Color Words

Charlie carries all the groceries  "I want blue."

"Yellow."

"White! White."

"Mom black."

Charlie naming the colors, with a reference to my hair color perhaps?

Rather, Charlie's latest way with words: Telling us what he wants by saying only what color said object is.

So "blue" is his blue fleece blanket or bookbag. Yellow, a yellow fleece blanket. (These blankets are a bit of Linus thing I guess; they're sensory-comforting devices for Charlie.) "White" would be the car or, for a time, a melamine mixing bowl until it broke into a few pieces last weekend. (The bowl was once part of a three-bowl set, a wedding present, and its fellow bowls had already met their fate in the garbage; the first went when Charlie was a baby.) "Black" are my boots and Charlie threw in "Mom" because he wanted to go on a walk, meaning that he knew I needed to put on my boots (still a lot of snow out there.)

We dutifully utter longer phrases for Charlie to repeat. 

But what particularly interests me about this latest round of telegraphic utterances from Charlie is the use of colors.

Color words were the first words Charlie learned in the fall of 1999, when he'd just started doing ABA in our St. Paul duplex. He learned these quickly and also the words for shapes and then numbers, and then it became slow going. I was puzzled why Charlie learned one set of words so readily and faltered at others. Now I think one reason is, he has an affinity for, yes, colors and shapes. Indeed, it seems that it's the color and shape colors that stand out to Charlie most of all.

Given that Charlie's only likely to ask for certain things, knowing the color he's envisioning actually narrows down the candidates for what he wants quite a bit, as well as giving us another clue about how he indeed sees the world and what he looks for in it.

Sometimes those colors can be too much, especially when delivered in the fast fast mode of a video (perhaps they induce something migraine-ish?). Charlie's requested night-time walks for the past two nights and, walking in the quiet and near-dark (our way being lit by plenty of street lights, the lights from people's windows, and the orangey glow to the east from New York), I've wondered if he likes to be out "after hours," when the colors are certainly much less intense and, indeed, indistinct, muted, simpler. 

Like Charlie's latest color-based speech.

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Comments
12 Responses to “Color Words”
  1. emma says:

    Oh my gosh, last week Dimitri asked 3 days in a row to go for a walk after dark. He much prefers to be out at night (it’s been proven time and again by a willingness to leave the house after dark as opposed to not budging during summer daylight hours)
    He is, probably due to Angelman Syndrome of the deletion variety, very sensitive to light. It does have an affect on his behavior, and I can only imagine there must be people on the autism spectrum who experience similar discomfort.
    I like Charlie’s color based speech, it’s a good adaptive way of using those words that are available to him.

  2. gretchen says:

    Thought of Charlie this morning when Henry said “I want to get rid of my ipod.” He had been listening to it, didn’t hear his brother talking to him and so I asked him to pause it. That’s all it took- if I can’t listen to this ipod on my unequivocal terms? I don’t want it.
    He did change his mind though. 🙂

  3. Club 166 says:

    Perhaps it’s the colors being more muted, but could it also be the other thing you mentioned, that it’s quieter on the walks at night?
    I’ve always loved the beautiful stillness of the night.
    Joe

  4. Hai Dang says:

    It is so great to hear that Charlie has more speech in the recent days. I also like walking at night because it is very peaceful and calm for me. It is interesting to learn that Charlie learned colors over ten years ago, and now it is all coming back to him. Perhap he has known them all along but never found any purpose to use them until now. I believe Charlie knows lot more than his expression in words and actions. I truly believe that the easy feeling environment you provide for Charlie allowed him to continue to grow his language skills.

  5. Regina says:

    Let me make sure I follow – Charlie was not using those color adjectives before and has started to now spontaneously after years of disuse, or is it that he’s now using only those color words to ID or request things? Or both?
    I’m guessing from your description, the former, but I’m not sure.

