Books, Language and Autism

E. at the Manila Ocean Park

My son is going to be 9 soon, but in his last appointment with his developmental pediatrician, he was assessed as having the language ability of a 3-year old.

Over the years, I have read articles on how to teach a minimally verbal child like him speak; he has had several tutors, special education teachers and therapists. Though he has progressed much in other areas, cognition and language are areas where he has made slow progress. Yet, I am still very hopeful that one day he will speak. What I keep reminding myself is what I heard from one speech-language pathologist a couple of years ago — for some kids, it takes a longer time for speech to come out. But as parents, we should keep “inputting data” (language) into their brains. Just because they are not speaking does not mean we have to stop teaching them to speak

And this idea is what gives me hope.

For the first five years of his life, I read to my son almost every night and that led to him being able to recite about 20 of his books from cover to cover. I started reading Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddleduck to him when he was not even a year old, and he loved the sound of — I’m not sure if it’s my voice, or the flow of the words, or both but he made me read it over and over again until he memorized the whole book. I would intentionally leave out a sentence, and he would say it to me over and over again until I said the line myself!

Being autistic with sensory issues, E. has a habit of chewing on things that he likes. And because he loved his books then, he chewed on all of them. Before that Jemima Puddleduck book became badly damaged from being chewed on, my husband came up with the idea of scanning it so our son could view it on the computer. But it wasn’t the same for E. . And that book was forgotten for a couple of years.

When our living arrangement changed, I felt bad not being able to read to him at night. Then one day I saw the scanned pages of Jemima Puddleduck and decided to make a read-aloud video of it. When I finally played that video for him, the smile on his face when he saw those pictures and heard my voice reading the book was more precious than a pat on the back anyone has ever given me in my whole life!

I have since made read-aloud videos of his other books, and my sister tells me they can tell when he’s missing me as he would ask to watch those videos instead of his favorite movies.

My husband and I had big dreams for our son — we had hoped he would get a much better education than we did and be interested in learning. We were eager to let him study what we, in our youth, were unable to because our parents couldn’t afford them. We had dreams for him to fulfil OUR dreams.

But life happens.

Those dreams came crashing down with his diagnosis. I honestly do not think any parent can say they left the doctor’s office thankful for the ASD diagnosis of their children. An adult person with ASD can probably be thankful for the diagnosis as it leads to an understanding of oneself. But for a parent of a child with ASD , it is different, especially when that child is non-verbal, and E. at 2 years old was still not talking. So yes, it was devastating.

But as parents, we can only be resilient. Though it took my husband a few weeks to get out of his depression, once he did, he accepted the challenge of raising a son with autism.

Now we have a new dream for our son, a much simpler and more practical one: for E. to live independently and happily.

But to get there, he has to have better language ability. And I have not only hope, but also faith, that that day will come. That with the help of his teachers and therapists, who teach him patiently and his family who love him unconditionally, he will be able to use the language that has been stored in his brain all these years. That my son will be talking to me non-stop; and I promise to God, when that day comes, I will not complain that he won’t stop talking!

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