He Rocks – Harry’s Heart and Humor Part 1


One of my main motivations for opening We Rock The Spectrum Glendale  was to provide a place for my own growing son with autism  to play and hang out after school. I knew he loved to jump, crash and swing and I had seen over the years how the more he was provided opportunities to do all those things, the more he seemed to be present and able to learn from the world around him. When he didn’t get his “energy out” or “sensory needs met”, he would be in constant motion jumping on beds, spinning in the living room and pacing the hallways. He also was always burying himself under things or trying to wedge his body in tight spaces. When designing our Glendale gym for those with Sensory Processing Disorder SPD. I knew we were going to build an extra room in the space and that it would have many purposes. We would provide therapies, group or private classes, musical exploration and a place to be quite and away from the intensity in the gym.
Within a month of opening we were providing a space for Social Skills, Music Therapy and for me the biggest prize was luring a well sought after Speech Therapy Company REACH (Resource for Education, Advocacy, Communication and Housing) to our Gym in Glendale to help explore if Harry could learn to use typing as way to communicate. At the time he was 13 years old, and had been in speech therapy for 10 years. He spoke in 1-3 word sentences only, about his basic wants and needs.
His Speech Therapist’s name was Christy, and together at times with the head of the communications department Darlene, they closed themselves in our “quiet room” with Harry and an iPad and proceeded to teach him that he could use pointing to communicate. I was thrilled to be watching the wonderful learning take place week after week. I set him up for the best possibility of success, diligently making sure he had ample opportunity to meet his sensory needs in the gym by jumping, swinging and eating a snack before each session.
At first Harry was taught to use apps that strengthened his pointing finger and he just practiced popping bubbles, swiping stars and doing other fun but functional things on the iPad. Then Christy would read to him a short passage about random subjects. After she would ask Harry direct questions about what she had read and presumed that of course, he knew the answer, she had just read it to him. This idea of “presume competence”  was not new to us, but Harry’ s growing confidence and ability to respond was. She encouraged him to type his answers on the iPad in full sentences, something he’s never been able to do verbally. She read to him about frogs, The Beatles, and Gandhi. Right from the start he was able to accurately reply by spelling out his answers. He was “facilitated” by a slight support on his right shoulder, to remind his right hand that it was supposed to be doing something. I was amazed at how long Harry was sitting and paying attention and not getting frustrated at what he was doing with Christy.
As Harry began to answer questions with Christy on a weekly basis, I noticed he seemed to need less time regulating in the gym before his sessions. He was sitting longer and attending for the entire 50 minutes, sometimes without a break. I loved what I was seeing, and we were renting the room in our gym before and after his session, so other families were coming to work with Christy and communicate by typing. Summer turned into fall and I felt so encouraged by his progress. Then it happened, the news that Christy would be getting married and moving away. Joyous for her but devastating for us was the all too familiar loss of a valued therapist. The worst news came when Darlene informed us that REACH did not have any speech therapists available to continue working at the gym. I was determined at this point to do whatever it took to keep this new-found communication going for my son.