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What is Non Verbal Autism?

About 25% of people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder could be considered to have non-verbal autism - yet the term "non-verbal autism" is not a part of the diagnostic criteria. In part, that's because there is no clear line between verbal and non-verbal individuals with autism. Some people have the ability to speak, but lack the ability to use language in a meaningful way.

Others can't use spoken language, but are able to communicate with written or typed language, sign language, picture cards, or digital communication devices. One of the strangest aspects of non-verbal autism is the fact that no one really knows why some people with autism can't - or don't - use spoken language.

The NOIT device

The NOIT (Neural Orientation Induction Tool) has been developed by Ron Davis to assist individuals with non-verbal or low verbal autism. Wellington Learning Solutions is proud to be able to offer this device to autistic individuals in New Zealand.

The following article, written by Beth Currie-Shier, is about the first non-verbal autistic person to use the NOIT and the changes that have happened for him. If you have any questions or would like to find out more, please contact Margot Young.

Watch the video of Tyler’s progress here - https://youtu.be/cDClIleD8tw

Tyler's Story

Non Verbal Autism - Tylers Story with Autism Approach New Zealand 
As the door opened, Tyler Oswald looked for the puppy he knew was somewhere inside. He spotted his facilitator, whom he has not seen for over 6 months and yelled “Ray! Hi!” As the puppy barked her welcome, Tyler remarked “puppy little bark”. His excitement at seeing his Davis Autism Approach Facilitator, Ray Davis overshadowed the momentous nature of the moment. Ray’s father, Ron Davis was finally able to lay eyes on Tyler. Four years ago, Tyler was the first non-verbal autistic child who used a cutting edge assistive technology called the NOIT. Now 175 NOITs are in use around the world. It seemed fitting for Ron to travel from his home in Burlingame, California to hold the International Launch of NOIT in Oakville, Ontario where Tyler’s has lived his whole 10 years on Earth. Although Ron received weekly updates and the occasional video, this was the first time Ron met Tyler in person.

Ron Davis was born in 1942 and pre-dates the word “autism”. As an infant, he was labelled a “Kanner’s baby” because Dr Leo Kanner was researching the set of characteristics which is now referred to as autism. Ron describes him mother as an angel who loved him in spite of his challenges. He describes autism as “being everything and nothing at the same time.” Somehow Ron found a way out of the void and has spent the last 35 years helping others do the same. The NOIT is the culmination of his life’s work. Tyler’s ability to speak and be part of his environment is the result of the NOIT. It provided the foundation for his success. As Ron looked at Tyler, there was a humble pride in his eyes. With the launch of the NOIT, Ron feels he can retire and know he has fulfilled his purpose on Earth.

Although he doesn’t understand it, Tyler is a living landmark in the field of autism therapy. Four years ago, when he was just six and a half years old, he made history as the first person in the world to use a device called the NOIT. NOIT Research is a private, leading edge Autism research organization. The purpose of NOIT Research is the development of strategies and technologies that will make it possible for even the most severely Autistic individuals to participate fully in life.

A small percentage of the autistic population, possibly 10 to 15%, is so severely handicapped with Autism that the development of language skills does not occur. The failure to develop language is a good indication of just how severely they are affected. Along with the failure to develop language, many of these individuals are also severely limited in the areas of self-care, social and emotional function, and focus and attention. Almost all exhibit ritualistic or repetitive behaviours or engage in self-injury. This limited population of autistic individuals is the focus of NOIT Research.

The NOIT is not a cure for Autism. Its function is to coax an individual into establishing a stable perception of their environment. Davis refers to this state as “orientation”. The NOIT cannot cause this directly, but by putting an auditory stimulus in the exact same place at frequent intervals (every eight seconds) for long periods of time, the person’s attention is drawn to that place so often that it will eventually become the focal point for their attention. This is what establishes a stable orientation. Once the person is in an oriented condition, very quickly all of their perceptions will begin functioning in harmony. This in turn removes the chaos from the environment and allows the person to function from a single perspective. This allows for the development of a sense of being separate and distinct from the objects and people in the environment. This is what is known in a Davis Autism Approach Program as “Individuation.” In essence, the NOIT brings about a stable state of orientation that allows the user to individuate.

Tyler has done just that, and will continue to grow and change thanks in part to the foundation provided by the NOIT.

Field trials of the NOIT included 20 non-verbal Autistic individuals. They ranged in age from 6 to 41. They wore the NOIT between 6 and 12 hours per day for 4 to 6 months. All of the participants’ caregivers reported significant changes which indicate that sensory integration and individuation took place. These changes included significant gains in focus and attention, sense of self, gross motor skills, social interaction skills, and language. Language improvement included better pronunciation and appropriate use of existing language as well as emergence of new language. One very successful individual began to speak recognizable individual words within three days, names of family members within a week, and three word phrases within three weeks. Almost all users verbally indicated an emerging sense of self with the use of their own name, and the use of “I”, “Me”, and/or “Mine”. Importantly, all caregivers reported less sensory sensitivity, obsessive and ritualistic behaviours, and self-injury.

Tyler’s family agreed to be part of the NOIT Research field trial when they met with Ray Davis, Ron Davis’s youngest son. Ray, a gifted Davis Autism Approach Facilitator with a fierce interest in implementing his father’s methods, explained the device and process to Tyler’s parents, Tara and Randy. Tara remembers why they made the choice to have their son participate in the field trial. “We felt that more traditional therapies weren’t helping him. The ABA and IBI type of therapies didn’t give him the time he needed to process the information. We felt his progress had plateaued. The NOIT gave us another option. As parents of an autistic child, we have always found as many ways as we could to help Tyler and have always held the belief that he will continue to improve.”

