March 17th, 2009

woods, Elizabeth, camera, April

Language & Autism

Our son did not learn to talk early, and for years after he said his first word (many years) his syntax was odd enough to make his speech barely intelligible to most people.   Though it has improved a lot, he still gets "tangled' sometimes, and often "mazes" (repeating parts of a sentence several times.)   It's clear to me that he's constructing the sentences in chunks, and has to repeat every chunk to get the whole thing out at the end (like those songs where you have to repeat a key part of previous verses--Old MacDonald's Farm, for instance.)

I'm helping him (I hope it's help) learn to write coherent essays.   Last night he brought me one that was light years better than he's done before, but had a very interesting syntactical glitch in it.   He was talking about the restrictions he deals with on outings led by a social worker, that include other disabled adults--he can't go to the restaurants he likes best, or buy the food he wants "because expensive things are unwanted to be bought on outings."   And later, about activities he prefers,  "There are fewer restrictions because not as many people other people have to focus on."

What's fascinating is the clear thought behind the syntax:  he clearly understands the restrictions of the group outing, and some of the social reasons for those restrictions--and makes it clear he prefers to be taken to a recreational activity (by one of us) and left to do it on his own, including walking a few blocks to an eating place he likes, to choose the food he wants in the amount he wants.   Many of the sentences in the essay were correct, fluent, concrete, as they were.   The logical sequences, of liking this because A, B, C, and not liking that because D,E, F all made sense.  

So where did "are unwanted to be bought" come from?   Knowing him, I see a conflict between the growing ability to be direct and straightforward in syntax and social stress...saying who made/enforced the restrictions might cause a problem.  Especially telling mama tiger, who's been known to intervene forcefully.  (Not at this point.  He doesn't have to go on these outings if he doesn't want to, and he gets to decide if the pleasure he gets is worth dealing with the restrictions.  That's how you learn to make choices that work for you.  Having to eat a kid's meal once a week or less won't starve him.)  Conflict between what he knows and what he thinks the other person wants to hear--and the struggle to resolve this into "polite" language explains, I think, the odd construction. 

(Edit note:  I'm freezing comments at this point, to move further discussion to an autism-specific blog, The Speed of Dark.   I've reposted this same post there as well.   I hope those interested will follow the discussion "thataway"--and that disabling comments at this point won't mess up the ones already given, because they're wonderful!  It's not supposed to...)

(Edit note 2:  And all the comments did disappear, instead of just being frozen from now on.  I'm VERY sorry, and offer my apologies to everyone who had commented--you had much to offer that was of value to those reading.   I will try to recover them from the email notifications, though I usually delete those after reading them, and please, if you are inclined, add to the discussion at the other blog.  If any of you have copies of what you had posted at LJ, maybe together we can rebuild the conversation there.)