Susan's Blog

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Secret? There’s no secret.

Last night, Nat was really on.

Lately, it seems that he really wants to talk to us on the phone. Here’s the latest conversation:
[phone rings]. I pick up (once I’m sure it is the House calling and no one else. I don’t like to talk on the phone, unlike Nat).

S: Hello?
N: Hi
S: Hi, Nat!
N: How you
S: I’m good, how are you?
N: Good.
S: So what’s the weather like there?
N: [pause]…sunny…
S: And who did you work with at [the House]?
N: Evans.
S: Good! And did you do any exercise?
N: Treadmill.
S: That’s really good.
N: Yes.
S: Nat, did you go to work lately?
N: Yes.
S: Where do you work?
N: Papa Gino’s!
S: What do you do at work?
N: You walk…you…put coupons.
S: Wow! So where do you put the coupons?
N: Door.
S: That’s great, Sweetheart.
N: Yes.
S: Okay, well, I’m going to hang up now. I will see you tomorrow, and you know you are going out to dinner with your social group, your friends. And then the next day is the Harlem Globetrotters. And Laura, Kim and Paul will be here. And Grandma and Grandpa. We are having our Passover Seder!
S: Okay, bye Darling
N: Good-bye
S: Bye, I love you
N: Bye.
[they hang up]

This is a boy who could not answer “yes” or “no” when he was 4, 5, 6 — this is nothing short of a miracle. How did it happen, you wonder. I do, too. But it was just long, hard work on his part and his teachers, and growth. No magic pill, no secret anything. He’s got a disability. I respect that.

I guess he really started being able to converse at 9 or 10. Slowly. Oddly, like a person learning a new language. He swallows some letters. This may be because, as Temple Grandin says, this is how he actually hears words most of the time: some consonants are dropped. (!)

And gradually, with practice, he has strengthened his ability to think on his feet and answer questions. It’s like Temple Grandin also said, you have to give a long enough response time so that he can process every word, every letter. And what I also do is to add in words that are cues, that are bridges to his finding the answers. So I repeat the word, “work.” And “coupons.” If my question is about the weather, I emphasize “WHAT..” and “WEATHER” so that those are the words he really hears.

It seems to be working.


Love this. A couple of years ago you would not have been able to talk to him on the phone, right?

— added by Someone Said on Friday, March 26, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Yes. Starting at around age 16, the school started working on turn-taking conversations, on waiting for the other person to finish their question. Then The House also could work on this, by having him call me every night. Eventually, like everything else, and like everyone else, he got used to it, he became familiar with it, he integrated it into his repetoire of experience, and now, after all that — I think he likes doing it.

— added by Susan Senator on Friday, March 26, 2010 at 3:59 pm

We every so often get initiated conversation. Not a mand but a "look at what I was doing" sharing. But usually it's about something right then that you can figure out what is going on. It's never gotten by 2 turns but I find it amazing every time, it's very new. He will respond to initiated conversations like the one you had.

Yes – tends to be an echolalic response so I have to add yes/no to the end of my question. No – we get.

Although he does understand a full sentence I still find myself shortening them down as soon as I see his attention wane.

I'm hoping to one day have the same kind of conversation you had… one day…

— added by farmwifetwo on Friday, March 26, 2010 at 7:19 pm

Ben was 4 years old when he got the difference between "yes" and "no". His communication disability is not as severe, but I am often astounded by the similar developmental trajectories of all autistics.

— added by r.b. on Saturday, March 27, 2010 at 7:23 am

Thanks for giving me some hope 🙂

— added by Mama Deb on Saturday, March 27, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Love this post. It gives me such great hope that one day we will be able to have a conversation like this with Nick. We have been really excited lately because he is starting to answer some simple questions(usually we ask him to name whatever it is he is carrying-who is on his shirt, etc.) His echolalia is starting to become more specific to what he wants. Every night before bed he says "Wanna read a book".

It takes a lot of work to even get the simplest response, but I have hope that we will get there someday.

— added by Amy on Saturday, March 27, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Very cool Susan:) The telephone is so hard for some of our guys to understand. I'm so glad that Nat gets it. We've started using "Skype" with some people and they LOVE it, because they can see their families or friends when they are talking and it helps make more of a connection. Some of these people HATED the phone. I've been nailed a few times by a flying phone when trying to encourage them just to listen to their moms talk. Skype fixed all of that. Our non-verbal people enjoy just listening. The turn taking is so important. We've done completely memorized scripted conversations and slowly they turn into in the moment, real ones. So happy for you:)

— added by michele on Saturday, March 27, 2010 at 4:33 pm

I remember wailing to our first speech therapist, "just tell me the truth, he's never going to talk, is he???" Ah, those first years. So hard.

Now M is a chatterbox (when he wants to be). Of course, lots of times his "conversing" is scripting, but hey, I'll take it. Whatever works, dude.

— added by ASDmomNC on Saturday, March 27, 2010 at 10:55 pm

What an amazing post – you made my eyes go all misty! You give me hope that someday I will be able to have a conversation with my son. What an amazing day that would be!

— added by runningforautism on Monday, March 29, 2010 at 6:36 am

Hi Susan,
I'm so glad to hear that Nat's communication continues to improve! I am working on a master's degree in education and your book was assigned as part of a class I'm taking in developmental variations.

I was touched by your story, your strength and your honesty. I thought you might like to know that when I become a teacher, yours will be one of the voices in my head.
I think that reading about Nat will make me a better teacher – and I'm so grateful to you.


— added by MIS on Monday, March 29, 2010 at 10:54 am

Hooty Hoo, what a great conversation!! Jared shuns the phone too, looks like we should start getting him used to it. Thanks, Lisa

— added by Anonymous on Monday, March 29, 2010 at 11:33 am

My son has trouble with the phone conversations. He does much better face to face. I was thrilled when he recently understood what a "why" question meant and started giving me answers. Just to think of all the new insights I would have! Except that he realized soon after that he doesn't always want to share. So now I get a thoughtful pause, a grin, and "Nothin'" quite a bit. Yesterday I got my first "I don't know." Not the big insight I was expecting, but I'm still happy to hear it.

— added by Anonymous on Monday, March 29, 2010 at 6:38 pm

Wow. Thank you Susan. I am full of hope that one day my 6 yr old son will be able to have a conversation like that.

— added by Katie Shinden on Saturday, April 3, 2010 at 12:03 am

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