In December, Jess received a birthday card along with photos from a young man. Because it was such a nice gesture, we mailed him photos. Finding a Valentine’s card in the mailbox from him was a delightful surprise!! Sometimes, it’s the littlest things that are a really big deal and this card was a big deal. Apparently, he was smitten. He had taken her photo to school, shared with his friends and let it be known that this was his girlfriend.
The only thing we had planned for Valentine’s was to have breakfast at the Ihop. I’m going to digress before I even get started…. I’m surprised Apple hasn’t tried to make them change their name? I’m sure they would have contested this if it were the iHop…. anyhow…. the waitress came to take our order, we weren’t ready, so she asked what we’d like to drink. Husband wanted coffee, I had OJ and then she turned to Jess. With a deadpan face, using Speak for Yourself, Jess said “martini”. (This word was just opened a few days earlier and like anything new, you want to play with it). The waitress was taken a little off guard, Jess smirked and we all laughed. Then Jess ordered water because they don’t serve martinis at the Ihop! It could be big if they did.
Afterwards, my husband saw our waitress share our story with her co-workers. I would not be surprised if this was their first experience seeing someone use an AAC device. When it was time to place our orders, Jess asked for pancakes with whipped cream because when you go to a pancake house, you get pancakes.
There are a few reasons I like going out to eat: when I’m in cooking rut, or when I run out of time because work got in the way. However, my favorite reason is because of all the opportunities it gives Jess to talk. It isn’t about the food, new environments stimulate new conversation!
Once a month we meet a friend for ice cream. We like going to It’s Nutts, a family restaurant near the Delaware River. We are regulars. The waitresses are very supportive and don’t rush Jess when she places an order. As she is learning to be confident using SFY in public, she is also exposing the community to this high tech style of communication.
People are intrigued having Jess talk to them through her iPad. Most of the time, casual acquaintances are very appropriate when speaking to her. They direct their questions to Jess and not whoever else she is sitting with. This is often not the case when someone has a disability, people talk around them and not to them. Just because someone isn’t verbal doesn’t mean they don’t comprehend.
Sometimes, our friends, will say “Jess, talk to me!” which is a conversation ender. It’s too broad. She needs an open ended question that is a little more specific to help her begin a conversation. I love that they are trying, but It can be too much pressure. Even when a question is posed, it’s important to wait for her answer. Many times, Jess needs to process her thoughts before she can tell her fingers do the talking. Once she gets primed, this often springboards onto other topics.
There was another time we met for lunch. Halfway through our meal, a patron starting chatting to us making it difficult for us to continue our conversation. When he didn’t take the hint, Jess leaned closer to our friend and said “persistent”.
This is what I mean about opportunity. Situations like this encourage Jess to say more than she would if we were at home. This is also a good example of why we like SFY’s babble feature because it allows her to naturally expand her vocabulary. Besides, if words are not available, then you can’t use them!
As I’m writing this, I’m realizing the opportunity I missed when Jess was opening her Valentine card. It isn’t every day you discover you have a secret admirer. Girls can talk an awful lot about boys and I dropped the ball. I wonder what she would have told me? That he’s cute, that she liked the photos of him fishing, painting, riding his bike and his horse? There was so much we could have talked about…sigh…next time.