. Learning this approach takes away the myth that we need to leave our children to professional. That myth is very strong here, not only for speech but in mainstream education. We parents are often intimidated into thinking that we can't think when it comes to helping our children learn, we can't figure anything out and that when a child has special needs it is totally outside our understanding. Our family is now finding that the myth is false and dangerous. And that we can remove that myth. We parents are definitely capable of being the ones who make the difference in our children's lives. Some parents in history have learned this naturally but here Dr. MacDonald is making this innovativeness available to all.
We have 9 children, including 2 with severe disabilities, one toddler beginning to talk, and lots of adolescents. So all kinds of communication go on in this house at any time! The most important thing Michael and I do with all these children with diverse needs is "matching." Matthew has severe, multiple disabilities, and is in a world of his own filled with nonsense phrases largely self-stimulatory, about "nothing." It is almost like his brain has tape-recorded everything he has heard, and every so often, he puts in a new tape and plays back what he heard over. Most of our children, from our nonverbal daughter to others who love to talk make their needs known one way or another. What our children with limited communication are lacking, are opportunities to communicate for the joy of connecting with human beings. We often get so caught up in helping our children communicate "appropriately" that we lose sight of the need we all have to connect in ways that meaningful to each of us. That's why matching is such a beautiful thing. When we simply meet Matt in his world and join in his way of talking, we make amazing connections. We have long, hilarious conversations about all kinds of strange things, using nonsense words and phrases Matt has made up as well as song lyrics and other phrases. We don't worry about WHAT we are saying. All that matters is that we are making a connection in a way that allows us to join Matt in a place that is meaningful to him. We all have a blast, and Matthew has a very rich social life as a result.
When I stopped demanding language and began communicating in the many nonverbal ways Lionel did, I found hidden inside my son was this delightful, engaging little boy. It was a thrill to discover the many layers of his personality. He reminded me of those colorful Russian dolls I think are called Matryoshka, that consist of a wooden doll, and nesting inside that one I are more and more smaller ones. That is what I found when I peeled away the layers of my son's isolation. But that happened only when I joined his nonverbal world for quite a while.
At first all I wanted was for Jon to talk. I soon realized that he wasn't even on the same planet as the rest of us. He had totally blocked us out of his world and no teaching or demanding could get him to enter our world. Then we began imitating all of his sounds and actions and getting into his world by matching him. We did a lot of turn taking with anything he wanted to do. It was a lot of work sometimes, but it was also easy to fit right into our lives and it became natural. It took over two years before Jon started to say words, but he was really communicating with us long before that.
Communicating partners gave me a totally new way of thinking about my relationship with my son. It has transformed me into a communicating partner and my nonverbal son into a non-stop talker who initiates conversation with many people. The first time I matched my son's communication level there was an immediate relaxation and enthusiasm for verbal interaction that was never there before. As a parent I had been frustrated that therapy is so brief and therapists do not see parents as part of the answer. Dr. MacDonald gives parents tools they can understand and really connect with their children.