Street Talk

Many parents of autistic children spend many hours and a great deal of money on speech therapy. We do this in the hope that our children’s ability to communicate will be enhanced and become easier with time. Speech production is a complex skill, especially if we include the social nuances so often implicit in everyday conversations. The subtlties of language are often difficult to nail down. Even sophisticated speakers, the Asperger side of the spectrum, are often flummoxed by their own logic. Frequently, they all miss the realm of speech patterns most common amongst their peers. All to often, parents put heavy burdens upon their children with their high expectations.


I am in the middle of my usual list of prompts and cues as we stumble our way through the morning routine before school. Like most youngsters, my children are tuned out and difficult to keep on track. Neither has uttered as much as a syllable in 20 minutes or more. My patience wears thin as I notice that people who were dressed at 7:30 are no longer dressed at 7:35. I know there’s a catch in my voice, “listen up! I need you to put your clothes on!”
“Yadda, yadda, yadda! Your needs!”

This from the child who has difficulty retrieving the word ‘green.’ All too often it seems that they exceed my expectations.

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Line up your ducks Old MacDonald


Sometimes you're too close to it to notice.

The patently obvious is ignored by my radar.

The reports from school tell me important information that fill in some of the gaps, but I fail to note the duplication at home.

Habituation has set in, not particularly for them, but for us, the parents. We're so used to the squalking, bleating and rooster noises that we hardly hear them any more. Ear plugs are unnecessary as we just tune out the 'white noise' of his mouth, as well as all the clicks, clucks, sucky and blowy noises.

They used to be irritants, now they are more of a semi musical accompaniment, a back drop or wall paper to our daily existence. I imagine, that if you were unfortunate enough to a secure the desk next to him in the classroom, you would have little chance of concentration. We need to address this.

Answer comes to me like a flash of lightening, because I am an American. The quickest solution is probably the best one. The strategic placement of a six inch strip of duct tape. Unfortunately we have to fall back on less immediate methods of assistance.

To understand just how all pervasive this noise machine is, I can give you a little snippet, as examples sometimes help. The noises take precedence over words. They're easier to produce and require no thought. It's usually a far more accurate response than searching around the word bank, identifying the right one and then verbalizing it, all of which is terribly time consuming. It is also very hard work. Even if you go to all the effort of finding a word or two and speaking them aloud, attempt articulation, the dim witted adult that you're talking to, doesn't get it. How frustrating is that? If adults fail to respond appropriately, or if you the child are under pressure, it's much easier to just make noises. Part of the benefit of making those noises, a by product as it were, is that you actually feel better just by using them, like a little steam release valve of pent up emotion. The judicial use of squalking can actually aid word production, once the excess pressure is dissippated. Almost a win win position.

I need to remember, that when the rooster crows and nods his head towards the cereal box, although I know he wants me to open it, instead of obeying, I need to prompt or wait for him to find his words. This might seem unkind, but people in the general public are not going to make the same connections that I am able to make, especially if it's not a box of Kellog's cornflakes.

I think it's difficult to understand this fizzling down to the lowest common denominator. If you can spell, write and know the meaning of 'compromise,' why would someone like that find it so difficult to ask a simple question like, 'please can you pour some cereal into my bowl,' or alternatively if that's too difficult, skip the words and actually do the pouring yourself?

The answer to that question differs slightly for each of my sons, involves several different steps and theories, all of which would take far to long to explain here.

It's enough to know that this is the nub of the problem from their perspective 'too difficult but if I squalk I get results.' This isn't so very different from any other child’s response in my humble opinion. The key for me, is to remember correct my own behavioural response. This old dog, must learn a new trick. I must not react like Pavlov's dog.

And less of the ‘old’ thank you.

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Winkin, Blinkin and Nod *- Is it any wonder?

I listen to my 8 year old speech delayed son, talk with his six and a half year old, speech delayed brother. Two years ago such a conversation would never have taken place. Then, they barely acknowledged each other’s existence, let alone converse with one another.

