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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Spit on your dog

Autism comes in many forms and affects everyone differently. One aspect is the volume of speech, if and when "speech" is available.

My younger son is loud when he speaks words and loud when he stims. The only time he is not loud is when echolalia takes over, in which case his volume matches what he has heard and repeats. Recently, he has learned the concept of whispering, the concept only, while he practices the practice. The effort involved is quite extraordinary and takes a great deal of heavy breathing and body contortions, but as yet, to very little effect.

My older son is generally inaudible, sotto voce. Sometimes he starts off well but the end of his sentence withers, until it peters out.

The arrival of our new pet makes for some very interesting developments. Everyone is keen to communicate with Thatcher, the dog, mainly by barking. This logic is lost on the dog. To date, Thatcher has not uttered a single note, barring the odd whimper, a dose of severe hic-cups and a squeal of surprise when he crossed paths with a cat.

Most of the commands for dog training are simple, sometimes with accompanying hand gestures. In principle, all of us should use the same words and gestures. Remarkably, everyone is willing to try, and try, and try again, many, many times without so much as a minor meltdown in the face of continued failure and frustration.

The squeaks, screams and squeals from my son frighten Thatcher. Suddenly my son begins to learn consequences for behaviour that has been unable to control. He doesn’t want to frighten Thatcher. He sees him cower and shiver. He now appreciates the causal affect. Previously he has been oblivious or possibly merely unmotivated.

Meanwhile the sainted Thatcher puts up with us, his new family. I suspect that some time soon the Humane Society will come to call. Since neither child is able to "pronounce" the digraph "th," Thatcher is the only dog in America to be repeatedly spat upon, as the boys struggle with uncooperative tongues. Fortunately, Thatcher is not similarly limited. His tongue just laps it all up.

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