It’s been just over four years since my son Matt was diagnosed with autism. After developing normally and learning to speak like any other little boy, one day he just sort of stopped talking all together. His emerging vocabulary dropped from around 20 words to zero basically overnight.
It was more than heartbreaking, it was devastating.
My wife and I soon learned that many children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) never speak again or in many cases have very limited speech for the remainder of their lives. Fortunately, though, we also learned there are many examples of those who fully regain their ability to talk.
Although we had no idea where Matt would fall among those groups, we never stopped believing that the light was always on in his mind and that his ability to learn and function remained unchanged. The question was always: would his ability to speak (and with that socialize) return?
Let me answer that question with one I asked my wife recently: “My god, will he ever shut up?”
I don’t know if it’s something in the Arizona air or what, but I think for the first time I can truly say he’s turned a proverbial corner. Something’s changed lately. I don’t know what – and really don’t care – but the volume of words coming out of his mouth is astounding.
He still has some verbal struggles – see below – but they can certainly be worked on and I’m pretty sure corrected.
Sometimes Matt’s sentences has a word or two switched. For example, “Dad, what the man is?” Or, “What the kids are doing?” Perhaps not proper English, but communication and understanding are still taking place.
Think about how a hearing impaired person might talk. The tone of Matt’s voice fluctuates and tends to be on the high-side. Additionally, he still has to better control the volume of his words. There’s using an indoor voice and outdoor voice and then there’s Matt.
Then again, I know I’m not the only one who has mistaken his voice for his twin brother’s be it on the phone or listening in another room.
Somewhat common in those with ASD is OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder.) Sometimes Matt gets stuck on a topic – like something he saw on TV – and imitates or repeats the dialog.
Other times, his topics of discussion are completely random and not always the same that the rest of us are into…
Back-talking and tattling
As Homer Simpson once said, “The sooner kids talk, the sooner they talk back.” That’s become 100% true in Matts’ case. Yet despite being ecstatic that he’s using his words to express himself, we don’t take too kindly to sass.
And while it’s said that no one likes a tattle-tale, we kind of do. After years of being told on and literally unable to defend himself, Matt now can extract some revenge by letting the rest of us know when he’s been wronged or when someone else messes up. (I’m not sure how long we’ll continue to let that slide, but for now he’s got full permission.)
It doesn’t seem that long ago we were praying for simple “yes” or “no” answers; any sort of verbal engagement. Yet lately, that kid is throwing out 12-15 word ramblings (if not more) and barely taking a breath before starting his next thought. For most soon-to-be-seven year olds that might not sound like much but trust me, it is!
Now. Does this mean he’s cured of autism? That he’s considered ‘mainstream’ in school? That by observing him you’d never know he was ASD? Not at all.
I think what it does mean is that he’s winning; at the very least continuing to put up one hell of a fight. That the combination of all the therapy and support he’s received over the years (and more importantly him just continuing to battle on his own and refusing to let autism define him) is allowing for better engagement and socialization with those around him.
Let me put it this way: he’s finding his voice. Maybe that’s something the rest of us take for granted, but for a child with autism it can be very difficult. And even with the tattling and the back-talk – we couldn’t be more proud.