Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Gaining Language...For Emily

I always liked to pat myself on the back, I worked so hard to teach my son language visually...I'm guessing I attempted to teach him the meaning of over 300 words, mostly verbs and prepositions when he was 3 years old. Using Catherine Maurice's book, "Behavioral Modification for Young Children with Autism",  it was based on the work of Ivar Lovaas, the man who tried to beat the gay out of young boys.  There was no "table readiness", as the radically neurodivergent Kassiane writes about here...  (I hope she doesn't mind me linking to her, I'm not exactly a friend of Neurodiversity scholars, although I understand what they are trying to say.)  You see, the first thing they ask in the book  is to "make" your child look you in the eye.  Something told me that was wrong.  Then, you manipulate the child until they stayed seated at the table ready for your commands.  That seemed wrong, too. Kassiane talks about what amounts to destruction of self.  Today, they call it teaching social skills.  It always sounded to me like it was exactly what Kassiane said it was.  I'll be dammed if I would teach my kid to kiss butt to get along.  I taught him how to cuss and flip off kids who called him names.  I am an evil mother. I could not let bullies take advantage of him...teaching him to stick up for himself...that's the only social skill one needs.  All the rest is manipulation to get what you want. Or to keep you entertained while you are putting in time on this earth.

All I did, was daily present words either through a picture, or through actions.  We might get through 1 word in and hour, we might get through 10.  I don't remember how I did it, but when I figured he understood, I checked the word off the list.  As I say, Catherine Maurices book listed around 300, maybe, words in order of complexity, if I remember right.  I made sure I was well rested, patient, and if things started getting hairy, we quit.

"Ben, look--hat....above"  and pointed to the picture of a hat above a desk, for example.  Then I might give him a hat, and say, "Above", and if he put it above the table, I try saying "above t.v." or "above chair" just to reinforce and we'd go bouncing around the room with the new idea.  Or so I thought.

At night, I would ask Ben, "How was school today?"

I knew he might not answer, or he may say just "school" at most.

OR, he would go into a long diatribe, repeating word for word what he had heard on a video.

"Oh, look, the puppy is playing with the ball.  He is such a happy puppy!  He has gone up and down the street, looking for Tommy, but Tommy isn't there.  Here, Tommy!  Where are you Tommy?  The little dog was sad.  His boy was not around.  He barked and barked, hoping he would hear him."

 It must have been a story he heard at school. 

That was how he answered, "How was school today, Ben?"  I would just cry.

I just could not understand...but I had the notion he thought he was doing the right thing.  He heard people making noises at each other all the time, and he had an uncanny ability to repeat LONG strings of dialogue he heard on the videos he loved to watch.  He might only hear these dialogues one time, yet he could repeat them word for word.  He may have known what he was saying, but the ONLY way he could say it was to have an auditory script of it in his head which he played back perfectly.  In pre-kindergarten, he attempted to give a "talk" at school, using the first three minutes of this Charlie Brown Special. He held up a paper, just as Charlie Brown does in the beginning and started repeating word for word Charlie Brown's speech on the Transcontinental Railroad. His teacher marveled and told me all about it. Can you imagine?  Listen to the first three minutes.  That is what he repeated.

What the hell????  I am teaching him single words, but he can repeat this whole dialogue?

  How could he repeat two or three minutes of dialogue, but not be able to tell me two words about what went on at school that day?  He must have had some degree of understanding because he chose the very thing he loved the most, railroads. At another time, he might have memorized a script about space. 

Jacob Barnett's mother talks about how her son quit talking when he was two years old.  The next time he spoke was at a lecture given about the planets by a college professor.  Jacob was three or four years old then, and answered a question regarding the elliptical shape of one of the planet's moon.  NO DIALOGUE for nearly two years, and he answers a college level question in preschool!

Ben had a similar difference that overshadowed conversation..the ability to memorize scripts from videos.  He didn't memorize live conversations, ever.  But video dialogue was intriguing to him for some reason.  Imagine a preschool child memorizing a script about the first American Transcontinental Railroad...

It's really, really, really, really, really, really complicated.  

 Scott Barry Kaufmann talks about an internal dialogue.  I see that in Jacob Barnett's development, the atypical intensity in chosen interests, like it can't be helped.  Ben's language was only of interest to him where it pushed his internal passions farther. Conversation is secondary in each of these cases...the idea is primary. Internal ideas, working things out...ideas, not conversations.  Conversation??  Any old words will do.  It doesn't have to make sense.

Seeing and hearing about Jacob....Scott Barry Kaufmann's attempt to map the great unknown in his own head....this is all manna to me.  It's like heaven, seeing kids aren't defective but so different few if any can understand.

This is so confusing to me, to go back over it.  WHY could Ben repeat a dialogue in preschool but not be able to answer a question without a script?  We called it "t.v. talk", and man-alive would he get mad when you said, "Use your words, don't use t.v. talk."  T.V. talk was primarily how he communicated until grade 4, when he began to use script-free speech.  Strangely or not, he spoke haltingly, almost stuttering when he used his own words.

If you can figure it out, Emily, let me know.