The definition of communication according to the Oxford Dictionary is this:
The imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium.
Recently I have stated that Joseph struggles with communication, yet reading this definition, I should actually retract that. He may find it difficult to use the spoken word to compile perfect sentences, but he has other ways he utilises effectively in order to get his point across.
This week, he returned to school after the half-term holidays and I have always been apprehensive about the first day back and getting him settled into the school routine again. This has massively improved over the years but it doesn’t prevent me from worrying. We have had many mornings where he would tell me “No School” and throw himself on the floor, impersonating a large rug in the doorway of the classroom. He may not have been able to articulate why he felt this way but from the body language, I sure as hell knew he didn’t want to go in.
In Life in the Repetitive Lane I explained Joseph’s need to know three years in advance what we are doing (and that it drives me slightly shitting crazy). So last week I gave him advance notice of him returning to school on Tuesday after we had detailed what we were doing, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. At this point, I would love to be able to insert a video of Joseph’s response as I am not sure whether I can accurately describe the tone and the manner well enough here.
“I’m not going to go to school on Tuesday morning AND I’m not going to have fun!”
Imagine piercing eyes that are looking straight at you and if they could speak they would be indicating to you that your kidneys were about to be extracted from your body. It was assertive, (extremely) meaningful and straight to the point. More importantly, he could give the MI5 a run for their money and I almost shit myself for a split second.
I wasn’t about to be intimidated by an eight year old so I attempted to explain the reasons why he would indeed be returning to school on Tuesday. Aside from the fact that I was disappointed that he wasn’t falling over himself to get back to school, I was taken aback by the sentence formation. He knew what he needed to say and it made sense to us both. For a considerable time, we have had difficulty getting Joseph to understand the correct usage of me, you and I. It was another small achievement and a step in the right direction and I tried to suppress my laughter at his statement, especially as he repeated it to me frequently right up to arriving at school on the Tuesday. For those who are wondering as to whether he coped going back, it’s a definite yes. He bounced into school and shouted to me “Have a nice trip!”. I wasn’t going on a trip that day and another example of some confusion around his understanding and repeating what he has heard in the past. At the end of the week, I was pleased to hear that The Look is not purely reserved for me. His teacher told me how Joseph approached him, asked him if he was ok, gave him a big smile and placed his hand on the teacher’s arm. He then gave him The Look and told him that he wasn’t going to carry out the afternoon’s activity. Assertively.
Hopefully, through my blog or other sources you will understand that people with autism vary in a multitude of ways but in terms of language, some people may never talk at all (non-verbal), others will have speech and language delays and others will have language but their spoken word is often different to a typical child. Joseph does finally have language but conversation can be difficult, and that makes it hard to explain to some people. I may ask a question and not get a response and that is often due to him not understanding the question (or it could be that he’s ignoring me like lots of eight year olds do!). I try and keep the questions simple so that I am more likely to get an answer but often his response is a rehearsed, learnt one.
His speech itself sounds more robotic than your typical child and often lacks the right pitch and tone. He also has a peculiar accent some of the time which is again learnt from American and Australian youtube videos. He pronounces chance as charnce and dance as darnce and at those times I believe that I have the poshest child up North but occasionally he lapses into a Yorkshire drawl and then I feel proud he has picked something up from me. Fortunately, my appalling language is mainly in my head and not in front of small children so I am thankful for small mercies.
I have always attempted to converse with Joseph from an early age and not always had a two-way conversation, but I’ve never given up the hope that the more he is exposed to it, he is absorbing it and we’ll eventually have a meaningful conversation. I suppose it’s true now to some extent in that we are having short conversations, although usually when it suits Joseph.
Some children never have any speech and I wondered whether Joseph would ever develop it. I prayed for it to happen and I was desperate to hear it. There are times when Joseph just never shuts up, talking at me or rattling off things he has seen on the iPad or TV and I chunter under my breath “For Fuck’s sake” especially when he grabs hold of my chin to turn my head in his direction. And then I stop and remind myself of those lonely times when he did not speak and there was no eye contact.
Even whilst writing this, he has been chirping in my ear and attempting to steal my packet of chocolate buttons. Each time, I take them off him and explain why he can’t just take something that doesn’t belong to him. I finish my telling him “Every day’s a school day” Not something you should say to a child who takes you very literally as I then got the usual line about not going to school. I guess every day’s a school day for me too!
Joseph has great recall so when he is given a song to rehearse, he carries this out to perfection although for the first couple of weeks, he doesn’t usually participate. Fortunately when it comes to the performance itself he usually delivers. If he feels like it. It’s amazing to think that he sang before he could hold a conversation and that is why as a family we take great enjoyment from seeing him perform. Especially when he mimics his old singing teacher and gives a warble at the end of a line.
And there’s always that part of me that whilst thankful of the progress, is fearful of the coming years, especially with the transition to secondary school looming. I wonder how he will cope in a mainstream environment with communication not on a par with his peers. That subject I’m shelving for now as that is a post of its own.
Amazingly, Joseph does not have any current input from the Speech & Language Therapy team as he has some speech and language. Cuts within the NHS mean that there are children who are more in need of the support than him, although periodically I give them a call and we get a couple of random visits to school which are more than likely to shut me up for a short while until I focus on something else.
For now, Joseph will have to put up with his Yorkshire Mum to encourage him along the way and to try and stamp out some of the continental in him. He certainly has more communication skills than six months ago so we must be doing something right.
The Look is a small price to pay for such beautiful sentences. Even if he is as angry as fuck when he is delivering them.