Considering the different nature of their all too different disabilities, it is a miracle that they ever manage to understand each other. [translation = or have the patience, tolerance, and motivation to try]

I find it hard to express how every little fragment, together, signifies a huge leap in their ability to communicate. The ability to rephrase when someone doesn’t understand you the first time, which always led to a meltdown. To add emphasis to a word to help your listener. The ability to initiate a conversation of a social nature. [translation = no pay off]

There are far too many fragments to detail, but sometimes they miss the beginning or the ending of a word. Sometimes they miss the beginning or end of a sentence. They both are starting to tease.

“You like dah Reeses Pieces?”
“Recess? I do not like Noddin.” [translation = name of Summer School]
“You don like Nolan? Who is dis guy Nolan? Why you no like him?”
“Nola! Nola? Nola. Nola is a girls name.”
“I din say Nolus, I say Nolan!”
“Who is Nolan?”
“I don know, dat is what I am asking you?”
“What you ask me?”
“Er……..I don know… I mean…..I have forgotted.”
“Nevermind big guy, better luck next time. Anyway, peanuts is poison!”
“Oh man!” He slaps his forehead in an exaggerated parody, “jus forget about it!” he adds, shaking his head slowly. Magnanimous to a fault.

Here is the poem just in case you haven’t come across it before.
[warning = it may be a little mushy for some tastes]

Winkin’, Blinkin’, and Nod

Winkin’, Blinkin’, and Nod, one night sailed off in a wooden shoe;
Sailed off on a river of crystal light into a sea of dew.
“Where are you going and what do you wish?” the old moon asked the three.
“We’ve come to fish for the herring fish that live in this beautiful sea.
Nets of silver and gold have we,” said Winkin’, Blinkin’, and Nod.

The old moon laughed and sang a song as they rocked in the wooden shoe.
And the wind that sped them all night long ruffled the waves of dew.
Now the little stars are the herring fish that live in that beautiful sea;
“Cast your nets wherever you wish never afraid are we!”
So cried the stars to the fishermen three – Winkin’, and Blinkin’, and Nod.

So all night long their nets they threw to the stars in the twinkling foam.
‘Til down from the skies came the wooden shoe bringing the fisherman home.
‘Twas all so pretty a sail it seemed as if it could not be.
Some folks say ’twas a dream they dreamed of sailing that misty sea.
But I shall name you the fisherman three – Winkin’, Blinkin’, and Nod.

Now Winkin’ and Blinkin’ are two little eyes and Nod is a little head.
And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies is a wee one’s trundle bed.
So close your eyes while mother sings of the wonderful sights that be.
And you shall see those beautiful things as you sail on the misty sea,
Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three – Winkin’, Blinkin’, and Nod.

p.s. I am transitioning to a new [fast loading site] =
“” I’ll be posting there daily until it’s fully up and running. Cheers

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Pick your poison

“You drink potty water! You drink potty water! You drink potty water!” he giggles. I am uncertain what developmental stage this signifies? I do know that the difference between his chronological age and developmental age is narrowing. I should be celebrating this breakthrough, I think?

Everyone is at home as it is the weekend. The child lacking volume control skips and spins around the room working himself up into a frenzy. I down a bottle of ensure as I don't have the time to create a more interesting liquid. I dither, what should I be doing with whom? He is happy and vaguely foul mouthed. He does have some wiggles to wear off. Which is more important? I tune him out, whilst I listen to the exchange between the other two.

I have no idea how many hundreds of beastly little Pokemons there are in existence, but I know that there are far too many, a bit like dinosaurs, or Thomas and is ever burgeoning army of 'friends.' Pokemons are vile little creatures, most of them sexless. They start life as one thing, say'Pidgey,' and then 'evolve' into a Pidgeotto,' to finally reach the pinnacle of developmental prowess, in the form of 'Pidgeot.' It's enough to drive a mother well away from the nest towards the supermarket to buy more ear plugs.

