Susan's Blog

Sunday, July 15, 2007

There Aut to be a Way to Understand

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.
–John Lennon

The reversal of pronouns in autism has always been an interesting issue to me. It is nearly impossible to teach someone how to say, “I” when they mean themselves, rather than saying, “you.” For a while we were told by our ABA-ist teachers that we should prompt the correct sentence by saying, “Say, ‘I'” only to find that Nat then required a say-ectomy, as Ned called it; many sentences were needlessly starting with “Say.” Then we were told to drop “say” and just model “I.” But Nat would say “I” and then go back to saying “you” when he meant “I.” I is changeable (as opposed to I am changeable) in value and meaning, depending on who the speaker is.

Nat either did not understand the concept that I = myself and each person uses it accordingly, or he was not able to call up the correct word at the correct time. I believe it is the latter. Nat knows quite well who he is and who I am.

But in a more philosophical/psychological sense I have been wondering about autistics’ sense of self vs. NT’s. Nat has a different view of my responsibility and power of the universe than my other two children. Nat’s worldview appears to be “younger,” to put it in NT language. Or to map it developmentally, he may not have entirely separated himself from me, or me from the universe. The word autism itself implies a self-centered worldview, but sometimes that doesn’t seem quite right. It is more of a differently-connected worldview, whereby Nat might be heavily connected to me, and sees me as intricately connected to the universe? Ben and Max have figured out that I am fallible, though it still displeases them, and that I don’t control things like the streetlights or the weather.

Or it could be that Nat does understand that I don’t control those phenomena, but that he merely expresses his frustration with weather, etc., by putting it on me, venting to me, because I am the first person he ever knew. I.e., I am safe and he knows it. (“Mommy will fix the streetlight.” “It will be sunny out.”)

Or perhaps he is saying, “It will be sunny out” because he is checking with me(?)

I was thinking about all of this because my wild pony boy cantered out of the woods and nickered into my hand this morning. What happened was I came down from the shower and he came up to me and said, “Want to smell me, yes.” And before I could parse the sentence, he leaned in and sniffed my hair, melting my heart and getting me all sugary inside.


I am in constant awe of your connection with Nat. The dance you must do to both support him now and encourage his growth and eventual separation must be an intricate one indeed. You seem to do it with such grace.

— added by Niksmom on Sunday, July 15, 2007 at 12:02 pm

We go through the exact same thing with Charlie. He will say, “Ride your bike?” or “can I find your shoes” meaning himself in the “your”. It is hard to decide how to try to correct it because we both have bikes, we both have shoes. When I say, “Say MY shoes.” he said, “Your shoes.” When I say, “No, SAY MY shoes” he says, “Say MY shoes.”

It is frustrating to me, but I thank God all the time that we can at least talk. For so long he could only scream. I love him so much, I just wish we could talk deeper, you know?

— added by Mom on Sunday, July 15, 2007 at 1:04 pm

We had an amzing speech therapist who helped me help Patrick to see how pronouns work, at least in some instances. She was so hands on and always put her hand on his heart when he was supposed to say “I”. I loved that woman.

Patrick always likes to smell my hair. He tells me I’m beautiful too (although he also says that to his respite worker, but she’s 23 and georgous so I don’t mind).

— added by mumkeepingsane on Monday, July 16, 2007 at 8:55 am

I certainly can remember the impossibility of trying to teach pronouns. We just used names for a long time. It sounds kind of weird, (OK, Dad’s got Dad’s shoes on, now MK has to get MK’s shoes on. Where are MK’s shoes, MK?) but it was practical.

— added by VAB on Monday, July 16, 2007 at 1:57 pm

A Boston-area friend with 3 kids (2 on the spectrum) sent me the link to your blog. I have a 7-year old (Patrick) with autism and a typical 2-year old.

My take on the pronoun thing is that Patrick has learned to associate a certain kind of noise with an action, instead of realizing that he is communicating with us and us with him. So when he runs into the kitchen, announcing “Do you want to eat?” this is simply the phrase that prefaces the action of eating. He figures if someone (himself) says “Do you want to eat” and then someone (also himself)says “yes”, the kitchen must be open, and food must be coming! As he gets older, he can go through the mental process of figuring out who goes with which pronoun. It just takes so much effort. I also taught him to tap himself or put his hand on his heart to accentuate that he is “I” or “me”.

— added by tas on Friday, July 20, 2007 at 3:12 pm

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