That’s not all that language is

That's not all that language is

Every now and then Poss comes into my work. She’s become a bit of a favourite of the front desk staff, after she made them all loom band bracelets earlier in the year, and they often ask after her. With holidays on the horizon, I was chatting with one of them earlier this week and she asked after Poss.

Would she be in? She’s lovely, but really, she’s a bit of a handful isn’t she? Well, yes, I responded, because what else do you say? They followed it up with “someone said she has Autism, but I’ve met her a few times now and she speaks just fine – surely I heard wrong?”

No. No you didn’t. And while I wasn’t up to getting into a long conversation about the ins and outs of Autism and the different ways it can show itself, I felt I needed to explain that actually, lots of people on the spectrum are verbal. That doesn’t mean they don’t have issues with language though.

In Poss’ case, her verbal skills are fabulous. Or what I should say, is that she’s a fluent talker. An epic talker. Her vocabulary is huge and her ability to speak at length on a topic that interests her is impressive.

However, that’s not all that language is.

Sometimes Poss goes back and forth. We have conversations. We can pass the baton of words between the two of us, each sentence adding to the stream of discussion. We build on the understanding, taking turns to add our piece, like a thread the words pulling us into the same world.

Other times, there is no back and forth. Open ended questions are met with closed question answers, or a rote response delivered flatly. If we’re lucky. Sometimes it’s just a grunt, or nothing at all.

When she was younger, we celebrated each extra strand that was added to the conversation. Her speech pathologists worked with her to build her concentration. Endless games of I-Spy and memory, where the point is to take turns and expand on the back and forth. Role playing to help her understand, to truly comprehend, the words she was using. Reading with her to help her see the big picture, and not just focusing on the individual details.

They spoke with us about the ins and outs of pragmatic language; the ability to understand and abide by those ‘social rules’ that go along with speaking. The rules that make it not just speaking, but connecting with others.

As she gets older, these skills become more important. Her literal interpretation impedes her ability to interact with her peers. Her difficulty in deciphering sarcasm, tone and those non-verbal language clues mean she’s always one step behind, trying to catch up, while they absorb those things via osmosis.

So yeah. She does talk. And for that I’ll always be grateful. But that doesn’t mean language comes easily.

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  1. Benison O'Reilly (@BenisonAnne) says:

    Ain’t that the truth. We’re more often than not telling our boy to ‘put a sock in it’, yet he still has a language disability.

    As for your co-worker’s comment: I can’t believe how insensitive she was! However, I probably would have responded just as you did & smarted on it later. And they say people on the spectrum have poor social skills…

  2. Oh I hear you loud and clear on this one. Xxx

  3. I’m going to share this post, as I hear it all the time. “Her language is fantastic, why does she need speech therapy?”She is exactly as you describe Poss. The ‘rote response’ is what I try and explain to people. She has all these ‘learnt phrases’ in her head, and she can often pull them out in the right context, but it doesn’t mean she is actually understanding the concept.
    This is why I love your blog so much, I always find myself nodding along, “Yes!! What she said!” 😉
    Jane @Almost Jane recently posted..Two Steps Forward, One Step Back.My Profile

  4. I’ve only just come across your blog from the Amaze website. My son started talking in sentences about September 2012 (it’s amazing how dates of such milestones can be remembered) every time I tell him to be quiet, stop talking, use your inside voice etc I always think how grateful I am that he does talk. He goes to an Autistic school and I look at the other kids there and kind of feel sorry (not a great choice of words there) for the other kids and parents when there is no language. It’s all about perspective and what you get used to as well, conversations are still a bit hit and miss but I don’t mind his chatter about octonauts, trams, trains, Thomas the Tank Engine, what he likes (see previous) what he doesn’t like (food with ‘lumps’, wind, going to bed in his bed) I really appreciate his language and how far he’s come in the last few years. Sorry for my ramblings but totally understand what you mean, especially about your colleague at work.

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