His sister holds the contraption, the Gameboy. She manipulates it such that each character makes it signature tune. Each Popkemon has their own annoying little ditty. They all sound more or less the same, that would be to say, very annoying, not to over stress the point. They are electronic sound bites, less than a second. She hides the screen from him, “guess it?” she commands.
“Right. You'll know this one too!” I listen.
“Marshstomp!” he snaps back.
“Hey! You won't know this one!” We listen.

They trot through the sounds and matching names for a good 17 minutes. Ordinarily, this would be an example of terminal boredom, perseveration and heaven knows what else.

But of course there is also a flip side, the good stuff, the reciprocal exchange and that truly astonishing auditory memory and processing, from a child that cannot remember the name of the colour 'green.' When he does remember and retrieves the word 'green,' he alters it to a more accurate shade, such as Chartreuse. The fact that he knows them all, can read and pronounce them, has learned their 'qualities and abilites,' with staggering exactitude, leaves me quite breathless.

I won't rush to stock up on ear plugs then.

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Straws and Camels

In San Jose, an urban area, our contact with camels is a pretty rare occurrence, unless you are of a zoo frame of mind. Our exposure to straw is also limited. We generally only experience quantities of straw during October. This phenomenon is closely associated with the festive season of Halloween and Thanksgiving.[translation = Autumn] More often than not the straw is bundled into rectangles, baled. The only other time that we are deluged with straw, is during the non-secular period of Spring break, [translation = Easter] where bunnies, eggs and nests are the main attractions. The eggs evoke straw production of an artificial nature. It comes in a variety of colours and configurations. Other than that, we are pretty much straw free, which is just as well for those delicate creatures who have an aversion to prickly things. [translation = tactile defensiveness]

Two of my children are of a literal frame of mind. They have trouble with idioms, amongst other things. Hence, the phrase 'the straw that broke the camel's back,' causes no end of trouble for us parents. The problem arises at random times of the year, quite often when we are in a non-straw season. It's odd how often you hear it. It's frequency of use was not on my radar screen. Now it is. I could probably do with a little advice from one of those literary types with a big brain, such as “Kristina.” There’s bound to be a Greek god that could make some kind of memory impact.

Every time that those words are uttered, we have to launch into a lengthy explanation, usually the same explanation. The word 'straw,' for my two is linked immediately to 'drinking straws' rather than the farm variety. It's only one idiom of many that they have difficulty with.

I am in the midst of recovery from the latest explanation, when spouse arrives home unexpectedly for a supper designed for 2 and a fifth small people. I tinker and stretch the menu whilst we chat.

“How about we watch one of those thingies tonight since you're back?”
“What thingies?”
“Er, you know! Oh, a CD.”
“Isn't that what I just said?”
“Which one?”
“Oh the funny one.”
“Which funny one?”
“You know, the period one.”
“Oh don't be so obtuse! You know, the period drama, set in the thirties.”
“The English one.”
“Which English one?”
“Oh, what is it called again, the one with ‘what's his face’ in it.”
“Oh……that man, the one you like, the comedian.”
“Jack Dee?”
“No! Rhymes with 'pie.'”
“Er, Bill Nye the science guy?”
“He's American you clot, and anyway he's not funny.”
“Well actually……”
“Oh do come on! The one you bought me for Valentines Day.”
“Oh, Jeeves and Wooster! Why didn't you say that in the first place?”

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When is a door not a door?

When it's ajar! It wasn't part of the original plan. The original plan was to spend my nearly two hours free of children, doing something therapeutic but pointless, such as throwing a bowl on the pottery wheel. Instead I'm doing something constructive, cleaning the refrigerator. A little unexpected admittedly but it's always better to be productive than leisurely. I pull out the shelf tray from the fridge to wash it, the jars and bottles all glued to the Perspex.

