Speaking in Tongues

Part of the Monster’s autism is a persistant developmental delay when it comes to his use of language.  He’s delayed both expressively and receptively to a large extent, which has the effective result of having him communicate as if he were a little more than a year younger than he really is.

The majority of the time, his expressive language tends to be riffs on canned phrases.  Lately, it’s taken up his repeating artifacts – commercials he’s heard on the television or radio, things he’s heard people in his environment say, or weird linguistic artifacts he’s come up with himself.

“Brownie is brown” is one of the more easy to understand examples of late.  He’s equally likely to say “Can I have brown, please?” as actually ask outright for a brownie,  and reasonably (for him) expects us to understand what he’s asking for.  As one might expect, when there’s a lack of understanding as to what he’s asking for, he gets increasingly upset and frenetic with us.

So getting him to properly use English phrases has been a chore of late which we’d not been accustomed to.

Complicating this is the fact that I’m multilingual and that I tend to switch up multiple languages in front of him and the baby, plus the easy availability of television shows with bilingual characters and/or familiar shows in a second language.  It’s all that pesky research that early exposure helps the brain develop an aptitude for languages.  I tend to keep my use of other languages in front of the Monster down to familiar phrases, things he’s used to hearing from me where I know that he’s equally exposed to both the English and second language (in this case, generally, Hebrew, though there’s some Spanish thrown in from time to time), so he’s not confused when he’s trying to work out use of language himself.

There are, though, the occasional break-through moments.

Yesterday, while I was getting him some juice in the kitchen, he actually said ‘thank you’ without prompting.  We’re working very hard on please and thank-you because of the obvious social issues, so it was very rewarding to see that consistent nudging him towards using it is having an occasional effect.

And today… I took him to camp at the JCC.  On our way in, we ran into the Hebrew counselor, to whom I said good morning (בוקר טוב) in Hebrew as is my custom.  (I’m a big believer in speaking to people in their native language, when possible.  Plus, I get to practice, which I don’t often get to do.)  She responded, and then said hello in English to the Monster… who immediately responded with “בוקר טוב”.  I was actually shocked for a few reasons:

  • I’ve never heard the Monster speak Hebrew before aside from counting, even when I say quite a bit to him in the language.
  • It was an appropriate response in the second language without a direct prompting cue.
  • It was him engaging with another person without them having to do something to force him to engage. (Granted, an adult and he’s always done better with adults, but still.)

It’s a step forward.

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