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Sunday, November 04, 2007

The yolk’s on me

The are a few basic principles to adhere to when it comes to speech delays. First and foremost, language should be simple. Few words to aid comprehension and communication. Initially, this may be just learning one word. Ideally the first word for an autistic child to learn would be ‘yes.’ As often as not, the first word they learn, just like other children, is ‘no,’ or maybe that’s just mine.

As the years pass, more advanced skills should be acquired by the parent. One of these, a hesitant one for some, is to try and correct errors. It’s a hesitant step because when words begin to flow a parent may not want to risk drying up the creek.

One technique that I thoroughly endorse but rarely put into practice, is to repeat whatever the child says back to them, in the corrected format. Hence, when a child says ‘give duck me,’ the parent repeats ‘give the duck to me,’ perhaps with a please thrown in for good measure. Only a couple more words. Perhaps a different timbre and emphasis. I could also add some volume control, if I really wanted to ice the cake.

Strangely, I find that rather than adopting this technique, their speech corrupts my own brainwaves, so instead of correcting them, I copy their mode of speech, by accident. Oddly, I find that other people, intelligent people, fall into the same trap, but I have no idea why?

Actually, that’s not quite true in this particular instance. In this situation my brain is confused because my son is voluntarily having a conversation with someone. He has not been prompted and forced to use his social skills. He has initiated a conversation himself. He is interested in talking to her. He asks pertinent questions with the correct preposition. He doesn’t assault her with a monologue about Pokemon. He remains relatively static.

They are all the kind of questions that anyone might ask when they meet someone new, anyone except my boys, until recently. Many young children ask inappropriate questions, often related to their own interests or perspectives, but if those viewpoints are more obscure, the questions can be disconcerting: ‘do you like Oddish or Turtwig?’ ‘do you have a chair made of Platinum?’ ‘Is Pirelli your favourite?’ Such questions come out of the blue without preamble or context. They are a great advance.

Prior to the question stage, you have the ‘random statement’ phase. The child wants to connect but doesn’t know how? When language is difficult, the result can be startling: ‘I am a Triceratops,’ ‘Charmeleon is a fire type,’ ‘ Goldfish are the bestest.’ At first, as a parent, your heart stops beating when they make their first attempts at contact. The realization that they’re trying to communicate is frozen by the oddity of their delivery.

Fortunately, it is my experience, that the majority of people are open hearted and patient. There is some hidden clue in the human psyche that allows people to take a breath, tune in and give a moment of their attention to the messenger, if not the actual message.

My chum chats to my child.
“Who you are be?”
“I be…..um, I am Mary.”
“What you are be?”
“I be….er I mean….I am a lawyer.”
“What it is being, dah lawyer?”
“A lawyer is being…..a lawyer is someone who…..helps people with the law.”
“What it is be, dah ‘law’?”
“The ‘law’ be…….is a set of rules. Everyone has to follow the same rules or it wouldn’t’ be fair.”
“We be good rules in dis house.”
“Oh good.”
“Are you be good or are you be bad?”
“I be…..we try to be good in our house too.”
“Is it be jail?”
“Is what be….is what jail?”
“Your house?”
“No, I don’t live in a jail. We have an ordinary house just like you.”
“Our house dun bin ordinary.” I have an uneasy feeling.
“No?” Perhaps I should terminate this conversation or change the subject?
“Our house dun bin extraordinary.” Oh dear! What on earth is he going to come up with now?
“Really. In what way?” Her lawyerly cross examination techniques begin to scare me.
“Our house……....it is dah secret?” Secret! I should try and shut him up? Perhaps he’ll just revert to some pleasant irrelevant Pokemon facts?
“I don’t know, is it a secret?” she entices. Please don’t let it be a secret? Where’s the pause button? Can’t we talk about dinosaurs or Thomas and his rabble? I am homesick for the old days.
“Er……no, I don fink it is dah secret……our house dun bin extraordinary because dis is dah Cape Cod house and……..we are not live in Cape Cod……..we are be live in San Jose! Get it?” He roars with laughter and collapses on the floor to roll around in a galaxy of guffaws. This is probably the very nearest he has ever been, to a joke.

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