If there is one thing my son Isaac has taught me in the last eight years, it is this: Communication is much more than words.
Isaac has severe autism. He has no spoken language. He has global development delay, significant learning difficulties, and NF1 (or Neurofibromatosis type 1, a genetic neurological disorder). He struggles with lots of things in life, but there is one thing he excels at and has done for a few years now: He has taught himself to communicate via Google Street View! For him, it works much better than speech or any traditional communication app. (Google Street View is a web and mobile application of Google Maps that allows you to see street view images of a certain place.)
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, using just Google Street View 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 traveled including stopping at the very same service station where we took a comfort break!
I was amazed that a child who has no understanding of numbers or letters and barely turns when his name is called could hold such an incredible talent. I was sure it was a one off.
Isaac attends a school for children with complex needs, and he has his own vehicle service to bring him there for his own safety due to challenging behavior and seizures. His school is 14 miles away yet he takes himself there by memory via Google Street View every afternoon once he's home.
I put this ability down to the fact he goes on the same journey daily. I wondered if he had the location stored. So one day I watched him. What I witnessed gave me an insight into his world that I can never be a part of and which he could never tell me about.
But watching him use the street map gave me peace of mind. He showed me step by step the route his car service takes and even where it parks to get him out. In fact, he even took me to the door of his school building -- all without speaking a single word.
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Isaac uses the street map application for his every communication need now.
If he is hungry, he expresses it by using the street map and "traveling" from his home address to a restaurant nearby and then brings his iPad to show me.
If he wants to go out, he uses the street map to show me where he wants to go: the church he goes to every week, the train station, the local park, his grandmother's house, and to the shopping centers where he likes to watch the lifts.
He has discovered he can "enter" a local hotel, and this has opened up new unique ways for him to communicate, too. He tells me when he needs his continence products changed by taking himself into to the hotel, going inside, and finding the toilets! He goes into the hotel rooms and finds a suite 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.
With the street map, he finds my car in the driveway to ask to go in the car. He finds a clothes shop to ask me to get him dressed.
When he was highly distressed one day and I could not stop his screaming, I put on Google Street View. He moved it 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, Isaac 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 View to take himself to the doctor's clinic! For the first time ever, he was able to communicate that he was feeling unwell! This was incredible. I cried. Thankfully, it was nothing serious but to be able to say he communicated he was not feeling good to a doctor was amazing.
Isaac is not a genius. He can not 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.
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Miriam Gwynne is a wife and mom who lives in Scotland with her family. Isaac has a twin sister who also has special needs.