I Have More To Say

Danielle with her augmentative communication machine called a NovaChat.

Danielle with her augmentative communication machine called a NovaChat.

Hi! Dave and Mercedes here. We are excited to be part of the team of bloggers at CatholicMom. We will be blogging about our life as parents of our four children, and particularly about raising a child with special needs. We hope these short reflections, anecdotes and stories will help all of us to see more fully the presence of God in our daily lives.

Communicating with pictures

A while back we attended a workshop called “I Have More To Say.” The focus of the workshop was to achieve communication competency using an electronic communication device. We went to the workshop because our daughter Danielle is non-verbal. She has autism.

The presenter asked us to partner with the person next to us. We were handed a paper with pictures in 1″ x 1″ blocks on the page. The assignment was to use this picture board to communicate with our new partners. Danielle has an electronic version of this paper board so we were already familiar with the process. She uses pictures the way most of us use words. She learns this way too. Many children with disabilities such as autism learn more when material is presented in a picture format.

Communicating with the picture board was surprisingly difficult for us. We never realized how hard it was for our daughter to get her point across. Later when we got home we asked our other children: Shannon, Colin and Brendan, to try to talk this way at dinner. They had a lot of trouble. However, it gave them a sense of empathy and compassion for their sister. It allowed them to better appreciate the gift of speech, something most of us take for granted.

Copyright 2015 Dave & Mercedes Rizzo. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2015 David & Mercedes Rizzo. All rights reserved.

Danielle did not always have the benefit of using such a high-tech method of communication. Before she learned to communicate using pictures, she was often frustrated. Like us, Danielle found using pictures difficult at first but she persisted and was highly motivated. She is 16 years old now and has progressed way beyond a picture board. She has progressed to her third electronic communication device. She navigates the screens quickly and with grace.  She can link words together.  She is calling us Mom and Dad. Recently, she told her hair stylist, “I like a braid in my hair.”

Truly, Danielle has much to say. We are amazed and grateful.


Copyright 2015 David and Mercedes Rizzo
Photos copyright 2015 David and Mercedes Rizzo. All rights reserved.


About Author

David and Mercedes write and speak from a faith perspective as parents of a child with autism. They are available to speak, and have appeared on radio and other media. Visit DavidAndMercedesRizzo.com to learn more. Follow them on Facebook at Autism With The Rizzos. Authors of Praying For Your Special Needs Child, (Word Among Us Press) and Spiritually Able and The Adaptive First Eucharist Preparation Kit (Loyola Press).


  1. Welcome to CatholicMom, David and Mercedes! It’s wonderful that technology has opened up a way for Danielle to communicate with you. I’m curious: does her device read her message aloud when she is done creating it, or does she have to show it to the people with whom she’s speaking?

    • Mercedes and Dave on

      Yes, Danielle’s machine speaks the words out loud. We consider this to be her “voice”. Once we got her first machine around age 7 Danielle’s entire world opened up, behaviors decreased and communication improved.

  2. David and Mercedes, I’m crying happy tears as I read your inaugural column with us. You are 100% an answer to prayer for our community. Thank you for so freely sharing your family’s experiences and challenges. In doing this you educate and inspire all of us. I hope I will have the chance to meet both of you (and especially Danielle) some day in person. Until then, I will keep learning from your posts! Welcome to the CatholicMom.com family!

    • Mercedes and Dave on

      Thank you Lisa. Such very kind words. We are thrilled to be part of the Catholic Mom family. We are confident that we will meet soon and we look forward to it.

  3. So great to read your post, Mercedes and Dave. What strikes me is how open you and your family are to constantly learning from each other and for the good of one another. Blessings to you all!

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