Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The boy is a sponge...

There's something really cool going on at the moment.

It's like Billy's brain has been switched on in an awareness cognitive-y kind of way. Every where we go, there's a little voice asking, 'what's that?', 'what does that do?' what's it for?' He reads everything, he comments on everything, he shares his knowledge on everything.

I guess sometime soon it might get annoying. But for now, it's charming and interesting and means we're having conversations where I've finally stopped counting how many exchanges there are.

It makes me think back to the Bubble Days. The days after our cheeky little toddling boy retreated into a frightened dirt sifter. He didn't really play. He seemed constantly stressed and exhausted. Everything was hard, for all of us.

First the OT came to visit. Within a few short sessions, the hopeful smile came back... you know that look that little kids get when they think something fun is going to happen? It took a bit of shaving cream, and a few goes on the scooter board and a couple of hugs on the trampoline and our Billy started breathing a little deeper.

Then came the ST. She came to the house, and Billy fell in love on the spot. It didn't hurt that she had bubbles in her bag. She blew bubbles, his eyes lit up. She stopped, until he pulled at her hand. She said 'More?'. He grabbed at her hand again, and she looked at him and said, 'More?' He looked right back and said 'More.'

And so, it began. The Bubble Days lasted a looooong time. But it marked the point where we (grown ups) learned to speak again. Simpler, clearer, with more pauses and eye contact. By our changing the way we spoke, Billy was able to learn to speak. Word by word, phrase by phrase, topic by topic.

We counted every word for a long time. We knew how many nouns and verbs he could stick together. People thought we were crazy, as our fingers flicked and our mouths twitched through counting. We hugged him a lot (and that's really saying something) as his count increased.

Not long after the start of the Bubble Days, we worked out that Billy loved songs. He could speak the lyrics of songs easily. So we started singing a lot (maybe that's flattering ourselves), really we started putting everyday activities to a dodgy beat. We invented songs about dinner, songs about the toilet, songs about the car, songs about the dog. Bit by bit, Billy joined in.

Then we started video modeling. It was a stroke of genius in Billy's life. First we watched Watch Me Learn. Seriously, within one viewing, Billy was answering the question, 'What's your name?' He saw other kids do it, on a screen, distanced from the social pressure of being around actual kids, and he learned it. Just like that. Of course, once he'd done it once, we jumped up and down like idiots and reinforced it again and again and again.

We loved those dvds. We still love them. He still watches them. They've taken him through friends and play skills and school...

There's a tiny little interview at the end of the WML dvds, with Mary Beth Palo, who created them. She talked about how they saw their son learned easier off a screen, and so they started taking their video camera everywhere with them... 'We've got a video camera', I thought... so we did the same. And boy did it work.

A couple of our first outings, to the train shed (a Thomas themed family place... be prepared, beyond the Thomas trains, it's grim as hell) and to the zoo. These were repeated a million times, but these home videos (and many others we didn't put on YouTube) changed everything for Billy's language development. Seriously, everything.

Then we discovered he loved other languages (thanks to Dora the Explorer). He started seeking out alternate language subtitles on dvds, and looking on YouTube for French, Spanish and Japanese translations of his favourites - especially Thomas and Hi-5. Again, the logic is easy, once you get into it... it's language, without meaning. He already knows what it means, so he's not struggling with understanding. This gives him the freedom, the joy of freestyling with the beauty of words... like we all do (or maybe I'm revealing what a nerd I am... bit of Dylan Thomas' Under Milkwood, anyone?)

It's been four years of focussed slog really. The confidence of knowing that, pragmatic challenges aside, he's linguistically safe, is immense. He can express his needs. He can parrot his address. Man, he can parrot entire episodes of David Attenborough's Life of Mammals... but (again) I digress.

The point, for Billy, was to reduce the stress around both receptive language (understanding) and expressive language (talking). First, he needed to understand - hence my annoying, sing song on the early videos. Then he needed the space to talk (I try my hardest to STFU now).

To see him filling in the gaps, asking strangers questions, offering his services as a ball thrower for dogs at the park... it makes me want to cry with relief. He still makes mistakes, but all it takes is a day in Billy's class to see that kids all make mistakes, in all sorts of ways (and so they should).

We didn't think we'd get to this point.

And it makes the future seem so much more possible. Makes me want to go outside and blow bubbles for the hell of it.

10 comments:

Fiona said...

Valerie-that was the best read I have had in ages!
Awesome! Go Billy!
How wonderful to see how far all of you have come and how much has been achieved!
Bubble away I say!

Marybeth Palo said...

Smiled all the way thru this one! Keep up these stories - it keeps others working and seeing what is possible.
I loved it!

Lisa said...

Frightened, stressed, exhausted.
...
Hopeful smile.
More.
...
Distanced from the social pressure.
Reduce stress.

What kind of filtering (or lack of it)do our kids' brains have, that what most of the world can cope with easily, is for them stressful and frightening enough to force them to withdraw completely?

The version of ASD I have witnessed was more of a slow withdrawal - correlated to the increasingly stressful demands of the world. Language was well established here, before the stresses became overwhelming. It didn't disappear, but instead became more or less echolalic with stress.

Billy's and Dreamer's future will be bright. Remember to slay those Stress Monsters that you find lurking down the years. I happen to know that blowing bubbles at them works just fine.

Mama Deb said...

Thrilled for you all! So there is hope, yes?!

Simon said...

Billy is extraordinary, and you are every bit his equal Valerie.

This is a beautiful immersive re-telling, much better than most of the stuff I read in Granta.... Ever thought of mainstream publication?

In the meantime may I repost in my blog please?

Inspiring , wonderful!

Mich9 said...

Speech and social understanding... this is a very important blog entry for me. Another one that I will ruminate over, as I figure out Nikko's path toward speech and understanding.

I'm so glad you blog, Val. :)

Ro said...

It's so refreshing and re-invigorating to read all of that; I know what my own boy has achieved and what he'll go on to probably surmount but sometimes it's a bit hard to see the woods for the trees at the moment.
Thanks ;)

carriemumof2withasd said...

oh Valerie that was simply wonderful to read! Im love love loed it. He is doing so well and what an inspiration to other ASD mothers you are. keep up the GREAT work. ;)

eljay71 said...

Its posts like these that keep the focus alive for my boy and I!

You inspire me...simple as that!

Livian


xx

Schona Kessler said...

Wow what wonderful words to hear! Just found your blog and am sure adding you to my faves!