If there is one thing my son Isaac has taught me in the last 8 years it is this:
Communication is much more than words.
Isaac has severe autism. He has no spoken language. He has global delay, significant learning difficulties and nf1. He struggles with lots of things in life, but yet there is one thing he excels at and has done for a few years now: he has taught himself to communicate via Google Street Map!
It is a different way of communicating, but for him it works much better than speech or any traditional communication app.
Wherever I take Isaac, whether it is somewhere he is familiar with, or hundreds of miles away to a place he has never been before, he has a special talent of retracing the exact route once home using just Google Street Map and his incredible memory.
In the summer of 2014, when he was just 6 years old, we went on holiday to a cottage 120 miles from home. Yet a week later he retraced the exact route we travelled including stopping at the very same service station we took a comfort break at!
I was amazed that a child who has no understanding of numbers or letters and barely turned when his name was called could hold such an incredible talent. I was sure it was a one-off.
He attends a school for children with complex needs and is transported there alone for his own safety due to challenging behavior and seizures. His school is 14 miles from home, yet he takes himself there by memory via Google street map every afternoon once home and sitting in “his” chair. I put this ability down to the fact he does the same journey daily. I wondered if he had the location stored.
One day I watched him.
What I witnessed gave me an insight into part of his world I can never be a part of and which he could never tell me about. Watching him use Google Street Map gave me peace of mind as he showed me step by step the route his taxi goes and even where the car parks to get him out. In fact, he even took me to the door of the building he goes into! All without speaking a single word.
He uses Google Street Map for his every communication need now. If he is hungry, he goes onto the street map and travels from his home address to a restaurant nearby and brings his iPad to show me.
If he wants to go out, he uses Google Street Map to show me where he wants to go, from the church he goes to every week, to the train station, and the local park. He takes himself to his gran’s house and to shopping centers to tell me he wants to go and watch elevators.
He has discovered he can enter a local hotel using Google Street Map and this has opened up new unique ways for him to communicate too.He tells me when he requires his continence products changed by taking himself to the hotel, going inside and finding the toilets!
He goes into rooms in the hotels and finds an ensuite to communicate he wants a bath at night. When ready for bed, he moves around the rooms until he finds a bed and points to it.
He finds my car in the driveway to ask to go in the car.
He finds a clothes shop in the high street to ask me to get him dressed.
When he was highly distressed one day and I could not stop him screaming, I put on Google Street Map and he moved around until he found a house with a door open to show me that there was a door open somewhere he could see and this was what was causing his distress! I was in awe of his ability to find such an ingenious way to communicate.
Two weeks ago, though, he shocked me once again. He was more lethargic than usual and quiet (he may not speak, but he makes a lot of noise!). He came and sat beside me and used his skill on Google Street Map to take himself to the doctor’s! For the first time ever he was able to communicate that he was feeling unwell! This was incredible. I cried. It was nothing serious thankfully but to be able to say he communicated he was not feeling good to a doctor was amazing.
Isaac is not a genius. He cannot write his own name, dress himself, read or write or use cutlery. He requires round-the-clock care. He cannot speak one word. He is severely autistic, yet he has found a way to connect with others that is as unique and special as he is.
Google Street Map has helped millions find their way in life but none more so than one non-verbal autistic little boy named Isaac.