Dirt and Gold (#244)

“I want to eat green apple!”

A six-word complete sentence said by Charlie on his own this morning.

It was a year and a half ago that our old friend and speech language pathologist Tara visited us from Ireland, where she was working at an autism school. She set up a speech program for Charlie that used the Derbyshire Language Scheme to increase his length of utterance and also a combination of PECS and gestural cues to serve as non-verbal prompts for Charlie (who becomes quickly prompt-dependent on verbal cues). Tara trained four therapists who each worked with Charlie once a week for several months; Jim and I also learned how to use the PECS and gestural cues.
The thought was that, by strengthening Charlie’s speech and communication, we could cut down on his frustrations at not being understood or able to express himself, and so reduce his challenging behaviors. This hypothesis seemed more than true somedays, and not so much on many others.

It was almost exactly one year ago that Tara again visited us and told us that significant changes must happen in Charlie’s education. He was talking more, thanks to Tara’s programs and our home therapy team (three of whom were graduate students studying speech therapy) but improvements in Charlie’s speech proved to be just the tip of the iceberg.

We were further urged to contact the Lovaas agency and set up the kind of home ABA program that had taught Charlie to learn how to learn when he was just over two years old in Minnesota.

While Charlie works on his speech and communication in a number of weekly speech therapy and verbal behavior sessions, his school and home ABA therapy have focused more specifically on his academics (such as reading and writing) and on helping him to cope with his anxieties by teaching him to use an activity schedule. At least two times today there was a yelp and “aaaaah!” and a stream of “aw done sushi photos aw done aw done aw done Barney turn on Gramma Grappa aw done!” and then, after Jim or I went to stand beside Charlie and say to him “hey, what’s going on?” or “don’t worry about it,” Charlie was calm in the next minute. He took his bucket of favorite photos and set it, as we requested, into his room, stumped back down the stairs, wrapped himself his blanket and lay on the couch.
And did he talk: “Playground cold!” when, on a walk this afternoon, I asked him if he’d like to keep going or head home; the wind was blowing both of our cheeks rosey and freezing but Charlie kept smiling as we stamped over a field full of dead leaves and grass. “It cannot be!” with a grin last night as he picked up the bucket of photos and went to sit on the couch. “Where’s my sun-shine,” sung to Don Sugarcane Harris’ “Liz Pineapple Wonderful”.

“You’ve got to get those behaviors under control, that comes first,” I remember Tara saying to us a year ago. And according to the unusual algebra of autism magic, cultivating Charlie’s behavior has provided the seeds and the nourishment–the fertilizer–for his language to take root and grow.

Fertilizer is made of various taboo ingredients of the type that we autism parents all too often find ourselves reaching into and scraping out. (Ngin-Ngin, my grandmother, used to use eggshells for her jade plants.) It’s easy to get distracted by the heady odor of the muck of the moment and forget about the roses or basil or fuzzy winter melon (dong gua) we might be trying to grow.

And then, once upon a cold evening, while Charlie (bi doy–“little boy”; Ngin-Ngin’s special nickname for her youngest great-grandchild) lounges at one end of the couch, I hear:

“Mommy. Finngersnails! Help.” And Charlie thrusts his right foot towards me, to check out his big toe, and flinches teasingly when I get out the clipper. Afterwards, I sit at the other end of the couch and Charlie pushes his feet against me, laughing and looking out the corner of his eye into mine. “Mommy!”

“Yes, Charlie.”


“Hey, sweetie pie!”

“Mommy.” Curling his hands into the pillows and those big brown eyes aimed at me.

Mommy. It’s a one-word utterance, a mere speck of speech. It’s dirt with a core of gold.

3 Responses to “Dirt and Gold (#244)”
  1. Charlie is doing so well! Your love for him comes through very clearly in your posts, and I believe that’s far more important than school schedules or therapies.

    I am sure Charlie knows how much you love him. What a sweet boy he is!

  2. MommyGuilt says:

    I can’t tell you how much I LOVE reading Charlie’s stories. Such amazing things happen in Charlie’s life…watching him grow and learn more and more everyday, and watching the amazing interaction of the Charlie Family is such comfort-food, such hope. Hugs to you and Jim and, especially, Charlie!!!!

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