Speech vs. Language

Several different posts have been bouncing around in my head but I have not been able to write them out yet. By the way, that is exactly what we are talking about when we say someone with autism is having trouble processing-they are still working on formulating the response. While you wait for me to process, here’s something Mama Be Good posted on Facebook. She says,

Pressure starts early to get autistic children to produce speech. Because Jack was in Early Intervention, when he wasn’t speaking at two years old, he started speech therapy right away. Two years old is way young, so naturally, it backfired. For one, Jack was already communicating. When we demanded that he produce certain sounds and refused to recognize his own special language, he became very frustrated and would shut down – preventing the very communication we were supposed to encourage. Secondly, my child began focusing on labels instead of conversation. And finally, he realized that we wanted a speech-produced answer promptly and, even if he wasn’t finished processing, he would give an answer – any answer – true or not. Which is a problem when you want to know what your child’s really feeling.

Autistic children have their own developmental schedule. Emphasizing speech production at two years old, or three, or four isn’t fair to autistic children. The point of development isn’t the production of speech. The point is language – having back and forth conversations – whether those conversations are verbal, non-verbal, or their own language. So anything that engages in back-and-forth conversations is valid and should be encouraged. The production of speech – sounds from the mouth – should not be the primary concern. Conversations of all sorts are possible.

What’s a way to engage in back-and-forth conversations with non-verbal or verbal kids? Those games of connection we were talking about – yay! Dual-purpose fun! These games are perfect for language.

If you’re worried that you’re ignoring an important part of development by not working on speech, remember that focusing on language and conversation with your child IS part of therapy. The production of speech itself is not the primary concern – language is. And language is both verbal AND non-verbal. As parents, it’s hard not to get stuck in “how will I ever find out what my child really thinks?” Don’t worry. You will. When your child is ready on his own developmental schedule, he will communicate with you. Sometimes we just have to make sure we don’t get in the way by insisting on a certain KIND of communication.

Instead of speech, have some fun conversations about all sorts of things. Find out what your child thinks is hilarious or interesting or scary. Click the link for some ideas. And have fun!

Mama Be Good: Games of Connection



My Son Linus

Zach shares some characteristics with Linus Van Pelt from the Peanuts comic.  Just as Linus has his signature blanket that he cannot be without, Zach has a certain green blanket he has been attached to for years.  That blanket has been chewed on, pulled on, and pee-ed on.  It has been dragged, ripped, wadded, and wrapped.  It is faded, frayed, and falling apart.  But Zach still loves it and won’t part with it.

Linus is well known for sucking his thumb.  Zach, too, still partakes of the opposable digit.  And just as Linus often sits sucking his thumb and clutching that beloved blanket, Zach can frequently be seen in a similar pose.

And then there’s Linus and the ladies.  Well, really just the one.  Charlie Brown’s little sister, Sally, is enamored with Linus, but he is at best indifferent to her advances.  Even though he adamantly refuses the “Sweet Baboo” nickname she has given him, he is quite willing for her to join him in his interest, namely waiting for the Great Pumpkin on Halloween night.

Likewise, Zach has charmed nearly every teacher, therapist, or para-professional that has worked with him.  All the ladies love him.  But he is basically indifferent toward them.  That is until he sees that they might be useful in attaining something he desires.  He’ll take anyone’s hand who could potentially walk him out the door.  Or he’ll offer his cheek for a kiss just to move things along.

As I think of the similarities, I am hopeful for one more.  In the TV classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Linus proves to be the only character that understands the true meaning of Christmas.  He very eloquently quotes from the Gospel of Luke to explain the holiday to Charlie Brown.  I hope Zach will one day be able to do the same.

But even if he doesn’t vocalize it, I pray that he comprehends it.  His brother, Micah, gives me hope in that direction.  He used to not be able to communicate what he understood.  Just recently we asked him about a picture from a few years ago where he and Zach stood in front of a life size nativity display completely built out of Legos.  He very precisely told us that it was “a scene representing the birth of Jesus.”  I was very proud to hear that he knew this.  I pray Zach knows it, too.

I Feel Sorry for Muggles

It was an awkward silence.  My mind raced to find something appropriate to say.  I need to be supportive and upbeat without belittling the enormity of their situation.  But what could I say?  I have no personal experience from which to draw.  The awkward pause continued.

The conversation had started with this young couple with all the standard pleasantries.  Where are you from?  What brings you to town?  What kind of work do you do?  Then it inevitably turned to talk of the family and their little girl.  Through the course of the discussion it became apparent.  I’m no doctor and I haven’t been trained as a therapist, but it was glaringly obvious from their descriptions and my experience in the autism community.

Their precious little daughter was…neuro-typical.

Everybody talks about how quickly children grow up.  But their child was surely destined to zoom into hyper-speed in short order.  I thought of all the developmental milestones that would whiz by them without their even knowing they existed.  They would be like other parents I have known, totally oblivious to the incomprehensible miracles happening in their child day by day.

“Did you see what he just did?”  I said excitedly to one dad.  “He was holding his sippy cup in his right hand and he crossed the midline with his left to pick up his toy!”  The dad shrugged his shoulders and turned back to the game.

“That was impressive,” I remarked to a mom.  “She completely understood and carried through with the 3 step instruction you just gave her.”  The mom looked back at me blankly.

Parents of typically developing kids just have no idea what they are missing.  They haven’t a clue how amazing it is for little eyes to take in the busy scene in a store, pick out an interesting object, desire to share their find with another person, and point that person in the right direction with an extended finger.  They have no concept of the wonderful complexity of motor planning required for a climb up onto the back of the sofa.  They have no idea of all the intricate processes that kick into gear to receive a spoken word, evaluate what was said, formulate an appropriate response, translate that desire into intelligible language, and vocalize it in a socially acceptable format.

For some children the milestones just click by at an ever increasing rate.  And some parents don’t even know what they’re missing.  I feel sorry for parents who miss their child’s astounding and yet daily achievements.