Where do babies come from? Why is the sky blue? How do you spell supercalifragilisticexpialidotious? All of those not so easy questions that come at you like bullets once a child really taps into language.
As parents, we get so excited when our kids start to talk. Those first words...Mama or Dada.. We think it's so cute when they repeat "bye-bye" over and over again when someone leaves. It's those moments they begin to discover that the sounds coming out of their mouths have meaning, command attention, and a reaction.
When I first brought Chase into the neurologist where I received his initial diagnosis of autism, he was almost 3 years old. He could speak and understand meaning of only appx 3-5 words. A 'typical child' can speak and understand approx 20-30 words by the time they are 18 months. By the time they are 2, they speak approx 50-60 words and are beginning to put words together to form sentences.
Chase's inability to communicate or understand me at almost 3 years old was one of the symptoms, that prompted me to bring him into see the neurologist. I remember the doctor telling me that it was a good sign that Chase had those 3 words, because it meant that he would eventually learn language, but I needed to get him started in speech therapy immediately.
I remember vividly, that same doctor saying to me in a reassuring tone, that "once he does start to talk, you're never going to get him to stop". I thought to myself at the time, anything and everything that comes out of Chase's mouth will be music to my ears. I just wanted us to be able to communicate.
After meeting with the psychologist and speech therapist, it was officially determined that Chase had speech and cognitive processing delay, he was not able to pick up language the same way the "typical" child does. He is a 100% visual learner. He needed to utilize all 5 senses in order to pick up language, and all language had to be taught to him in a deliberate and continuous manner.
“Over the years I, and the people close Chase, have gotten used to explaining words and concepts to him in a way that paints a picture, so that he can connect the word to something tangible.”
Nouns and verbs were more easily learned for him. The use of visual and tactile aids, along with lots of repetition made that possible. Chase now had to learn how to put words together to make sense.
He would understand the meaning of words and then use them in a way where an adult knew what he was trying to say, but his mechanics and grammar applications were lacking. So, it came time to teach him all of the words needed to put sentences together in a way that provided meaning.
This is where the real challenge began to come in. How do you give an abstract word a literal meaning? How do you give a word texture? What does 'OF' mean? Chase asked me that very question. I was dumbfounded at the time. How do I explain this word in a way that he will comprehend?
Explaining where babies came from would have been a much easier question to answer. Chase needed to understand every word and it’s purpose in a sentence so that he could understand how to use the word. Many of us can naturally, pick up the meaning of a word or concept in a sentence by analyzing and knowing the context of the sentence. With that information, we can then figure out that 'X' word means 'ABC'.
When 2nd grade hit, Chase really began to struggle. Abstract words and concepts became a challenge to teach him. School in particular was a challenge because he didn’t understand many of the spoken instructions. He required an aide to assist him and peer modeling to guide him. Chase did, and still does, ask for help in understanding a word or concept if he feels he will be heard, and senses that the person he is asking will take the time to explain. If he doesn’t get that sense then he will retreat into his own world until the storm passes, which is how he would handle life in a main stream classroom.
At home, therapists would use story boards or would act words out. They even used scenes from movies to explain concepts. Chase would turn to the television as well, to understand meanings of phrases. He especially loved physical comedy since it brought life to the spoken word. Chase also has had the rare benefit of growing up in a large, social, and extremely talkative family. As a result, he has been and continues to be surrounded by language, and opportunities to expand his vocabulary and understanding of words and phrases.
Chase is going into the 7th grade this next year. He is able to read at his grade level but only comprehends what he is reading at a 4th grade level. However, his intellectual and intuitive understanding of 'Life's Language' surpasses many adults.
The activities that you read about on Chase's blog, his cooking show, the acting class he is writing about in this weeks blog, and the blog itself, are all a part of Chase's continued language development.
Having the opportunity to go to different places and utilize all of his senses to learn new vocabulary, communicate with people, and then share with his world community, are a large part of his continued life education.
Acting class for Chase is an opportunity for him to participate in an activity and pursue an avenue that he is passionate about, but as his parent, I see this is a viable way for Chase to expand his understanding, and use language in a way that involves all of his senses.