A few weeks ago we were sitting in the office of a psychologist, where H was getting evaluated to see where exactly he was developmentally. The doctor was asking him to complete a variety of tasks, none of which he apparently wanted to do. Instead, he sat and looked at his hands that he was bending around in all sorts of ways. The doctor was getting absolutely nowhere.
“Bud,” I said, “we can’t go to McDonald’s if you don’t finish this testing.”
And just like that, he proceeded to do everything the psychologist was asking him to do. The psychologist sat back, with a smile on his face. As H proceeded to do each task – each with increasing difficulty – Dr. Bennett looked at me. “There’s a lot more in there (with there being H’s mind) than I think we’re seeing.”
He then went on to say that he thought one day H would suddenly start talking and would blow everyone away by what he was saying. He didn’t necessarily know how or when, but he thought it would happen. He said it would happen when it was meant to happen. He called it “innate potential.” I appreciated his optimism, but I wasn’t certain that he was necessarily right. Medical professionals have been wrong about my kids before.
Language is something most of us probably take for granted. You don’t realize as you are looking at signs, your surroundings, everywhere, really, that you are using language. Even if you aren’t speaking, you are using language. Most of us don’t have to stop and think about how we are going to say something or struggle to form words correctly together.
When we hear something, we hear the words without consciously being aware of the fact that our brains are actively processing the information the second we hear it. When people are speaking in the background and we are not participating in the conversation, but can still hear and understand what is being said, we are using language. It is an essential part of life.
This is how it is for him: His receptive language is decent. He understands most of what others are saying. He just doesn’t have enough of the expressive language, which means he can’t always verbalize what he wants to say. He knows how he’s feeling but doesn’t know how to properly express those emotions or even how to use the words to express his feeling. Of course, when he is sad or happy or, as I’ve seen a lot of lately, angry; we know how he is feeling. When the emotions get more complicated, though, that’s when we struggle to understand.
As a parent, it is frustrating when I don’t know what my son is saying. It’s those moments when I know he needs something or is trying to say something. He can’t seem to communicate what he wants, and I can see him getting probably way more frustrated than I am. It breaks my heart.
Most days when he does use language it is two-three word phrases that obviously are not grammatically correct, but accomplish the purpose nonetheless. Then there are some days when he keeps repeating the same phrase over and over and over again, even though he knows the answer. Other times he’ll just keep saying the same thing over and over for no real good reason. I’m used to it. It’s how it’s been most of his life.
H was angry last night. He wanted a can of orange soda, and I kept telling him no, he wasn’t having orange soda at 11:30pm. He was tired and I don’t know why he was even still up. I just knew that if I gave him a can of soda right before bedtime he’d be up even longer. He kept yelling “orange pop orange pop orange pop ORANGE POP!” over and over again which I think was an attempt to wear me down. Suddenly, he shouted even louder,
“MOM, I WANT ORANGE POP!!!”
My autistic son, who speaks in short phrases when he does speak, had just uttered a complete sentence; for the first time ever in his 13 + years of life. It was one of the best days of my life.
Maybe it was an isolated incident, but maybe this is a sign of greater things to come; more sentences and phrases that make sense; that innate potential that Dr. Bennett thinks H has.
Needless to say, I let him have his orange soda.