Let Me Hear Your Autism (#146)


Charlie said my name, unprompted, on his own and for the first time ever as we drove home on the New Jersey Turnpike. He, my mom and I had spent our Sunday shopping at five stores: Office Depot and Michael’s for laminate sheets and velcro, Toys R Us, the grocery store, IKEA where he tried out every cushion and couch and favored a furry green cube. (Which went unbought–we have acquired so many pillows and blankets in our house that every room has its sensory spot.)

"You said Mom’s name!" I called out, catching a glimpse of Charlie’s laugh lit-up face as I switched lanes. "Kriss-tee-nah!" said Charlie again, and threw in a few calls to his original lead therapist "Kristy here, Kristy bue car!"

Of course Charlie has been hearing me called my name for his entire life though not as often as I’ve been "Mommy" and "Mama" and "Mom." Of all the words he could say, hearing my own name in his own voice with its special melody is something I had never thought of happening. Charlie’s linguistic range includes mands ("I want eat brown noodles"), tacts ("iss’ doggy"), intraverbals (we say to him "Our friend Hal lives in–" and Charlie fills in "Phillwadel-ee-ah"), to to use B.F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior (1957) terminology. Charlie talks to ask for things he wants, to label things in the environment, and to provide answers to certain informational sentences.

These mands, tacts, and intraverbals are what Charlie can say but that is not the same as what he is thinking or strives to communicate. Of late, Charlie has on and off been saying "you s’ould be quiet mouth" and "Chahlee no! no, no, no" and similar phrases that draw attention to things he should not be doing. Rather than speaking to Charlie with such negative phrases, we direct him to do some other positive thing, such as answering questions from us ("where do you live? what’s your phone number?") and then praising him ("you got it! smarty boy"), so that he knows we pay attention to all the great, great things he does.

Every sound from Charlie’s mouth evokes our immediate interest; sounds that combine to form words are sparkling gems, and less and less rare. We hear you, Charlie, we hear you and we’ll never stop listening to your voice, sweet and gold as honey.

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