When we first met Tyler, he said less than 10 words - most of which couldn’t be understood by others. He asked for his favourite food, apples, with a sound that began with the short a sound and ended with a sound that resembled white noise. Although he seemed to understand much of the things said to him, he appeared to spend the majority of his time disoriented in his own world. Like most Autistic individuals, Tyler spent much of this time engaging in ritualistic repetitive behaviours referred to as stimming or stims. Tyler’s stims included throwing toy horses against the wall, manipulating the blades of helicopters, and lining things up. He was rarely interested in his surroundings or two younger siblings, Ashley and Mitchell. He had been in numerous therapies, was taking nutritional supplements, and was taking part in speech therapy, but the benefits were small. Tyler’s family was ready to take the leap of faith and allow Tyler to use the NOIT.

Tyler used the NOIT for up to 10 hours a day from April 11, 2011 to October 10, 2011 (6 months). He wore it at home, school, during activities and playtime. Almost immediately, he demonstrated an increased ability to focus and attend which improved as time went on. His Mom described one situation in her reports for the research team: “As usual, I told Tyler to go upstairs and get his socks on. Usually, he goes upstairs and gets distracted by something or jumps on the beds until I go up and have him to do whatever he’s been sent to do. Today I was amazed when he came back with his socks on!” Tyler also began to engage in more socially appropriate ways and began to interact with Ashley and Mitchell. Another report entry from his Mom reads: “We were having dinner and all of the sudden, Tyler raised his glass to Ashley and said, ‘Cheers!’. I have no idea where he got the idea, but we all laughed and did it back to him.”

Most noticeably, without extra speech therapy or any other changes, Tyler’s language began to improve. His few words became more understandable; he learned new words and began to use them in 2 word phrases. As with typical language development, he began with nouns, then began to add adjectives and verbs, then adverbs, and finally little words like “the” and “it”. He also learned to say “Mommy”, “Daddy” and his siblings’ names. He became very proficient at using “Mommy” correctly! The Director of NOIT, Beth Shier, visited the family one day to check in on Tyler’s progress. Tara and Beth were in the family room and Tyler wanted Tara to go see something and interrupted our talk with demands of, “Mommy, come!” She explained to him that they were talking and that she would come in a minute and sent him on his way. However, Tyler continued to interrupt with increasingly louder demands of, “Mommy! Come! Mommy! Come!” until finally Tara exclaimed, “Tyler, will you be quiet!” Realizing the humour in the situation, they looked at each other and broke out in laughter at the irony. “Be careful what you wish for!” Tyler’s language skills have continued to improve and he now speaks in short 4 to 5 word phrases.

A year ago, Tara contacted Beth and Ray to ask if she could have a NOIT to put on Tyler again. He was having trouble paying attention at school. So, they gave it a try. Right away things improved and he continues to wear it daily now. He also began the Davis Autism Approach Program with Ray Davis successfully in December of 2012.

The Davis Autism Approach Program is made up of 3 parts. First is “Individuation”, which Tyler began with the NOIT and completed when he was able to make a clay model of himself and understand that it represented him. The second is “Identity Development”. Now that Tyler has an awareness of self and accurate perception, he can develop a greater understanding of the world around him. Tyler has begun this process by using clay to create the first several of thirty basic life concepts. He especially enjoys exploring each concept in the real world. He and Ray spend hours finding each concept in popping balloons, playing with toy helicopters and other everyday activities. This builds on and strengthens Tyler’s existing identity and understanding of how he fits into the real world. One particularly hilarious exploration of the concepts of “cause” and “effect” included Tyler filling the kitchen sink with bubbles and putting them all over his head, in his ears and even his mouth. The entire time, he tried to talk Ray into doing it too! The final phase of the program is “Social Integration”. When Tyler has completed his “Identity Development” concepts and explorations, he will be ready to build on that foundation to understand the key concepts involved in establishing relationships with others.

When asked about the biggest difference they notice in Tyler, Tara and Randy agree: “An explosion of language”. Tara explains, “I know there have been changes in focus and attention and that the concepts he has learned with Ray are likely having an effect, but I don’t really know what to look for to be certain. But, I can say with certainty, he learns and uses words more and more each day. When people see him who haven’t seen him for a few months, they always remark about the change in his language.”

Today Tyler is a sweet natured, active boy with a bright future. He is oriented to his environment, has a sense of self, and is developing an identity. He continues with speech therapy and enjoys his horseback riding therapy and Braingym, which seem to help his gross motor skills. His social interaction, although still not what could be considered completely typical, is much more engaged and age appropriate. Tara reflected on how Tyler has developed into the role of big brother to his two siblings: “I remember when Tyler didn’t interact with Ashley and Mitchell. I remember being very happy the summer Tyler used the NOIT when I saw him begin to play with them in the pool. Just last week I found the boys jumping off the side and having races to the other end. Tyler has also started to protect them. If Mitchell gets too close to something dangerous, Tyler will tell him to leave it alone.”

Tara and Randy believe that Tyler will be a fully functioning and productive member of society. When Beth first met Tara, she asked Tara what she wanted for Tyler’s future. Her answer: “To have to pay taxes.” Beth asked Tara and Randy that question again two weeks ago, and they agreed they still think it is a goal for him to become a productive member of society. Randy explained, “We have always believed that Tyler will continue to progress. The NOIT has provided a new foundation for that progression. Everything we do will be more successful because of the foundation the NOIT has provided.” When asked if they would recommend the NOIT to other families, Tara answered simply and with a smile, “I would and I have.”

For more information about NOIT Research see the website at www.noitresearch.org

If you know of someone who could benefit from the NOIT, please contact Margot Young who is a licensed Davis Autism Approach facilitator.