My child is now twelve years old, and it seems amazing that when we had him tested at four and half years old, only 10% of the words he spoke were audible. He has such a large vocabulary now that it seems strange that he was struggling so much back then.
However, an important thing that I have to remind myself is that, even though he has a large vocabulary, his view of the world is so different, that he still has a hard time understanding what it is that you are trying to tell him. Recently, I twisted my ankle and I was unable to walk without crutches for eight weeks. During this time, I relied on my son to participate in the household work much more than he was ever asked to previously. Although he was valiant in his efforts, it was a frustrating time for both of us because he simply didn’t understand what I was saying half of the time.
One specific episode comes to mind as I was trying to explain to him how to do laundry for the first time. Because I was unable to go up and down the stairs, I had to stand at the top of the stairs and call down to him while he was in the basement near the washer and dryer. I recall standing at the top of the stairs yelling, down to him “turn the setting to more dry!”
His response was“it doesn’t say more dry!”
“Well, what does it say?” I yelled back.
“It say less dry and very dry!”
“Then turn it to very dry!” I replied.
Now, it seems to me, that many people would deduce what I meant when I said more dry, but he did not. Often, when he has not done something before, he finds other people's explanation of how to do it lacking. He is simply lost by the way others explain things to him.
Just this past week at school, he was having a panic attack about writing a personal narrative. The teacher told him that he had to be very specific and detailed in his writing, and he was unable to remember the story exactly. Now, of course, when a teacher tells you that you have to be detailed in your writing, you would understand that they mean that the story is more interesting and colorful if you write, not about the man that you met, but about the unshaven man, who was wearing a green baseball cap on backwards.
Unfortunately, my son panicked at the request for details as he did not remember what everyone was wearing in his story, and so he felt that to embellish would be lying. After he heard the stories that the other children wrote, he calmed down and wrote his story with ease. The message about writing a detailed story that the teacher was trying to convey was never received by my son … he simply does not interpret people’s expressions the way that you would expect him to.
The difficulties underlying communicating with an autistic child go far deeper than teaching the child an adequate vocabulary. The child may be oblivious to many of the non-verbal cues that you take for granted. They may completely misunderstand your analogy, or they may take your hyperbole seriously.
There have been many times where my son’s view point of the world has delighted me. I have found that living with someone with a unique viewpoint is a real blessing … patience and understanding is necessary until true communication occurs, and when that happens, his wonderful way of looking at things always makes me smile J