I commune with one of my speech delayed sons. He is nearly seven and a half, the big one. His autism complicates his speech delay. He is motivated to speak to me because, like most children, he wants something from me. I already know that he wants to find the case for his computer disc, to keep it safe, to stop it from being damaged. He has learned that ‘damage’ equates to ‘no more play.’ Currently he applies this care to his own belongings, but in time he will apply it to other people’s property, [translation = generalize] which is good for you too.
“What does it look like dear?” I wait for him to process my words and debate whether it’s really worth his effort. I wait, because if I repeat it too soon, the new words will bump into the old words and produce a jumble. I wait. If I rephrase, mistakenly thinking that he’s misunderstood, then the two phrases will tangle around each other, slot together in a knot to hide their meaning. I wait. Why should he speak when he can get want he wants by mimicking, gestures and mime?
I know what he wants. He knows that I know. Why don’t I just give it to him? That’s what a kindly parent should do. Because when I’m in my coffin, I want him to be able to communicate with other people, preferably using words. I wait as he processes and debates simultaneously, because although he may not appear to be multi tasking, he is. I tip the balance in my favour, and prompt him at what I hope is the right time, because I steal information from speech pathologists. “Use your good describing words.” I wait. Our eyes meet, he knows I mean business. I wait. I wait a bit more. I prompt, “is it big or little?”
“It is like dis,” he holds up his hands to illustrate the shape and size of the sought after item.
“Fat or thin?” A choice of options makes it easier for him. His vocabulary is good, [translation = age appropriate] he just has difficulty finding the words, as he has a faulty filing system.
“Fin. It is fin, fin, fin.” How we love categories.
“What colour is it?”
“Er it has no colour, no colour, no colour.” Always in threes, a little echoing loop.
“Is it see through?”
“See fru? What it is, ‘see fru?’” That's not a new word, where can it be hiding in his lexicon?
“Um, I can’t think of another word for transparent!”
“Oh! Why din you say dat den, I know transparent! Indeed, why didn’t I?
“No, no, no, it not ‘trans pah rnt’ it is really ‘trans PAR ENT!” His discriminatory auditory power, enunciation and diction flaw me. I predict a future career as an elocution teacher.
“No English speaking! Try, try, try again! We are in da America you know!”
As if I’m allowed to forget.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
One of the kittens is nose to nose with me, trying to catch the cloth as I scrub in a circular motion the length of the hall. [translation = corridor] He wants to play. I am not feeling playful. The burden of cat litter is akin to nappies. [translation = diapers] It is the kind of task that cannot be postponed. I am feeling hot and bothered. It’s not that I’m jealous of course, it’s just that he talks more to the cat that he does to me. He speaks long, fluid, mellifluous sentences, with perfect intonation and emotion to that superfluous, work generating fur ball. I have accepted my relegation with grace.
Meanwhile, we have been spending an inordinate amount of time on the latest campaign, trying to get Senior son to lighten up. [translation = not take things too seriously] Many autistic children have no sense of humour [translation = humor] or if they do, it is so obscure or literal, that it fails to have any impact on their audience, assuming they have an identifiable audience. Sometimes it may take a while to determine who that audience is? In our household, more often than not, it is the cats, two of them, who are the audience. The ‘lighten up campaign,’ is not a voluntary but one provoked by junior’s current craze of telling jokes. This is how most of our campaigns begin.
We swim along contentedly in the flotsam until we hurtle into some debris that someone has dredged up. Suddenly we are faced with a meltdown provoking obstacle that needs swift action. In this instance, ‘the joker’ has come to our household with menaces. The unfunny ones are fair enough, he’s not six yet afterall, but he also ventures into the realm of ‘funny’ taunts, such as ‘you are a girl!’ Whilst such behaviour should be discouraged, it is also another one of those burdensome learning opportunities which parents of special needs children need to exploit; ‘don’t take it so seriously, he’s only kidding.’ [translation = winding you up.] ‘He’s only having you on.’ [translation = pulling your leg] The message we’re trying to convey, is that a meltdown is not an appropriate response, or at least, it is too much of a response. A more moderate and smaller response, if any, will suffice. Of course the use of such terms, from either continent, only serves to provoke further angst; “Why you pull my leg off?”
Meanwhile, I am removing 30 feet of kitty litter [translation = grey cement] paw prints from the length of my house. Tedious, tiring and boring. I contemplate as I scrub. I am impressed that he gets the gist of it. When his little brother says ‘you are a door!’ to the universal tune of ‘na na na na na,’ he knows that it isn’t a compliment. But last time I checked, being compared to a door, doesn’t really rate in the great archives of personal insults. He should be able to brush it off or ignore it, but as yet, he is unable. If you exercise your freedom of speech, as every good American should, especially if you are considered non-verbal, and your attempts are rewarded with a spectacular meltdown by your older brother, this must be a most rewarding experience. A rewarding experience is self reinforcing, which means that you will do it more.
I glower at the floorboards. Every revolution of the cloth on the floor provokes an attack from my furry friend with the uncontrollable feet. I’m tempted to squirt him with hard wood floor cleaner, not that I habour any ill-will. My son appears by my side, an angelic avenger of felines, defender and superhero. He hovers as I scrub the last three foot of floor, so that I can get back to my original cleaning plan, as opposed to this additional diversion.
“Whattaya doin?” I sit back so that I can check whether he’s talking to me or the cat, because I’ve been caught out far too often with that one. In one hand I have a floor cloth, in the other hand I have a bottle of floor cleaner. Until just now I was on all fours scrubbing. My brow glistens in the 80 degree heat, my glasses have slithered down my nose due to the fact that I have been in a horizontal position for the last 20 minutes. How many more visual clues does this child need?
“You’re havin fun huh?” he questions. Fun! Fun? Has his sarcastic gene finally surfaced? His expression is doleful and dejected. I open my mouth to say something in reply, but I’m having trouble retrieving anything coherent as a prompt. His eyes flick between me and the floor cloth and the cat to ask “can I play too?”
Posted by Maddy at 4:47 PM