Expressive Language, Receptive Language, and Prayer

Zach turned 10 over the weekend. It makes me wonder where the time has gone. And it also makes me think about where he is in his development.
Years ago I read several different autism stories where a non-verbal child started speaking around age 8. I used to hold out hope that we would have a similar story. But Zach’s 8th birthday came and went. And here we are 2 years later still waiting for that dramatic breakthrough.
Even though he’s still not talking, he is progressing. On his birthday Zach handed me one of his balloons and said, “Here.” At first I didn’t realize it but Jan did. When she pointed it out I had to think about it. Yes, it did sound like “here” and not just a random grunt.
Zach has let loose with a few words over the years. And this is always how it is. Out of the clear blue, totally unexpected, he will say a word. It catches you off guard and you have to think about whether you really heard what you think you heard. And, of course, he never repeats it to confirm your suspicions, no matter how much you cajole him.
Every once in a while I am treated to hearing “Daddy.” It may just be random vocalization since it usually comes out “duh-DEE.” But he has said it while looking at me so I count it. Although less frequently, he has also said “Mom” and “Ma-ma” on occasion.
While it is debatable if he is purposefully using these spoken words, there is no doubt he knows how to say “shoes off” in sign language. This sign has become his default whenever he is trying to communicate with us and we just aren’t getting it. He might be trying to tell us something he needs with his video player. He will get frustrated with our inability to understand and sign, “shoes off!”
Even though Zach’s expressive language has only improved slightly, his receptive language has surged forward. He understands very well what I am saying. For example, without any contextual clues such as me holding a towel or pointing to the bathroom, I can just say “Let’s take a bath,” and he will dutifully head toward the tub. Now this happens most of the time, mind you, not all the time. Sometimes he just continues to sit there ignoring what I said. Jan says at those times he is just being a man.
Zach’s development of receptive language has been huge for us! When he starts to wander away in the store we can call his name and he will turn and come back to us. When Jan tells him to pause his iPad as they walk through the parking lot he obeys. Zach is safer because he is able to hear his parents and appropriately respond.
And that is how it is with our heavenly Father. It is important for me to develop my expressive language, the prayers I offer up to God. I need to practice speaking to God, glorifying him, interceding for others, sharing my needs, seeking his guidance and asking his forgiveness.
But it is even more crucial that I improve my receptive language. I need to be able to hear my Father speaking through his Word. I need to discern his voice in the preachers and teachers he has called. I need to recognize his Spirit’s whisper in my heart.
Once I heard a preacher speak of a hypothetical situation. He said that if he could only practice one spiritual discipline and was forced to choose between praying and studying the Scriptures, he would choose the Scriptures. Because, he said, it is far more important for us to hear what God has to say than for God to hear what we want to say.
I’m thankful that Zach has his priorities straight.

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

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