Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Early signs

This post originally appeared at Hopeful Parents on August 11, 2010.

I've been thinking lately about the very first, honest-to-goodness, back-and-forth conversation that I ever had with Bud. I can recount it to you verbatim, because it was such a big moment that I immediately captured it in writing:

Me: Let's go get your coat.

Bud: Outside?

Me: Yes, we're going outside.

Bud (getting a ball): Ball.

Me: No, we can't play ball outside today. It's too cold.

Bud: Slip-ee?

Me: Yes, it's slippery, too. We're going bye-bye in the car.

Bud: No boots.

Me: No, you don't need boots in the car.

Bud was just over two-and-a-half, and he wasn't speaking much. There were occasional words and phrases - mostly echolalia, though I didn't really know it at the time. He was already in early intervention, but he had not yet been screened for autism - though the possibility of it may have begun to creep onto my radar.

But then: conversation! I was certain at the time that it was the start of what would become an explosion in language development - a sign that, within months, I would chuckle and wonder why I'd ever been worried. It was the thing that I pointed to - the thing I clung to - as I shaped a world view in which my child did not have a disability. Yes, I thought, his speech is delayed. But we have conversation!

And we did have conversation - one conversation - when he was two-and-a-half. The next one might have been a year later; it might have been much later than that. I'm not sure, because that one was not captured in his baby book.

I've been thinking about how that one conversation shaped my mindset in those early days. It may have held me back from really recognizing what was going on with my son's development - may have kept me longer in denial, may have made me less likely to seek additional support. But I think it played another role, too. I think it kept me focused on Bud's potential. It made me see him not as a child who couldn't converse, but simply as a child who didn't converse. There's a big difference there. With the former mindset, I think I would have viewed him as a child with limitations; with the latter, I saw him as a child facing obstacles. It helped me to focus on helping Bud master the obstacle course, rather than making it okay for him to sit out the race.

And as I think about that, I think about all of the attention paid in the popular press to the "early signs" of autism - the behaviors that indicate that your child might have the disability. It occurs to me that we might want to start giving equal attention to a different type of early sign - the behaviors that indicate that your child with autism might have tremendous potential - tremendous ability. Even if you only see those behaviors briefly. Even if you only see them once.

Bud and I have frequent conversation these days. They're different from the conversations that I imagine most parents have with their ten-year-olds. But now, as when he was two-and-a-half, our conversations are full of moments - brief illuminations - indications that he is capable of so much more and that he is constantly reaching for his capacity.

Early signs.

We should talk about them more.


Drama Mama said...

Amen, sister. Amen.

NettyM said...

Oh! the goosebumps!

My Aspie son's first word, at 10 months, was 'yellow.' (Still his favorite color.)I can't tell you how long it was until we heard him use another word, but we, too, knew he was capable.

His first sentence came at age 3 when a woman from the schools came to begin his evaluation for special ed preschool. Not wanting to participate, he said "No. Lady go home now."

Three months later, after his first day of school, he went around pointing to things and saying what they were. In one day, his vocabulary had magically expanded tenfold.

Like you, I find it's a recurring theme, just trying to get out of him all that he has inside. Now in 2nd grade, he has tremendous math anxiety when you put the paper in front of him. But ask him verbally? Then he knows the answers.

We're lucky to have teachers who understand that he's a smart kid, but sometimes we have to work to get it out.

kim mccafferty said...

I've often thought that too, that we should concentrate on signs of "hope" as much as we do for signs of disability. I wish I'd focused more on my son's abilities in reading and technology when he was young rather than his lack of ability with the spoken word. Nice to see someone articulate this so well.

abby said...

I've been thinking about this sort of thing a lot, too, lately as I watch Hallie's typical little sister's language kick in and as I begin to have real conversations with Lea (who is 20 months old). I don't think Hallie and I had a real conversation until some time after she was three years old (so not that long ago), though we had some speech (first individual words and then more sophisticated multi-word labels) before that.

On a related note: I have a question for you--- when did Bud begin to ask "Why" questions? Hallie asked one, once, about six months ago. I thought it was the beginning of a trend (other parents hate this trend, I think I'll really relish it). Sadly, after that one 'why' there were no more. Hallie did this with individual words (said "diaper" once at 10 months and then not again for a couple of years or something). So I know she has a 'why' in her. I just don't know what stage it'll pop out at. Since Hallie and Bud are pretty similar in some ways, it would be interesting for me to hear your take on this.

THanks in advance!


Sam and Boo Book Reviews said...

This is lovely. Thanks for sharing it.

I unfortunately didn't write down the first conversation I had with Boo, but I clearly remember his first comprehensible word (Up!) like a ray of light shining through a storm-filled sky. At the time, we had no idea that Boo was autistic, just that his communication was delayed, and that one word was the best feeling I can think of. It took 4 months for him to acquire another (Dada), but the fully understandable and understood concept of "Up" got us through them.