One of the more common challenges (at least according to the experts) for a child with Asperger Syndrome is developing an understanding of the subtleties of communication. I can't speak for other children, but Haydn definitely has trouble with basic conversation skills. He always asked questions and made little speeches (mostly about fans and lights), but actual conversation is a real challenge.
His initial diagnosis included "Semantic-Pragmatic Language Impairment," which of course means that he is lacking a certain praggy-ness about his language.
Everything has a fancy name here on the autism spectrum
In the simplest terms... Haydn often has difficulty interpreting the 'meaning' of what is being said. The hidden meanings in statements, anything implied, simply vanish into the ether. He's not getting it, and he's not looking for it.
Something you will notice right away when having a little chat with Haydn is that he has a tendency to take everything at it's most literal meaning.
The family is taking a drive (probably to a mall), and Haydn is holding a cell phone to his ear. He is happily having a little conversation with himself, so of course, nosy Daddy interrupts his fun.
"Haydn, who are you talking to?" Just leave the kid alone, he's having fun...
"I'm talking to you Daddy-o." Right... I deserve that
Every day, three or four times a day.
Haydn also has a tendency to prompt himself in order make a statement. It's his way of initiating a conversation without actually initiating conversation. A sneaky little technique he uses to get his thoughts out.
"Do I like the lights in the Old Gym?"
"Yes, I do. I like the lights in the Old Gym."
"Is that Uncle Keith's truck?"
"Yes it is. That is Uncle Keith's truck."
Haydn's inability to start and maintain a conversation is difficult for all parties involved, but one thing that is particularly frustrating is his inability to follow up his primary question with another question that is even remotely "on topic." The first question is the one you might be able to answer. Trying to keep the conversation alive after that, takes a little practice:
"Hey Daddy-o. Are we going to Liberty Science Center today?"
"Probably not Haydn."
"Do you like the old gym or the new gym?"
"I think I like the old gym better."
"Hey Daddy-o. Are we going to the Liberty Science Center today?"
A little echolalia, for all those keeping score
"We already talked about that Haydn."
"Does Xena have a loud bark?"
"Not that I noticed."
"I like the awesome lights at Mr. Jim's house."
Haydn runs away, leaving me to pick up the fragmented pieces of my sanity.
Haydn also has his "scripts" - statements or questions that he learned how and when to use in conversation. He may not be 100% sure of what he's saying, but he always uses them in the appropriate situation, so unless you know him, you would never be able to tell that he's faking it.
Every day, Haydn has to struggle with his language's lack of praggy-ness. It prevents him from having conversations with the kids at school, it makes it very difficult to find out why he is crying, or how he may have gotten hurt, or why he is laughing... Just getting any facts about anything can be a real challenge. It is a huge speed bump right smack in the middle of his social development. Almost every conversation is a tug of war.
Unless, of course he happens to be listening to The Beatles.
Every Sunday morning, Haydn and I go out to breakfast and then the mall, the park, or pretty much anyplace I can think of where we might encounter other kids. The primary goal is, (of course) to have fun, but I also try to get as much social skills practice in as possible for him.
Gotta teach this kid how to hang with the rest of the critters, with as little stress as possible
We drive and listen to "Breakfast With The Beatles" on the radio, or a Beatles CD, and... (here comes the cheese) Somehow the music has managed to cut through that Autism Spectrum Fog that envelops Haydn sometimes, and connect with him in a very powerful way.
"Strawberry Fields Forever" is his first favorite song, followed by "We Can Work It Out," then, "Here Comes The Sun," "I'm Looking Through You," and on through the catalog.
This very strong connection to The Beatles and their music appears to have inspired Haydn to work harder on his conversation skills, and a new dynamic has developed between us during our car rides.
"I'm A Loser" starts playing.
"Daddy-o. Who wrote this song?"
"John wrote this one."
"What's this song about?"
"I think John lost his girl and he's singing about how he feels."
"Is John sad, Daddy-o?"
"Yes he is Haydn."
"John sounds sad, Daddy-o. Yes he does."
"I believe you are correct Haydn."
"Why did the girl leave John?"
"I think he wasn't as nice as he should be."
"Is Ringo playing the drums?"
"Yes he is."
"Is that the high hat?"
"Sure sounds like it."
"Is George standing in the middle on this one?" He's seen a few videos, and knows where the boys stood on stage
"Is the Old Brown Shoe song coming next?"
"I'm not sure. Is that the next song on the CD?"
"Yes, Daddy-o. I like the drums on the Old Brown Shoe song. Yes I do."
And so on, and so on, and so on...
These listening sessions turned into a conversation workshop for him. They are a forum to apply everything that he learned in speech therapy, as well as from our work at home, concerning emotions, proper conversation technique, language usage, eye contact... etc. He is also learning a little about music and instruments, and that pretty much every song The Beatles ever wrote is directly, or indirectly, about a girl.
Haydn shows a little more conversational aptitude elsewhere as a result of his work with The Fab Doctors, but like everything else, it's a work in progress. It's his first major breakthrough, and although it is a relatively small step forward...
I know how very fortunate we are to have any breakthroughs at all.
The playlist in the car changes, and the result are the same.
Gotta throw a Change-up out there... Always have to be mindful of that damned OCD
Haydn is really into Queen at the moment, and he asks the same type of questions about "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Seven Seas of Rhye," and "Killer Queen." His favorite at the moment is, "39."
Never heard it? It's on 'Night at The Opera.' Check it out. Great song.
He wants to know who wrote it, why does Freddie sing it on stage and not on the album? And so on, and so on.
He recently figured out how to generalize what he has learned and little conversations are starting to pop up all over the place. My little boy who could not figure out how to ask a question about anything, bombards me with 'whys,' 'whats,' and hows' all day long.
So always remember to keep your eyes, (and in this case your ears) open as we all stumble and bumble our way along the autism spectrum...
The next major breakthrough may be only a song away.