Posted by: autismland | January 12, 2007

A Small Lesson in Charlese (#571)

“Walk squishy ball yes!”
Turnpage_1
Charlie and I had just gone on a walk to the train this afternoon and were waiting for Jim to come home—-why would Charlie want to go anywhere else, when “Dad’s coming home?”

“Walk squishy ball.”

“You can go walk in the driveway with the ball,” I said—-guessed, really. Charlie likes to pace and run up and down our driveway and I wondered if he just could not recall the word “driveway” at the moment.

It turned out that I was right: Charlie grabbed the ball and ran outside (and up and down the driveway) until Jim drove up in the green car. One word can have a lot of associations, but you have to know the language—-Charlie’s being “Charlese,” I suppose—to know the full range of connotations a single word can have. So, for instance, is “socks” Charlese for “I want to put on my shoes and socks to go out.” We can prompt Charlie to say this long sentence bit by bit but, right now, it is quite a mouthful of words for him to pull up at one time.

I was to be reminded of this again when we went to see a very good of friend of Jim’s, Richard Dougherty. A native of South Jersey, Richard went to Japan twenty-five years ago to teach English and has lived in Tokyo ever since. He comes to the US every few years with his Japanese wife to visit his family and one thing about him always stands out, especially to Jim:

Richard speaks American English like a foreign language. Remnants of his South Jersey accent remain, but here is a Jersey Irish guy speaking his native language with the vowels accented differently. He pauses to recall words. He thinks before he responds and as he speaks. His voice rises and falls in speech patterns that are not those of English.

I’ll hazard saying that American English, or maybe just language itself, is “foreign” to Charlie. The “building blocks” of language for him have not been “nouns, verbs, adjectives, pronouncs, etc.” such as I go through, chapter by chapter, when I teach Latin and classical Greek. The building blocks of language for Charlie were the vowels and the consonants, each of which was taught to him one by one—-teaching Charlie to talk back when he was three years old required teaching him to learn to move his mouth and tongue, and to watch how we formed each sound. I don’t know what “fluency” level Charlie will reach in English—-at the moment, he is once again enrolled in the 101 or “elementary” level class—-who knows if he’ll proceed to “intermediate” or “advanced.”

And so it behooves me to learn a little, or a lot of, Charlese which is the language—the mode of communication—Charlie is the native speaker, and I quite the beginner.

As we got back into the car, Charlie called out “turnahn!” and “Hendricks!”

“He likes Jimi,” Jim grinned to Richard. “Remember this?” Jim turned up the volume and Charlie sat up straight and serious as his music—-his kind of sound, the voice of the electric guitar—-streaming out of the black car’s windows.

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Responses

  1. (I’ve been reading daily for quite some time, but this is my first comment. Just as an FYI, I teach students with varying disabilities from fourth to sixth grade; I have a brother who has Down syndrome, and I am quite probably on the autism spectrum somwhere, though I don’t have an official diagnosis that I know of, because when I was younger, I did not fit the classic images of autism — poor social skills, hyperlexia, sensory issues, but I DID talk, etc.)

    I really like the idea of “Charlese.” I have a student who has Down syndrome (and quite possibly autism, though not officially) who is JUST beginning to learn to speak functionally (she has many words but couldn’t call upon them in any useful way until just recently). When she says “yellow-purple,” you have to know that what she means is, “I want the colors matching game!”

    When I worked as a classroom aide for students who were fully included, we made communication dictionaries for students who used non-standard language or invented signs. (For instance, a child with CP who signed “hurt” by tapping his wrist because he didn’t have the physical skills do do otherwise.)

    In some ways, it sounds like you and Charlie are each developing your own ‘dictionaries’ for each other.

    In fact, this post reminds me of an earlier one of yours where you discussed having simple conversations with Charlie — commenting on colors, I believe.

    (I do the same with the student mentioned above — she is fascinated with vowel sounds, so often we have ‘conversations’ of vowel sounds. I think it helps her learn the vital skill of turn-taking.)

