Autism : From the Inside – Chapter Seventeen

But getting back to Ian’s schooling, every now and then I would be brought up short by the realisation that there was a marked hole in Ian’s abilities. I realised one day that he was using his name as a key, and that he would only respond if his name was included in the instruction. For example, if I said to Ian “I love you”, he would ignore me, but if I said, “I love you, Ian,” he would answer, “I love you too, mummy.”

This was very nice and very cute, but what it meant in real terms was that when we were out and about, he wouldn’t greet anyone because strangers didn’t know his name. They would greet Ian with a cheerful “Good morning” without giving him the hook (‘Good morning, Ian’) for him to hang his answer on.  

This was quite important as the Irish adore children and they will always greet a child. To not respond is very rude and even when I explained about Ian’s condition and they understood completely, it was still embarrassing (to me) when it happened. 

Once I had realised this, I started teaching Ian to respond to me when I only said “Good morning”. At first there was a deathly silence while he ignored me completely. Then he realised that I was actually waiting for something. It took a while, but we got there in the end and he did start to greet me in return. I hoped that when the lass at the supermarket checkout greeted him, Ian would be able to respond appropriately instead of ignoring her.  

He did, but I don’t think she quite caught his “Good morning, Mummy…”

In one of our earlier speech therapy sessions, the therapist had shown Ian a picture of a chap riding a bicycle and the front wheel of the bike had hit a rock, so the back end of it was up in the air and the chap was falling forward. She had asked Ian to explain what was happening in the picture. After a deafening silence of several long minutes, Ian summed up the situation most succinctly. He said, quite simply, “Oops!”  

I thought it was brilliant.

A quick sketch approximating the picture
(and yes, I know there are no pedals on my bike!)

However, it did bring to light a gaping hole in Ian’s knowledge – the ability to explain anything or to make comment on anything. So I started working on comprehension exercises with him, at that stage fully prompted because he didn’t have a clue. Reading him a story three sentences long and then expecting him to answer questions about that story was much like waiting for a rocking horse to neigh. It highlighted the enormous hole in the autistic mind, the inability to comment on something or to think in abstracts.

Ian looked completely bored by the whole idea and if I couldn’t get him interested in it, how was he ever going to progress in this area? It was and has remained a frustrating problem area. 

But the highlights were so all-encompassing! Small though they were, they were huge to me, desperate as I was for any sign of progress. I wrote to Gail in July of 2004 –

“For the first time ever, today, Ian gave me a weather report! He looked out of the window and, with no prompting whatsoever, said “Grey. Today it’s cloudy!!” I was so surprised I nearly fell off my chair. Whoopee!”

And later that year, I wrote again to Kirsty, filling her in on Ian’s progress and the things I was teaching him –

“…I found myself taking a step back from Ian’s school work the other day to look at how far he’s come in the year I’ve been teaching him. Okay, so it’s not miraculous or anything like that, but he’s learnt to write again – and neatly at that – and he’s learnt some elementary sums (he knows that 1+1=2, and 2+1=3, that 1+2 also =3, that 2+2=4 and he’ll hazard an accurate guess that 3+2=5). He’s so chuffed when he gets it right! He’s also writing his plurals now – I have pre-prepared sheets on the computer which I change daily and print out for him – one goose, two ______, three feet, one _____ – so I present him with a list of five or six different ones and he writes in the correct answer. He’s also doing sheets of opposites, and completing simple sentences.   

I’ve finally got him to the stage where I can show him a picture card and ask him “What is the girl doing?” and he’ll answer “The girl is reading … the book” or “What is the boy doing?” and he’ll answer “The boy is knocking on the door,” which makes my heart soooo glad. I whoop and cheer and clap my hands, and Ian sports this little smile like he’s secretly really, really pleased.” 


A simple task – but already I was asking Ian to work both ways,
from singular to plural, and from plural to singular
If Ian was unsure of the answer, he could count the
blue beads and get the total of the sum. He would then move the beads to
the ‘total’ position and choose the answer from the row of numbers above the sum.
(All hand drawn on paper)

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