What would your life be like if words – and wordplay – were your favorite things, but you were not able to hold a conversation?
This is basically where we are right now with Quentin.
He is no longer nonverbal. Hooray! This alone is HUGE for us. I never thought he’d make such a great progress. But the strange thing is… he is not at all conversational. If you ask him a question, he might answer in one word. He will not return your question with another question or thought. He does not communicate his feelings or ideas – only concrete needs in limited words, as in “I want [to] go home” or “I need [a] bathroom”.
So while I celebrate his progress, I am baffled by the fact that this boy genuinely loves words and cannot use them in the same way that I do. For him, words fall into what we classify as a “repetitive interest” in the autism world (aka – affinity, passion, enthusiasm). They are not a communication tool, but a sort of hobby. He collects them and likes to roll them around in his mouth, feeling how they sound. He likes others to repeat words that he says, too.
Long time readers of this blog will remember that this began with a love of logos, and in most recent years moved toward written words. In fact, the boy has two different picture dictionary books (from different publishers), which he carries around with him like security blankets at this point. (We recently had to replace one that was lost; it was a minor tragedy in our household.)
And hey – he’s not alone in the word-loving! I have to admit that my favorite games are Scrabble and Boggle. I adore parsing the internal rhymes from songs in the musical Hamilton. I am fond of a good anagram. Basically, I’m not certain where his autism comes from, but I know for sure that the word-loving part of him comes from me. So I celebrate words with him! I’m so glad we can geek out about this stuff together.
At night, during his bedtime routine, we read. But these days Quentin is actually having amazing conversations with me instead. We put the books aside and we talk. Well, he talks, and I listen. Sometimes he says things that are based on memories. He names places and people. He sometimes recalls – in order – the stores on the street that he passes to get to the playground. (This is bolstered by his other recent passion, which is running into stores to find elevators.) Sometimes he just names family members, or places he’s been. Sometimes he likes to name all the anchors on ABC news.
Last night, he had this amazing back-and-forth with me. He wasn’t talking about people or places – he was playing a kind of word association game with me! I feel fortunate that I had my phone in my pocket – so I took it out to record him. (If you cannot see the video below, click here.) I apologize for the bad camera angle, but I had to videotape him somewhat covertly. See if you can follow his train of thought:
I’m loving how he puts words together and thinks of new ones. His brain moves so quickly, and he remembers so much! What a beautiful brain.