One of the reasons many people scrunch their eyebrows in a sort of disbelief when I mention that my son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder is the fact that my son talks. Period. He is two, and his expressive/receptive language currently meet age appropriate abilities. This was not the case with expressive language a few months ago, but we have had an explosion because of his hard work, our hard work, and his early intervention therapies. And when I say explosion, I mean Like. hundreds. and. hundreds. of. words. And the ability to use sentences!
So why does my son meet the communication requirements to satisfy an ASD diagnosis?
Because he doesn’t talk much, if at all, to anyone other than himself unless he is directly asked a question on his terms. (Or if he wants the floor cleaned. Seriously!)
Right. So… he will go to the window and say, “See big red firetruck driving. Go fast!” But he will not come to me and say, “Need drink Mommy,” or “See trucks, Mommy,” or anything of the like that involves asking for needed/wanted items or sharing things of interest.
I’m grateful for this problem because I was really sick of how quiet our home was if I didn’t talk all of the time. I mean, really, my throat was sore by the time Friday came along, and I was starting to feel like a crazy person. However, the communication barrier is not gone– it’s just different.
To be honest, this barrier is a little scarier than the old one because the lack of social communication is sort of the hallmark of ASD, and with my son’s impaired eye contact and other forms of expressive communication, we know this issue is not going to resolve with a language boom.
So what now?
Well, interestingly enough, as much as I have been asking questions out the wazoo it seems that it’s time to let them take a chill pill and encourage pragmatics to develop in a more natural way so that our son understands the flow of language and conversation. As in letting my son fill in the blanks and pausing between phrases without questions to encourage input. I have already done some of this on my own, especially when we go on walks, but also when singing songs and talking about familiar items or activities.
And so the plan for encouraging pragmatics right now is observing things together. It’s time to model sharing interest and pointing out objects.
Me: Let’s look out the window. (pointing) I see a bird. You see a…
(wait for it, wait for it, ….!)
Me: Yes, I see the car, too! What a small, blue car on the road. Tell me what else you see.
It’s more, though… it’s not just straying for the Q & A way of conversing in general; our speech consult at his Children’s Hospital encouraged us to set up “asking” him about his needs in a more pragmatic way. As in…
Me: I wonder what you want to eat.
And while he eats his hummus and I scramble around the kitchen grabbing things for his little sister, he will narrate… sort of like this:
“******* eats hummus. Yes, yummy. Yes, eating dinner. And mommy eating hummus soon, too. And the lights are on. Sister here too.”
And sometimes what he says to himself is something I have just said. Sometimes he says it over and over and over (echolalia), but if he does this, it is normally done in an appropriate way that we know he understands what he is saying.
So obviously, his capacity for language far exceeds how he uses it when speaking to others. But it’s a start. And it’s something I will update on occassionally… especially in the hopes that our strategies for pragmatics help others, too.