  6. Dwight says:

    Good to hear Charlie’s mastery of language continues to develop. I see from some older posts you’ve been offering reading opportunities for him to reinforce what you are saying verbally!
    — — — — —
    Years ago I came to realize that I like walking after dark because everything fits in. In the dim light, or pitch black, nothing is really out of place [visually]. That discarded silver lined mylar potato chip back in the gutter? It’s a sore thumb in the glare of the sun but under the glow of a distant street light it blends in with the surrounding pavement and cement curb.
    For me it isn’t just pure aesthetics, though that is part of it. As someone that, especially when younger, found I didn’t really belong most places I found myself I think being able to fit in where you don’t belong is a concept and state that appeals to me.

  7. autismvox says:

    He’s been using the color words for years—what’s new now is that he’s been (sometimes) _only- saying them to ID and request things—

  8. autismvox says:

    He’s been using the color words for years—what’s new now is that he’s been (sometimes) _only- saying them to ID and request things—

  9. Melanie says:

    My 6 year old son has always found color and shape words easier than most other words to use, and identifies many if not most objects in his world that way. Like you said of Charlie, we parents just have to figure out (trial & error, context?)what the elliptical sentences mean. Maybe it’s because colors and shapes are fairly stable, conceptually-speaking??
    My son identifies preferred places with colors, as in “I go open red door, play with friends.” which means going to a jumping place in our town. And shapes are major descriptors for him, as they are linked to elevators — the happiest of all happy places. He’ll say “First good boy triangle up down.” which means that he knows that if he’s well-behaved, he gets to ride the elevator with triangular wall buttons & I’ll let him push the buttons. It’s always fascinating to figure out what a color means to him, as my synaesthesia means we view colors somewhat differently.

  10. autismvox says:

    @Melanie, “first good boy triangle up down”—that sounds like the way Charlie puts together words. Often I do think that something like a shape or color is what he remembers most about a place (though it might small as an elevator button).
    @Gretchen, Glad Henry still has his iPod! Charlie has yet to into using his iPod touch. He was very particular about how he listened to it…..often preferred to turn it up at full volume and put the headphones on the sofa beside him!
    @Emma, Hai Dang, Joe, Dwight,
    I find night walking soothing too (and the snow makes it even more so). Am suspecting that Charlie has some kind of light sensitivity. I’ve been keeping the lights low in our house and he never seems to mind it being a bit dim….. I also remember that one of the first times he banged his head was when he was a toddler and we’d walked into an Office Max store. The sudden exposure to the fluorescent lights had some sort of effect on him (not a good one).
    @Emma, does Dimitri ever wear sunglasses?
    And now I’m wondering if being on the beach in the summer might bother Charlie…. though actually, when we are on the beach in the summer, we tend to go in the morning and late afternoon, and avoid the glare and heat in the middle of the day.
    Thinking a bit ahead, I’ve wondered if Charlie might like working at night when he’s older—have heard of jobs involving cleaning offices etc. at nighttime, when there are far fewer people around and things are much quieter.

  11. emma says:

    He doesn’t leave sunglasses on for longer than a couple of minutes, he has glasses for astigmatism which he used to wear very well, but recently won’t wear those either.

  12. Regina says:

    @Kristina – thank you. That’s interesting, and sure seems to indicate that colors are his focus. Does it seem like there’s a quicker point A->B for all you that way? Just curious.
    There was a time when days with a lot of glare did seem to bother our girl’s eyes and sunglasses moved to more of a necessity than a possible fashion statement. To be honest, it took a “program” to teach wearing them starting with us both wearing them for just a couple of seconds and working up, as well as making some things contingent on wearing the glasses and lots of joking around about pop stars and praise for “looking cool” with the glasses on. Now we keep a basket of cheapie sunglasses for collective family use by the frontdoor and she pulls out a pair on the way out the door if she wants one…but I also noted that last summer she didn’t really seem to “need” them and they had reverted back to “fashion” status.

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