Here is a brief history of the past year to eighteen months of J’s life in terms of his communication:
When J was evaluated for autism in early 2013, he had barely any words at all. He had maybe a handful of signs, but a lot of his interaction with the world was not very communicative. His basic needs were met because those around him most knew he needed to eat, to drink, to be changed, to be clean, to be comforted and so on based on just knowing his routine and relying on that. We could learn what he preferred and did not prefer by his reactions, but there was very little purposeful communication whatsoever.
Early Intervention as well as intensive occupational and speech therapy began to eye the wall that was the barrier between J and the world at large in terms of purposeful communication* and started finding ways for him to find ways to get his message around said wall. We used sign. We used pictures, and still do use pictures. There was a lot of the people around him, especially me, constantly talking and constantly narrating and constantly employing language and communication in every manner we could while allowing him his time to get a foothold with it.
There was no hurry. We were still getting basic needs met and even occasional wants. It was not great, but it was functional, and we could get by understanding that all things will come in his time.
This is why that was so important.
From this past September to now, the gains in practical language have been fantastic to behold. It’s like he climbed halfway up the wall and takes great pride in hanging out looking over it. He loves to point and label things now and manages to surprise me with all the things he knows the name of. It’s a lot like listening to someone who is learning English as a second language as when he does not know the way to explain what he wants to say, he relies on a round about way of saying it. An example of this is when he saw a colorfully painted artistic representation of a gear, he announced “cake!” because it fell more in with how he sees cake and he did not know the name of what it truly was. It’s incredible to behold, really, for it challenges you to see the world you take for granted in a totally different light.
We still rely on pictures for communicating an idea of where we are going and what we might be doing when it’s time to try new things. They are a lifesaver for us, but he is using few picture cards to show people what he wants. He has on his own decided words are useful. This works for him, and if down the road he decides that written word is even easier, then we’ll cross that bridge then. I know I find written word far easier than spoken word so I would not be surprised or shocked by him turning out to be similar.
Then again, he’s such a little social creature sometimes that I can see him being completely addicted to chattering away.
I think the biggest change that has come with his language explosion is how he scripts. Last year, his scripting was barely decipherable. I could guess at what some of them were by just the cadence of the syllables and the one or maybe two half formed words that would filter through. He knew, obviously, just what was playing out in his mind’s eye, but it took me a lot longer and I was around him the most. Now, they’re far easier to discern and feature more than just what he might have seen in a familiar cartoon. I hear snippets of his school routine, or his home routine, or little scenarios he’s made up combining several of his favorite things. His imagination is starting to blossom which is terribly exciting all around. I know the way his mind works is remarkable (not that I am biased, right?) and I am eager for the world to see it.
A lot of this growth is limited to home, school and his therapy center. However, this is how he grows his skills. He will get completely confident in his safe places and he will branch out on his own. I have no fear that he’ll be chatting anyone who will listen’s ear off when the time comes, and have all the patience in the world about him getting there. One day, he’ll sit atop the wall that represents the barrier in communication between him and the outside world and he’ll grin like a fool, knowing he’s got it conquered.
That’s going to be a beautiful day, and I am so glad and amazed and awed and proud of the progress he has made. I am forever indebted to the teachers and therapists who have helped him to get here, and who have believed in him as much as I have, knowing he’d sort his way out and work his way along when he was read.
*purposeful communication= There is still a lot in J’s speech that can just be jargon. They’re muddled sounds that could be words but only are said within his scripts. This has been the case since before he entered Early Intervention in early 2012 only now, it’s diminishing in prevalence. It once was 90%+ of what he would say, now I would guess it at maybe 30%-40%. I do not dissuade him from his scripts for they, like his other stims, serve an important purpose to him. The sounds/muddled words can stay as long as they are required.