The Peace in Speech (#226)

“Peesszz yess, peesszz!” Charlie called out as he stood by the black car this afternoon. “Bye bye” he added in the direction of our home speech therapist, who had just spent a busy hour working on his articulation and oral-motor exercises. She laughed–“Bye Charlie, see you next week!”–we have known her for three years, in which she has been babysitter, classroom aide, and (now that she has her Master’s), home speech therapist.
Charlie also has another speech session on Wednesday, at a local center in our town, and I realized that it was speech–“peesszz”–that he was calling for.

But it sure sounded like “peace.” Great minds think alike, and who knows but Charlie and Mom-NOS’s Bud are on the same mellow wavelength.

Speech and language have always been a huge challenge for Charlie, who would probably be non-verbal without intensive ABA therapy starting when he was just over two years old. But the reason Charlie’s every word is a platinum recording is that, with every word and phrase and sentence uttered, he is one step farther along to expressing himself–to being himself–in language.

Charlie loves talking. We are always after those clear phrases and whole sentences–be it “I want wait eat fries” to “Take no lip“; Charlie himself just enjoys, I think, humming melodic notes or loosely pronouncing words that turn into babble-mush (“dive dive dive four zero six wahnnn zero six zero zero zero zero!”).

Charlie’s speech may not always be recognizable to us, but he does enjoy hearing the sound of his voice, and being able to “do things with language just as we do” deeply connects him to us.

Because language is unique to human beings? Because verbal expression is tightly wound up in our human thinking and being?

These are questions for a real anthropologist, or a linguist, or a philosopher, or a neuroscientist, an expert in some -ology to ponder. I’m just an autism mother and I like to hear Charlie talk, and I love talking with Charlie.

Hence a day with two speech sessions. Session #2 was not until 6.30pm and it wasn’t even 5pm when Charlie requested “peesszz.” We went on a walk and ended up at one of our haunts, a local school playground where Charlie went down and up slides and stomped in muddy leaves and climbed partway up a geodosic dome. Of course, my telling him “we’ve got to head home to go to speech!” were met with “No.” I changed my tune to “how ’bout a ride in the black car and we go to speech?”, and the response was “Yes.”

We had to wait for the session before Charlie’s to end and he got predictably antsy. He did a maze with hand-over-hand help from the speech therapist and ripped the page in half. He asked intermittently for “fries, home!” and “socks on!” as he was asked to identify emotions, faces, “boy” vs. “girl.” He manded, sometimes slurrily, for Mr. Potato Head items. He let out a big yawn and sat hunched and anxious. And yet, Charlie’s face wore that open, expectant look. He kept trying, and trying, and we went home and he ate two green apples, a hamburger, and oven fries, grabbed his blue blanket and wrapped himself up in it on the couch, and–soundly sleeping–was carried up to bed by Jim.

Earlier in the afternoon, I had been talking to a student about scholarship and graduate school applications. The “personal statement” essay is a big part of these applications. One has to submit transcripts and letters of recommendations and a resumé and a list of extracurricular activities, but that personal essay is the thousand words that a student has to explain him or herself to an anonymous committee. Those thousand words have to say “this is me, this is who I am.”. They have to win over an audience who has several stacks of applications to read before lunchtime.

I suppose it would be interesting to take a count one day and see, how many words does Charlie say in a day?. But it will be even better to keep hearing Charlie talking and telling me, in his way, the sum of his days and his feelings and the thoughts crossing through his head. Life in the Autismland trenches is full of anger as well as peace but it sure is something again to talk with Charlie–to share language with Charlie–to see how Charlie’s hard-won speech gives him peace.

And hope and faith that all will be well in me.


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