Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Communication Breakdown

If you would have asked me a few years ago what speech therapy was I would have told you it’s for kids who speak with a lisp, or say their Ls like Ws. Of course that is not all they do, but I’ve come to learn that there is so much more to it. This is the gateway to socializing for a child on the Autism Spectrum.

According to Speech Therapy focuses on receptive language, or the ability to understand words spoken to you, and expressive language, or the ability to use words to express yourself. It also deals with the mechanics of producing words, such as articulation, pitch, fluency, and volume.

It’s this inability to express themselves that leaves most autistic children feeling awkward in a social setting. I’ve read that most of them want to talk to people, and want to befriend others, but they don’t know how to go about it. They can’t seem to form words when they are around others.

As mentioned in the definition, they also have trouble understanding others. It may take some time for them to register what you are asking them, especially if they are over stimulated.

Let me give a couple examples. When I ask Konner a question, depending on how he feels that day, it may take thirty seconds for him to process the question and develop and answer. He has come a long way thanks to speech therapy, but still has some social issues.

Jo’el Farrar has been working with Konner through the health department this summer and she is great. This past week I took Konner to his weekly session, and as they sat and “played” I realized how far he has come.

Mrs. Jo’el, as he calls her, sat in the floor with him and played with blocks. As she gave him commands on how many blocks to use, and what colors she wanted I remembered a time when he would play by himself and never even acknowledge that anyone else was in the room. When someone would move the order of his toys he would go into a meltdown. However, when the “block bridge” fell on this day Konner didn’t even flinch. He just started picking them up and putting them back together. This may sound like a little thing to most, but it was a great moment for me.

He then moved on to a table where he unloaded an assortment of toys from another box. With these toys he began making up a story about an alligator, a mermaid, and a whale. This too may sound small, but for a child who we were told may not have much of an imagination, this is a huge breakthrough.

The Parents of Autism had a meeting Thursday night in Poteau and it was very enlightening. We all shared stories of breakthroughs that we have had this summer. They were all inspiring and I have to share mine with everyone else in this column because I feel it is relevant.

Konner was pacing around the house last week and kept talking about a prince and a queen and witch. This went on for several minutes, and as I sat there with him wearing a hole in the floor I finally began to listen. Then I asked him to sit down beside me and tell me his story. Twenty minutes later he said, “And they lived happily ever after. The end.” He had made up a complete story about him and his brother and rescuing grandma from a wicked witch. While I listened I realized that he was not imitating anything he had watched on television like many autistic kids do. In fact Konner does this too from time to time. But this was a true story from him.

I credit his work with speech therapy for much of this. It has helped him to express himself in a way that he wouldn’t have been able to a couple years ago.

Let me tell you some things he has been working on to give you an idea of what happens in speech. He is working on answering who, what, when, where, why, and how questions. He is working on answering questions in a timely manner. He is given three step instructions to help him stay on task.

As for the Parents of Autism, we had a great meeting. We have meetings the third Thursday of every month, and everyone is welcome to attend. If you have any questions about this group please contact me. We are planning a few family nights in the near future. If you are interested check out the group on facebook.

Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be an expert. I’m just a father who is trying to learn as much about Autism as I can to help my child. I hope that you all can learn from me, and I from you. I ask anyone who has questions or comments about something I have written, or autism, please contact me at I will try to answer questions as I have time, and if I find it interesting enough I may touch on it in my column.

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