My twins, Max and Anastasia, were nonverbal at 3 years old. But I had no idea that anything was wrong. After all, my husband didn’t talk until he was 4. And I was busy—I had an architecture-remodeling business and home-schooled my older three children.
Evidently, everyone else knew the twins were autistic, but no one said anything to me. “We didn’t want to hurt your feelings,” they told me later.
After we got the diagnosis, I frantically searched for information. One study advocated ABA—Applied Behavior Analysis—which said that if you started therapy one-on-one, six hours a day, 40 hours a week, you had a 40 percent chance of mainstreaming kids into first grade, indistinguishable from their peers.
We made our basement into a clinic and brought in ABA therapists and speech therapists. Ana and Max were in therapy from the time they woke up to the time they went to bed.
After months and months of doing this, Max did not speak one word. Ana started to talk. But Max didn’t even understand a word. “He would have to be institutionalized,” people told me.
A therapist told me not to worry—he’d once worked with a kid who took two years to speak. That freaked me out even more.
I noticed that Max had no eye contact—would never look at us. I realized, how can he learn anything if he can’t see our mouths moving? I also noticed that he interacted with the television. I thought, “I’ve got to get my mouth on the TV.”
That night, my husband and I made one-minute videos of a cup and Barney, whom Max loves. It was a close-up of my mouth saying the word “Barney” next to the actual Barney and then saying the word “cup” next to a cup. We did three sets in a row.
The next day, Max watched it about three times each from his highchair as he ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner—nine times altogether. And that night, I held a cup up to him and he said, “Cup.”
That was his first word—at age 3 years, 8 months!
After that, we made videos with the family every weekend. By the time the twins were 8 years old, they had caught up to their peers in language. By 13, Max had gained the nickname “Maxipedia,” because asking him a trivia question was way faster than Googling it. By 16, they went to college.
They turn 21 this month. Ana is finishing university in Germany and works full time, and Max has traveled all over Europe, studies Russian and Chinese, and even made up his own language. He lives on Balboa Island with me, goes to college, and works part time.
About eight years ago, I started going around the world teaching people how to make these kinds of videos. And what I found was that the parents would not make their own videos. When I was there, the kids would start to improve, and then when I went home, they wouldn’t do it. So I decided to start a company and make all these videos myself.
Now we have more than 100,000 videos and 50 employees in Spokane, Wash. Gemiini Systems officially launched the complete program in June.
Having a child who can’t talk leaves you feeling helpless. You see a lifetime of problems and struggle ahead. It was so difficult to do something. Then, 17 years ago, Max said, “Cup.”