I want to talk briefly about communication. No, actually, I want to talk about speech and language. Which, as you’ll see, is an entirely different thing.
I’ve talked about this in my lectures to college students, breaking down the Triangle of Impairment so often associated with autism – impairment in the spheres of Communication, Socialisation, and Imagination.
Communication is a misnomer, of course. You can’t tell me a dog can’t convey his desires – to be fed; to go outside; to be loved. All non-verbal beings communicate, definitely with each other and sometimes even with us, and often very effectively.
So, for ‘communication’, please read Speech and Language.
In its simplest form, Speech is the ability to form words. Language is the ability to use them descriptively or symbolically.
Echolalia is speech. Reciting large sections of movie dialogue is speech. Learned answers to questions is speech.
However, it must never be forgotten that for the autistic child, the gap between speech and language can be vast.
Some may never bridge that gap.
Some, like Ian, may use sentences learned as speech, to answer questions or express thoughts, i.e. using speech AS language. Memorised lines from Disney movies to answer questions, that sort of thing.
And just occasionally, if you’re really, really lucky, and happen to be paying attention and in the right place at the right time, you get to witness a miracle or two.
Miracle one —
I had to trim Ian’s toenails. Because of his constant toe-walking, his toes are under constant pressure, and a couple of them are slightly deformed as a result. Cutting Ian’s toenails is a difficult process, requiring care and concentration.
Ian made his little “be careful / it’s going to hurt” noise – “oo oo oo”.
I tried to reassure him. “It’s going to be okay, my lad.”
Ian looked concerned, and in a very serious voice, he said “I don’t think so.”
I stared at him for a moment, stunned.
Lack of confidence in my abilities aside, what a brilliant response!
Happily, on this occasion I managed to get the job done with no mishaps, and all was well.
Miracle two —
I wanted Ian in the bathroom.
It was time to brush his teeth before the taxi arrived to whisk him off to his day placement for a day of adventure and fun.
Ian was taking his time, and, impatient, I knocked on his door, twice. “Come on, lad! Come on!”
Ian skipped out of his bedroom with a grin on his face, and as he passed me, he called “Sorry!”
Perfect use of language.
And a complete surprise.
Moments like that really rock me back on my heels. Why can he do that sometimes, but not at others? Why does it happen so seldom?
I sigh at my thought process, and remind myself, If it happened every day, it wouldn’t be a miracle, would it?
I am posting a beautiful poem below to say goodbye. I’m not going to be writing any new blogs on this site, certainly for now. It seems I’ve said all I have in me to say.
In case you are wondering, Ian is now 27, content within himself, and doing very well.
Thank you for your companionship as Ian and I have wandered this crooked path together.
I hope you stay well and happy.
That is all.
by Donna Ashworth
If you love a child who’s special
in the way their brain maps out
then chances are you know
what ‘tiger’ love is all about.
The need to fight their corner
when they’re up against that wall,
the instinct of the ‘mother’
which can make you 12 feet tall.
You’ll understand the surge of love
from deep within your soul
when that little fighter reaches
another hard-won goal.
The world can feel so scary
when you let them leave your door,
your heart within your mouth,
your stomach on the floor.
If you love a child who’s different
that the world can’t understand,
you’ll know the joyous moment
when they truly learn to stand.
Your pride is off the scale,
your love a wondrous thing.
I’m glad you know the special light
that special children bring.