The Right Tool For the Job

If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”
–Abraham Maslow

autism_articleMost days confirm the reality that you really can’t have to many tools in your toolbox. Today I saw a fourteen-year-old “autistic” young man. Zach has been on program for a number of years and has done quite well in most respects. His parents have been quite pleased with his development and changes, particularly the changes that have occurred in the past year and most significantly in the past three months, when the pieces really started coming together at an accelerated rate. Zach has come from being a constantly stimming, DSA (Debilitating Sensory Addiction) out-of-it, unmanageable, difficult, non-communicative child to a boy who goes everywhere with his family, interacts socially, and has become a fun, interactive member of his family.

At NACD we have over 3000 tools (methods and techniques) that we can pull out of our toolbox when we create a program for a child. Our challenge is to look at the child globally, then look at the various issues to be addressed, determine priorities, evaluate the time and manpower that can be dedicated to the child, and then apply what we feel are the best tools for the job. Most programs for children like Zack incorporate tools to address their health and diet, gross and fine motor issues, sensory issues, hearing, vision, auditory and visual processing, speech and language, behavior, cognition, and academic function. We could easily use 20-30 different tools in each program.

Part of the process for us is to constantly evaluate, replace, and add to our toolbox. Our perception as an organization is that we can never help a child or a family fast enough or take them far enough. Being an international organization and being able to view the results of the application of many tools with thousands of children covering the full spectrum of ability and disability aids in this process. Through the years, although we have this huge toolbox, we are constantly identifying issues for which there are no adequate tools and thus set out to create the needed new tools.

During this past year, and particularly the last three months, we have all seen not just a Zachary who is progressing, but a Zach who is changing. His affect is now that of a typical child; his DSAs have diminished dramatically; he is engaged; and his speech and language have improved about 1000%. This dramatic change was started with a recommendation from us a year ago that the family purchase Zach a fantastic new tool, the iPad. Prior to Zach’s discovery of one of the greatest tools ever created for our special needs children, there was nothing that Zach could do independently or appropriately engage with or in. He needed to have someone engaging him every waking minute of the day, or he would fall into his DSA pit. Zach’s family was successful in teaching Zach to play with the iPad, starting off with 5-10 second exposures to basic cause and effect apps and then gradually increasing the frequency and duration of exposure, as well as the complexity and variety of apps. During this period Zach was able to start using our NACD Simply Smarter Kids-Memory app. With the development of Simply Smarter Kids we had for the first time a tool in our toolbox to actively work on Zach’s short-term memory and working memory. Although we have dozens of 1:1 processing activities as well as software and online programs to address these processing issues, we did not have a really great tool to use with a child at his level of function. With the proper tool we were able to really start teaching Zach how to process what he heard and saw and to think and raise his global level of maturity. Simultaneously we used our TSI (Targeted Sound Intervention): Focused Attention program, which helped Zach to separate and isolate words and language from the world of background noise and interference. Once we had Zach really hearing language and getting his auditory processing moving, we were able to use our new NACD Home Speech Therapist—Speech Therapy for Apraxia app with Zach so that he is now developing the ability to speak and even sing intelligibly. Today was a good day. I’m delighted with the changes in Zach and his prospects for the future, and I’m really pleased with the effectiveness of the new tools in our toolbox. All problems are not nails and hammers can’t fix everything; and it is so sad and tragic that so many practitioners are so content to keep using the same tool over and over again and keep trying to pound that nail.