Thursday, September 11, 2008


We're hearing more and more language around these parts from a certain little boy. I'm feeling cautiously optimistic. When your child is mostly non-verbal and you know that some percentage of the population of people with autism never learn to speak, you learn to be cautious in what you hope for. The line between unrealized hopes and disappointment is just too dangerously close. And yet, each time Oliver finds a way to use words to tell me something, my hope is renewed.

Awhile back, I noted that Oliver has progressed from the "I want" construction for "requesting" an item to the question: "Can I have that?" Now he is sometimes substituting the word "that" for an item even when it isn't present. And he is modifying it with the words "some" or "more". "Can I have more candy." The curious part though is that he sometimes has great difficulty retrieving the words he wants. Occasionally he will still just randomly call out: "Water!" when he wants a drink, to which I always tell him that he can either get it himself or he can ask me in a nice way. If it seems that he is having trouble finding the words I will help him along by soundlessly holding my lips in the position of the starting letter for each word -- and the amazing part is that once I do this he can easily get the words out to ask the question.

I go round and round in my head about this approach. Am I scaffolding language for him? Making it easier for him to get the words out? Or am I putting words in his mouth? Am I teaching him that he has to ask in the "right" way to get what he wants. One side of this is that, well, he can't just shout out a word and expect people to run and get what he wants for the rest of his life. I love him more than sunshine and even I tire of it now and then. So, in that sense, there IS a more appropriate way to ask for something. But on the other side of it, I don't want Oliver to NOT say something because he doesn't know exactly how to say it in the "right" way.

Anyway, I'm not sure where I'm going with this tonight except to say that it can be so frustrating to feel excited and hopeful over something as important as communication and yet to still not know if what I'm doing is one step forward, two steps back!


  1. Christine, thank you so much for sharing this. I often learn so much fro your posts; this is no exception. Nik's language development has been on my mind constantly and I wrestle with some of the same thoughts and dilemmas. Though he's nonverbal, I know that I can help him find ways to express hs wants and needs in "appropriate" ways even if they aren't necessarily the most graceful and eloquent.

    Keep trusting your instincts w/Oliver; you both seem to be doing so well and building such a solid foundation. That's more than half the battle, I think.

  2. How exciting! I think you have every reason to be optimistic. He has all the words, and it sounds like he is really starting to use them!!! I know what you mean about not wanting to get ahead of yourself, but great job guys:)

  3. This sounds very exciting to me. But I know what you mean about staying cautiously optimistic. Every time we think we are onto something that is helping with language development it loses its magic and appeal to Frog. We hear words then don't hear them again. Still, it’s hard not to get excited when things start progressing.

  4. As someone who has been watching from the wings since before Oliver's diagnosis, it has been absolutely amazing to see, and hear, how far he has come! From my point of view it's more like 3 steps forward. :-)

  5. I know what you mean! It has taken Pamela forever to make progress in her language. I think we dodged the bullet: Pamela is 19yo, is verbal, is making progress in improving her ability to be understand, and is also learning to communicate nonverbally (which we had ignored for too long, but is absolutely vital).