Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Simple Yes or No

I needed a clear way to know what Lilli wanted or needed, without the ipad. Just a simple “Yes” or “No.”

Shopping trips have always been difficult, even typing with an ipad. This is one of the best, solid communication methods I have ever found with Lilli. Why did it take so many years for me to think this up?

Here it is, nothing fancy:  The Yes No Velcro cards  - in a purple purse.  

Lilli’s Little Purple Plastic Purse. We love that book.
The purse part is important. Lilli is eight, and fashion is important to an eight year old. It makes her feel like a big girl, and encourages more independence. Plus, it’s cute. (And it was only a dollar at a yard sale.)
She can’t carry the purse herself yet, but maybe one day she will. We could get a bigger strap and put it on her shoulder. For now we just carry it for her and leave it in her sight. When we want to ask Lilli a question, we pull the cards out for her. 

The Problem with Other Yes and No Methods:

Pointing - We tried having her point at the words Yes and No. But lots of people with autism have trouble with pointing. Lilli has worked on pointing at things she touches for years. It is still hard for her. She never, ever points at something in the air or someone across the room. Touch is important. It works in specific situations: if I hold out two objects and say “which one do you want?” she can touch or grab the object. But she rarely point-touches, it is usually more of a whole hand tap or grab. And it does not work for everything.  Pointing is not always accurate either. She can aim to point at something and go off to the side. Or in the middle between two pictures, for example.  All of this is confusing to me about Lilli, because she can do some things like on a touchscreen. But she needs guidance with typing. I do not know why there is a discrepancy, I just know that she finds it easier to reach out and grab something as opposed to touching it with her pointer finger.

Vision can also be a problem. We are still unsure of Lilli’s exact vision issues. She uses peripheral vision often. Side glances are more prominent than direct eye contact. If we put two pictures next to each other but space them far apart for easier aim in pointing/touching, we can’t tell if both cards are within her field of vision.

Signing  - We have been working on signing “yes” and “no” for years, but it is not consistent. Most importantly, Lilli has trouble signing with people she does not know, and signing in situations where there is pressure or she is overstimulated. For example, at the mall with music playing and lots of people around.

Nodding - Lilli cannot nod her head yes or shake her head no, to answer a question. She is physically able to move her head, but not on command. It’s an autism thing.

These are all methods that we take for granted every day. How many ways can you express “Yes” or “No” to others? We have many choices, but Lilli has very few. Lilli had done well with Velcro pictures in the past, and now we know that she can read. So the YES NO Velcro cards were born. Simple, clear, and concise. I ask her the question, and hold out the cards. She pulls off the “Yes” or the “No,” and hands it to me. I LOVE Velcro. (so does Lilli.)

This simple method has been very helpful and accurate. And it WORKS for us. I hope this idea will help someone else who has a similar issue.

These are our rules:

1. Always put YES on the left. At one point, we were switching the cards around each time, to make sure she was looking at them before she answered. Sometimes YES would be on the left, and sometimes it would be on the right. This came from the idea that we needed to “test” Lilli and make SURE she was paying attention to the cards. Then I realized, this is not fair. When you ask someone a question with a yes or no answer, do you say, “Do you want a slice of pie? No or yes?” Most people would say, “Yes or no?” Yes always comes first. Another reason: we all do things with muscle memory. When we type, we don’t look at the keyboard all the time (if we know how to type, that is.) Our fingers just know where to go. The letters are not “switched on us.” When we drive, (if we are experienced drivers) we don’t look down at our hands and concentrate on every move they make. Some people can text without looking. I cannot do this, but I have an old flip phone and I am old fashioned. (Or just old.) So when Lilli does things, she sometimes uses muscle memory too. She reaches for the one on the left, or the one on the right. So they always have to be the same. Make sense?

2. Do not use the YES NO cards to test Lilli with silly, test-like questions that insult her intelligence. She is smart! If we ask her something stupid like, “Are you a girl?” trying to see if she understands, she will get mad and either not answer, or take both cards off and throw them on the floor. We only use the YES NO cards to ask her conversational, everyday questions that we do NOT know the answer to. Otherwise, we would not ask her, silly! So for example, I ask her “Do you want mustard on your sandwich?” “Do you have to use the bathroom?”  This helps me to know what she wants, and it helps me to include her. I enjoy being able to ask her something like, “Do you like this song?” Or, “Do you like this bracelet?” These little questions help connect one person to another.

3. Use the cards all the time, about everything. Lilli wants to have a “say” in the choices in her life. We took the purse with her to church, and the volunteers taught her a Sunday school lesson and asked her questions. We took the purse to occupational therapy, and the therapist used the cards to ask her if she wanted to go on the swing during therapy.  I use the cards to ask her about food choices, play choices, bathroom, fashion, books we are reading, and her opinions on things. Lilli has shown us over and over that she completely understands, and she has her own opinions and preferences.  We are beginning to use the cards when shopping, and it has proven to be the clearest, easiest way to know what she wants and does not want. Is it 100% accurate? I guess I have no way of proving it. But today when I asked Lilli if she wanted tomatoes on her sandwich, she told me yes. So she got tomatoes.  Almost every time I have asked her if she had to go to the bathroom and she used the cards to say “Yes,” I have taken her and she DID go. Answering yes or no often has direct immediate consequences. I think it is a super skill to work on with a child who has no “voice.” So even if it is not 100% all the time, it is easy, fast, and better than anything else we’ve got going on here.

We also put the potty button into the purple purse. The portable potty button is concealed in a zipper change purse. I sewed a ribbon onto it so she can wear it, but since we got the purple purse she does not wear the potty button. We put the purple purse where she can see it, and she has gone over to it and pushed on the purse with the potty button inside. In case you missed my post about the potty button, it is a rigged recordable picture frame that says "I have to go potty" when pushed. 

So now we have a purse for a non-verbal, fashionable girl with the ability to communicate “Yes,” “No,” and “potty.”

My niece sent the change purse that I used for the potty button camouflage. I used a ribbon I already had and sewed on a strap. The card for the back of the YES NO cards is cut out of a piece of a plastic school folder that I picked up at Office Max.  I printed out the words “Yes” and “No” at home and had them laminated, but they can be mounted on cereal box cardboard and covered with clear packing tape – we do that a lot to avoid a trip to the office store. So it was very inexpensive.

So simple, cheap, yet so valuable. If you know someone who is non-verbal, will you please share this idea? I can’t keep this to myself. I know there are other non-verbal children or even adults out there who might be able to use this simple method.

So what do you think? Do you like this idea? Yes…or No?



  1. YES!!! I love it!! This is so great, so creative.

  2. You could attach the yes and no to button like the potty button and then she could "say" yes and no. Press or just accident squeeze as she pulls off. wrap and elastic gently around the button to keep it from opening.