I remember a boy coming to ask for some whipped cream for the strawberries that I was serving at a party. He asked politely, but I was surprised that someone so youthful would be brave enough to ask the hostess for such a thing, afterall there was a jug of cream available on the table. But Americans are bold like that, they teach their children to speak up for themselves. I liked it. I stopped catering for 50 plus people and grabbed a bowl and a whisk to make some whipped cream for him. The child stood watching patiently which also impressed me considerably. I remember that his large eyes grew bigger as he watched but I didn't know why? I chucked the whisk in the sink, scooped the whipped cream into a clean bowl and passed it and a spoon to the boy. His mother arrived at that moment where she took in the scene.
“Oh you shouldn't have gone to all that trouble, he'd have been ok. with just old regular Reddi Whip.” Not for the first time I knew that everyone around me was talking a foreign language. I ran Reddi Whip through my brain; Reddibrek, a hot breakfast cereal? Red letter? Ready for beddy already teddy? Red herring? I had no terms of reference, it was mystifying.
“You know, in a can!” she said. Can? I remembered that 'can' meant 'tin,' but that didn't help. Did she mean evaporated or condensed milk? How foul! I was none the wiser. I accepted it, didn't question it because I was learning a great deal about peculiar American ways, like the cake thing. Take a perfectly delectable slice of moist room temperature cake and then slap a rock of ice-cream on it. The ice-cream melts quickly and makes a soggy mess. Why would anyone do that? So what if they label it 'a la mode,' they're not fooling anyone.

It's my own fault of course, I should never have let a canister of spray cream have house room, as it such a revolting concoction of chemicals. But of course you do, don't you, as time goes by, you learn to go with the flow and adapt. It was a mistake asking him to put the can back in the fridge, or rather on the shelf in the fridge door. I watch him hovering in front of the open fridge looking for a space tall enough, which is great because it means that he has noted the discrepancy between the two. “In the door dear,” I repeat with a tone of exasperation creeping into my voice.
“Door? Door? What door?” he bleats.
“The door, the door, in the door dear!” I get cross because I cannot think of another word for 'door,' something to convey dooriness that isn't the word door. Never repeat, never repeat repeatedly. I skid over to him so that he can watch me and my arms. My arms sweep wide into a rectangle to indicate the fridge and again to mimic the door.
“Oh door!” he says with surprise, as if it has suddenly materialized before him, but there again, perhaps it just has? As he squeezes it in, it accidentally squirts a shot of foamy cream at high velocity. The others come over to investigate what made the noise and then admire the resulting splat. A set of tentative little finger tips test it out, because it might be the shaving cream variety of foam, rather than the edible kind of cream. I make a mental note to store shaving cream in the fridge for a few months so that we don't have to repeat this exercise too often. Filthy creatures.

Three minutes later an immense amount of happiness has infected them all, but the contagious fun is over too quickly, the can has to be recycled. It's impressive that they've learned how to dispense the cream themselves by depressing the button. It's great that they find the picture of two foot of splattered cream a source of amusement, spread all over the inside of the door and it's contents of the fridge. An educational experience for us all.
He lifted his hand, stuck out his index finger and traced 'door,' this from a child who can barely write his own name and considers pencils to be instruments of torture. He also shared his grin with me, as well as his eyes, as he purposefully licked his finger.
I must remember to look up that word in the thesaurus.
1. a movable barrier used to open and close the entrance to a building, room, closet, or vehicle.
2. the gap that forms the entrance to a building or room
3. a building or room considered in relation to those on either side

Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Developed for Microsoft by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Big help that was! “The barrier is ajar. Don't forget to shut the gap on your way out?” Love m

Just for Jerry

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Faulty cataloging

Sunday night I commence the bathing of the smaller members of the family. I take senior son first because even though he is clean, he is also cold. We spend 25 minutes deep in reciprocal conversation, [translation = two people exchange comments] as his whole body bounces rhythmically from top end to tap end, rigid as a torpedo but coherent. [translation = faucet] All his new phrases come tumbling out with perfect intonation, which means that I've judged the temperature just right, “Ah that hits the spot, I'm in the zone now, I can handle it, dis is heaven,” he croons.
His sister is next requiring serious amounts of hair taming. His bath, now tepid, does not meet her basic requirements. Lashings of hot water bring the temperature up to acceptable levels. As I pick up discarded clothes and soggy towels, she empties the bottle of conditioner into the water, as if it has magical properties.
Lastly we have junior, filthy and smelly. He examines the milky water with an expression of doubt and trepidation. “I cook, I cook!” he remarks noting the steam. A toe advances, “I am burning!” he squeaks as he beats a hasty retreat, skidding through the puddles. I allow him to control the flow of cold water, whilst I churn up the contents until he feels he is able to tolerate his first foot in water up to the ankle. It takes a while to ease him into the state of wetness, but once there, he is happy to splosh around in the water up to his neck.

