What Number Are You Dialing?

My son loves the iPhone.  It’s small and full of games, music, videos.  What’s not to love, right?  How about the purpose for which it was named, i.e., using a phone.   This has always been the last thing on my son’s mind.

When, Tootles was very young, he used to love the office phones because of all the buttons.  He would pick up the phone and mimic Jessica to the letter, “Good Morning, Law Firm, this is Jessica.  How can I help you?” he would say.  It was adorable, and of course, we let him play.

At home, I would let him talk to Grandma or Grandpa to say “hi”.  He would have to be prompted.  His voice would either be too loud or soft and he really had no concept of an actual, live person being on the other end of the thing communicating with him.  He would just say what he was told to say and then wander off to play with something.

Later, as he has gotten older, I let him answer the phone at home a time or two but  these attempts consisted of him floundering to find the button to answer and then saying “Hello?”, ignoring the caller (his dad) and walking 10-12 feet to me and handing me the phone.   Again, he would wander away.

So, the other night, Tootles had not eaten much all day.  We were at home, me with my contacts out and sweats on.  Daddy was on his way home.  So, I had Tootles call his dad to ask for a Happy Meal (standard in our house).  I showed him on my cell phone how to find Daddy and push the buttons to call.  I told him to say “Hi Daddy”, so, naturally, while it was still ringing, he said, “Hi Daddy.”

On prompting, he repeated the greeting when the Daddy actually answered.  Daddy said “hi” and asked how Tootles was.  My son then launched into what he wanted.  “Daddy to bring you a Happy Meal.” Once that message was conveyed, he said, “Goodbye Daddy,” and I hung up.

For really, the first time that I could tell, he got that Daddy was on the other end of the phone.  He conveyed a message that brought him a meal.  He understood the time frame of it coming in the future.  These are things most of us take for granted.  Yet, I had concerns about his comprehension of past and future events and the abstract concept of the phone which, at least, used to be, the most basic (to me) of communication devices.

My son has had his phone number memorized for about a year now, but so what?  It’s just a group of random numbers for which he receive a reward when he recites them in correct order.  It had no meaning beyond that for him.  He did not know – as far as I knew – what “my phone number” meant.  So, to test my theory, I got my cell phone and asked him how to call his phone number.

He found the app and looked at me, questioningly.  I told him to touch the app.  He got in and dialed his home number.  I had him answer the ringing home phone but he did not do it before the answering machine (yes – I know – not voice mail) got it.  He was confused a bit but did talk to me.  He did not know how to hang up.

I’m pretty sure that if I was lying on the floor unconscious, he’d have no idea how to use the phone to get help.  I asked him if Mommy was hurt, what he would do.  He rocked the weight from one foot to the other, tilted his head a little and was confused.  I asked again.  This time he touched his head and said, “Ouch.”  Then, he changed his mind and said, “Train,” his “code” word for pain.

Maybe teaching him will result in 100 phone calls to 9-1-1 for which I will end up being billed.  But, I think, it will have to be done.

Do your children use the phone?  When did they learn?  Do they know how to call 9-1-1 and when?  I’ve never seen someone post a way to do it.  I’ve asked for a program in ABA and was told it will be added and that it is a very fun program to do.

Meanwhile, even though Tootles knows his name, he will still pick up the phone at the office or at home, and announce that he is Jessica, right before he asks how he can help you…


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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9 Responses to What Number Are You Dialing?

  1. kcunning says:

    I honestly can’t recall when Jake started using the phone for conversations. He’d do the same thing as your son (“Say Hi to Grandma!” “Hi” *wander away*).

    The first real conversation I remember having with him was when I went away for a weekend, when he was six. I called him from the hotel, and my ex handed him the phone. It was awkward, but he was obviously excited that someone had called him.

    Now, at ten, when I travel for work, I make sure to call him every evening, and I can’t get him off the phone. The kid who says his day was ‘fine’ when I’m there in the flesh must now recount every last incident since the last time we spoke.

  2. I have recently been wondering the same thing for LM. What would she do if we needed to call for help? (Probably wander into the other room with the phone and stuff it into a bag!) Unlike T, LM does not know her own phone number. She cannot even tell me her last name without a reminder of what it is. That scares me.

    But Little Miss does understand that people she loves are on the other end of the phone. She asks to talk to grandma or nana on the phone — and while she doesn’t say much, she does listen to their voices. Maybe the thing that helped us in that area was using Apple Facetime. If you’ve never tried it, you can video conference someone else with an Apple device from your phone. You can also use Skype if you don’t have a round of Apple devices.

    Wishing you luck with this latest goal. I’ll look forward to hearing how it goes!

  3. Lisa says:

    Tate has a hard time discerning who is on the other side, too. He uses his script, and then gets out of there. Your drawing made me smile, btw. That is probably what would happen here, except he’d be saying, “hi, I’m fine. I go now.”

  4. Julie says:

    First, call your local police department’s non-emergency number. Let them know that you have a son who has challenges with speech and wanted suggestions on how to teach him to call 911 in case of an emergency. They may also have a registry you can be on where if, Gd forbid, your son does need to call 911, that an alert will pop up that you have a child with verbal issues. You may even be able to give them his code words so that they would be able to interpret what he is saying to them.

    After my husband had a seizure last year, we went to work on teaching him 911, his address and telephone number. One teacher said that you can put a dot of red fingernail polish on the 9 and two dots on the 1 to help the child learn the correct numbers but it sounds like he has a good handle on memorizing number.

  5. blogginglily says:

    I have not previously seen your art work. But it is BRILLIANT!

    For now Emma can dial 9-1-1 and do the talking, but it’s probably a good idea to get Lily on board at some future date.

  6. Lana Rush says:

    Since Lily is STILL nonverbal (sigh…), I definitely cannot count on her saying anything on the phone, let alone calling 911. She doesn’t know our phone number nor have any idea that the phone is for anything other than listening to music and playing games. I put the phone on speaker yesterday when Ryan called and let her listen. It was 100% evident that she was utterly confused. I know she recognized her dad’s voice but could not figure out why it was coming out of the “toy”. I’ll be curious to hear about T’s ABA program for this….

  7. eof737 says:

    He’s a natural with the phone… practicing for his constituents? 😉

  8. Julie says:

    Hey – check out this program I found. If it’s not in your area, you can request that they try to get it in place.

  9. Julie says:

    I gues it would help to leave the link huh? http://www.smart911.com

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