The Next Level of Ian’s Language

Language has never been easy for Ian. When other three-year olds were effortlessly babbling about nursery school and cartoons, Ian had trouble pronouncing his own name. He could only call himself "E." He couldn't make it to the second syllable.

He had no control over his own mouth. He couldn't blow out candles on a birthday cake or form a kiss. He couldn't even say "mom." 

With massive amounts  of therapy and intensive efforts from home, he gradually learned how to talk. Very gradually. You hear about kids who have speech problems, who suddenly get it, and overnight talk like other kids. It wasn't like that with Ian. There have been little spurts here and there, but mostly language has been a steep uphill climb. 

We've been very tuned into his language development. For years, I would count the words in his sentences. Very slowly he moved from three word sentences to four and five to more. I noticed when he started using adverbs spontaneously. I did a dance when he asked a "why" question. 

Steps in language acquisition that other kids accordion into a few months and that fly by without notice, were major chapters in Ian's life. Adverbs, baby! 

Yesterday, Ian and I drove around town doing errands. From the backseat, Ian suddenly asked me, "What's a nanny?" A nanny is someone who watches kids.

"So, are you a nanny?" No, I'm a mom. 

"Are you a nanny?" No, I'm a mom. A nanny lives in your house.

"Are you a nanny?" No, I'm a mom. A nanny is someone who watches kids, who lives in your house, when the mom and dad have to go to work. She's like a babysitter, but she's there longer. She gets money for watching the kids. 

"What's a daycare provider?" A daycare is like a nursery school. They watch the kids there when the parents go to work.

"Can I go to a daycare?" No, a daycare is only for little kids. You went to a daycare for a little while when you were younger.

"I did?" You went to a nursery school and then you were put on a yellow bus and taken to a daycare. 

"I went to TWO schools?" Yes, you did. I'll show you the place next time we're in the old town. So, those are all good words that describe people who watch kids when the mom and the dad have to work: a babysitter, a nanny, and a daycare provider.

"And a caregiver." Yes, Ian. That's also another great word for someone who watches kids. 

At that point, we drove through a neighboring town and passed by a series of restaurants. 

"Look at that sign. It says Town That Will Not Be Named Inn. I-N-N." [Ian thinks that homophones are very cool.] Yes, an inn is like a tavern.

"Or a pub. Or a hotel." Yes, you can sleep at some inns, so it can be like a hotel. 

 This went on for a little while. Ian grouped antonyms. He pulled out words that were beyond a normal 10-year vocabulary. I think he's listening to NPR when I'm driving around and storing away words, even words that he doesn't know what they mean. 

He collects words and has to intellectually think through how to use them. It's a conscious process. He's learning a first language, the way a college student learns a second language. 

Here's a picture of Temple Grandin's brain. Shrivelled language section. Enhancement in other areas. Yes. 

6 thoughts on “The Next Level of Ian’s Language

  1. Thank you SO much for that link to the Temple Grandin article. I was just at the AANE conference with Tony Attwood where he mentioned amygdala size and autism, and it was great to be able to read the article and think about what he had said. And Temple is speaking at next year’s AANE.


  2. There’s a nice summary of some of the data on autism at the SFARI website from unpublished work from the Society for Neuroscience meeting that just ended yesterday.
    A warning that the amygdala is one of those catch all/difficult to understand parts of the brain (along with prefrontal cortex, striatum, and thalamus), the issue being that all of these areas are “association” areas that problem integrate a lot of different functions, making it difficult to piece out a particular role (say, compared to visual cortex, which does visual things.)
    (SFARI is the Simons Foundations Autism Research Initiative and it’s one of the drives in the expansion of autism research into basic neuroscience — and away from the “people with autism can’t do social things” stereotype of autism).


  3. Those are some fantastic questions.
    Even in college, language is still my sons biggest challenge. I realized this weekend how tense he gets from the effort of processing all the language coming at him.


  4. Thanks. This is really interesting. The comments about your son’s questions about language are actually really helpful to me as I work with my own kids.
    I have one with Asperger’s and one with hyperlexia and I was speaking with my husband the other evening and I was saying to him that I’m just realizing how much I didn’t understand about what was going on around me when I was a child — largely because I think I didn’t understand a lot of the spoken language coming at me all day. I remember never having any idea about things like when we were going on a field trip in school or where we were going, when holidays were coming, having no idea what a ‘substitute teacher’ was, for example. It’s really only in retrospect that that all makes sense now. I remember being quite thrilled when I we were all given some kind of behavior chart in second grade which counted down the number of days until the field trip. I think it was the visual cue I had been missing and suddenly the world began to make a little more sense. As you note the words which your son is beginning to figure out and categorize, it makes me realize how much I may have been assuming my kids understood when in fact they did not. Thanks!


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