The last drop of his baby shampoo has vanished. I debate. He is nearly six, there is no reason why he shouldn't be able to tolerate his siblings 'whatever is on offer at the supermarket' choice of shampoo. I spend ten minutes attempting to wet his hair without him noticing. Every 'ouch I am melting' tells me that I have not succeeded. I cannot fathom why he should worry about melting when he is already wet from chin to toe? I hear the garage door open as spouse departs to refill the car with petrol [translation = gas] before the Monday morning run to school. I need to speed up, to get back to the two unsupervised ones.

I wait until he is absorbed with emptying the bath by a wave making extravaganza and then smear his head with shampoo. I grip his slithery screaming form, but he's to distracted by the competing need to keep the waves at the same height and in the same circuit of velocity. One cupful spurts out of one corner onto the floor, one bucketful off the deep end, at twenty second intervals.
“Ahg! I smell dying! I smell sick! My nose it is dying from the sick smell.”
“It's not sick dear. I know! Lets read the label.” I hold out the bottle in front of him as the waves subside.
“'A burst of Juicy Grape.' Grape! Grape? You put fruit on my head, oh no, now I am really dying, don't eat me.” He scrambles to escape from the bath, but he is easy to corral, unable to gain a purchase on anything in his slithery state.
“Why you put fruit on me? You wanna eat my hair?”
“No, don't be so silly, it just smells of fruit, that's all.”
“But you like it. You like hairy fruit.”
“No I….”
“Liar! Liar! You are loving the hairy fruit. Hairy fruit is your favourite!”
“Well….anyway grapes aren't hairy.”
“Why it fruit? Fruit is for eating not hairing, er, washing, er shampooing.”
“But you don't eat fruit anyway! So what does it matter what you do with it?” He pauses to reflect these words of wisdom and I pause for breath, hoping my chain of deceit can be repaired by careful calculations.
“But mummy, you are forgetting, I do eat fruit now, and I am eating my grapes too.”
“O.k. howabouts I only put the fruit that you don't yet eat, on your hair?” He doesn't answer but sits quietly contemplating his options, whilst I rinse him. I'm merely grateful for the lack of movement. I carry him back to the family room rigid as a board, his damp head rests on my shoulder. Both hands clamped to his hair line, his eyes ever way. They never leave my mouth, just in case I'm tempted by a quick nibble. Spouse has returned and is busy brushing the bird's nest on his daughter's head. He sees me park junior back onto his feet in a vertical position, elbows out, hands still in protective mode, “I thought you weren't supposed to be carrying him any more?” I retaliate, “did you wash that brush first dear?” I ask, provocative but truthful.
“Brush. Brush? Hair brush? Why would I want to wash a hair brush?” he queries between squeaks and yelps from his daughter.
“Because if their hair is clean, then it needs a clean brush.”
“Oh. Well never mind this once. By the way, I filled up the car with gas [translation = petrol] whilst you were bathing them all.”
“Great, thanks. I hate driving around with a thimbleful.”
“There was one of those bloody great tanks on the forecourt too. Dread to think what his bill was!” [translation = expenditure]
“They're ridiculous those cars, shouldn't really even call them cars at all. What kind of show-off prances around in a Hummel? Pretentious git!” [translation = unflattering comment]
“It's 'Hummer.'”
“The car. The big tank! It's not a 'Hummel' but a 'Hummer.' You need to practice distinguishing between large macho lumps of metal and small kitsch German figurines.”

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