It’s a strange thing that our species is called homo sapiens sapiens.
If sapiens means thinking, and sapiens sapiens therefore means “really fricking thinking”, why does this define us as a species?
All animals have brains, so thought is not specific to we super monkeys. There seem to be a lot of other species that think as much if not more effectively than we do – because our thoughts are often our own worst enemies.
So, what is it that really sets we humans apart?
It’s the voice box, the larynx. It’s speech. We are the speaking ape.
Specifically, we are the story telling ape. Story is at the heart of who we are: Everything learned through story, through allegory. It’s this verbal component that makes it very hard for neuro typical people to know how to address communication with people that don’t speak.
Obviously, there is a subset of people on the autism spectrum, who are hyperlexic. But for many of us autism parents, speech is something of a holy grail. So if we are going to achieve speech, we have to figure out what speech is.
By this we don’t mean speech pathology. The methodologies of regular speech therapy were designed for neuro-typical minds who can understand and comply with top down instruction easily.
With autism, we always need to think of a different approach: and a good rule of thumb is to simply take the neuro-typical approach and turn it upside down.
So from this perspective, what is speech? Speech is communication. Ok, so if you can’t communicate verbally, how else might you communicate. With the body.
A child that can’t say “Mommy, I want juice”, will take you by the hand, lead you to the fridge, have you open the door and with your hand get them the orange juice. This is a pretty typical scenario for many autism families.
What is important here is to understand that the child is, to all intense and purposes, speaking.
It goes deeper than this. If a child simply moves towards an object with their body, they are telling you: “I am interested in this object.” If they move away from that object in fear, disgust, or simply disinterest, they are telling you: “I don’t like that thing”. Again, to all intense and purposes, this is speech, or at least the bare bones of it.
Stimming is important communication. Is the stim happy? Is it a distress stim? Is it caused by a sensory trigger? All this is vital communication and we need to recognize it as such.
A child, that is unwilling, unable, or afraid of using verbal communication – if put into a regular speech pathology setting – will generally communicate less. A child whose kinetic communication, using the body, is honored and listened to, is much more likely to be open to experimenting with other forms of communication like speech.
Another thing that behaviorists often misinterpret is echolalia. Think of echolalia as the child engaging in voluntary speech pathology. If we try to discourage echolalia and constantly say: “Use your words” (i.e. the appropriate words) it’s a bit like taking your neuro-typical kid out onto the basketball field to shoot hoops and expecting him to shoot hoops immediately before he has even learned how to hold, bounce or throw the ball.
We know that the word autism derives from the Greek word “auto” meaning the self. If someone is locked into the self – selfism if you like – then getting fussy about the type of communication they offer is likely to make them withdraw.
So, before we start to think about techniques for getting actual verbal appropriate speech going, it’s vital that we first learn to recognize the language that our child is communicating in and to communicate in that language first.
From there we can build.
Without this we are simply going to press the child’s amygdala by distressing them which will create cortisol and close the brain off from learning.
In our Behavioral Modules that are part of our Compassionate Behavioral Approach (CBA) program we have numerous strategies for beginning and then developing verbal communication – speech.
You can absolutely go sign up on the website and start using them today. But before you do, ask yourself am I able to recognize the communication that my child is already offering and am I myself learning to be fluent in that language.
Imagine you moved to a foreign country – say China. If you are really going to live there, have a relationship there, have a job there, build a life there, you gonna have to learn the language.
Living inside an expat enclave where everybody speaks your language will always keep you on the outside. If you want to be on the inside you are going to have to learn.
When you become an autism parent you have to learn the language of autism first before you ask your child to learn your language. This comes through observation, observation, and more observation. The child shows you kinetically – with their body – what their language is and from there you build.
To learn more, both how to speak your child’s kinetic language and in more detail and then the actual modules for speech, go to https://ntls.co/join-us and sign up for a Silver Membership to get all our modules. In the meantime, welcome to your new career as a kinetic linguist.