Friday, October 14, 2005

"That's a Woo-Wee"

Oliver's speech is extremely limited, consisting of about eighty or so words and phrases that he uses often throughout the day to communicate his most basic needs. Most of what he says is clear and understandable to anyone. Some of what he says is understandable only to those of us who know him well enough to understand the context. But a lot of Oliver's vocalizations are just gibberish; what we think of as his own private l

anguage. I like to imagine that Oliver has a lot to say about the world but that he hasn't yet mastered the complicated steps involved in expressive speech -- turning his thoughts into words that mean something to the rest of us.

Sometimes Oliver will cock his head to the side at a certain angle, look me in the eye and deliver a short soliloquey two or three "sentences" in length. Usually if I don't respond the way he wants me to -- and I rarely do -- he will repeat, syllable for syllable what he just said. Now I'm pretty sure that there is no wordlike meaning to the sounds that he is making but everything about it sounds like it ought to be some language somewhere. In fact, I often feel that if I just listened carefully enough, or if he repeated it often enough, that I would eventually get what he is saying.

One other thing about Oliver: he loves his reflection. I'm not sure when that started really, but as long as I can remember he has enjoyed interacting with his own reflection. This strikes me now as ironic because autism is characterized by a lack of ability to interact socially. Children like Oliver become so stressed in social situations that they withdrawl inward to dramatic degrees. So for pleasure, and for relief from the daily demands of life, Oliver will seek out reflective surfaces. Once he finds his own face looking back at him he dances and makes silly faces and talks up a storm using Oliver-speak. I enjoy watching him at these times because somehow I think it gives me a little window into his world.

Lately Oliver has been repeating the same phrase throughout the day. I noticed it yesterday in particular when he was talking to his reflection in the oven door: "That's a woo-wee!" he would say with apparent delight. "That's a woo-wee!" The he would go tearing around the bottom half of the house until he wound up in front of the oven again. This was one of those times when I really thought I ought to understand what he was saying but it was like a puzzle with a piece missing. This has happened before and I have been so pleased when I discovered that indeed the utterance had meaning. Like the time he repeated, "Beongs seeyu" over and over again when we were playing. For weeks he would say this phrase, usually when he handed something to me. Then one day I happened to be with him at his "Gram's House" when she gave him a quick lesson about something she didn't want him to touch: "See Oliver," she said, "this belongs to me." Then she handed him some play object and said, "This belongs to you."

Or "Beongs seeyou" in Oliver-speak.

When I was pregnant with Oliver, and even during his babyhood, I remarked often to Nik that I would have liked to fast forward to a time when Oliver was talking so that I could hear what he had to say. "Beongs seeyou" and "That's a woo-wee" aren't exactly what I had in mind. But I'll take them because knowing how much Oliver struggles to find his words, I believe they sound like poetry. Even if most of his "words" don't have meaning in the way that the rest of understand vocabulary, I think he is trying to communicate something to us. And with a little luck, and if we pay close attention, we might eventually get it.

During the bustle of trying to get two fussy kids into bed and asleep tonight I was completely absorbed by the tasks at hand: bathing, dressing, brushing teeth and telling Oliver that his head belongs on the pillow for the one millonth time. He was up and out of bed time and again, stomping around his room with the now familiar refrain: "That's a woo-wee!" I was about to groan and pull the door shut behind me when I heard the train, passing a few blocks from our house, sound out the missing piece of the puzzle.

"Yes, Honey, that's a train. Now will you please put your head on the pillow!"

No comments:

Post a Comment