    I think my point is that I really like the idea of viewing communication as a journey from both ends. Speaking as a teacher who has watched our school’s speech therapist struggle with kids whose issues go beyond simple articulation problems, I think people would do well to adopt the same attitude.

    That is — you help Charlie express his wants and needs in a way that makes sense to you and to most of the people he’ll encounter in his life that he would want or need to express himself to, while respecting his neurological wiring and unique worldview and also interact with him in a way that makes sense to HIM (the colors conversations, for instance).

    P.S. Sorry this is so long. I tend to be wordy, which is why I often read without commenting.

  2. My son loves Hendrix, too. Among a few other bands! I doubt Sands knows who Jimi Hendrix is. He knows which CD it is and which song numbers he likes.

  3. hmmm – music the universal language! Who needs words anyway, we usually use the wrong ones. Art and colour – another one of those universal ones. Got to be better than Esperanto.
    Cheers dears

  4. I’m thrilled that Charlie has a person around who is willing to expend a fraction of the effort he is expensing in communicating. That’s the most important thing – people who have trouble communicating need to see that it’s worth the work. That means things like lots of praise when there is a complete sentence (AND responding to the sentence, in the case of a request by granting it when possible!)

    If he’s having a word finding issue, but can read, you might try some phrase books for him – write down some of the common things he needs to say and let him know it is available, maybe asking him if the phrase is in the book when he says something you don’t understand (I’d be careful about this for things he knows you understand though – that’ll probably seem very deceptive to him; If you knew what “socks” meant yesterday, you should know what “socks” means today, etc). You can do similar things with pictures in sequence to remind someone the words (write the words under the pictures too). I’d definitely be helping him with writing (probably using a computer) too, if he’s interested in that. He may find he can say what he wants much easier that way, if he’s like me.

    But all these suggestions are less important than responding to his communication, so that he knows his words have power. I’ve known more than one person who didn’t talk much because, as they put it, they weren’t listened to anyhow. I also applaud you on answering his requests rather than making the request a lot of work for him (“Use a whole sentence…” or whatever). Communication should be as easy as possible. It certainly shouldn’t look like more work than it needs to!

  5. Music continues to say a lot to Charlie, and to be a way for Charlie to say a lot as the next post suggests…… Charlie favors “Little Wing” and “The Wind Cried Mary”—-what songs does Sands like?

    Jennifer and Joel, thank you so much for your responses—both really helpful. Charlie’s still at an early stage of reading; I tried the phrasebook in the past, but he really was not ready. Thank you for suggesting it! And thanks, even more, on our responding (or attempting to, as best we can) to any of Charlie’s communication. He’s got some big things to say; I’ll have to keep my eyes and ears really wide open to be sure I don’t miss it.

  6. I have been reading everyday Autismland since fall conference in Fordham. Thank you very much for sharing your experiences and thought.
    I have a son with Asperger’s syndrome, sophomore in School of Visual Art, majoring in animation.
    Your writing helps me to find different meaning with this journey.

  7. This is the first time i have read your site. Its an amazing idea, i wish i thought the same when my brother was alive. He was severely autistic and it was a struggle all the way. His outlet was music and tv and radio adverts. These seemed to help him learn new words and phrases, and it was possible to use these in every day life to try and help himin his suroundings. I live inthe UK and speach thereapy is next to nil for autistic children and adults. I tried to utilise his intrest in music by singing with him and trying to encourage him to say the next line, coaxing him into it, giving the confidence. But you have to be aware not to push it too much, it becomes an overcrowding sense to them.

    My brother absolutely loved the group Hot Chocolate, i dont know why but he did, and he watched their videos and listened to their music and he would repeat the words over and over. Its was a breakthrough in teaching him words. Keep going with the music, it does wonders. Although at the time repeating them all the time was a pain, but i’d give anything for him to be here with me with me repeating whatever he wanted to hear.
    Good luck in the future


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