July 3, 2008

The Boy Who Learned To Talk Too Late And Too Fast


This is the story of a boy, he just turned four, but he couldn't talk yet- nothing more than one or two words at a time, "mik" and "mo Nemo!" and that was it.  The worry was that there was something wrong with him, and everyone who discussed it never said the word Asperger's.

There are a million reasons he could have this speech delay, including but not limited to genetics, increased paternal age, thiomersal, elevated serotonin, or parts of any of those, but for certain it could not possibly be related to being bookended by an cooing pork sausage of a baby brother and a preposterously hyperverbal, parentified 5 year old sister.  and a father who was angry all the time because the junior partner is an idiot.

But at least mommy was for him, she got him, she was tender and strong and consistent and available, a brick wall between him and schizophrenia.


I ask him to come here, but instead he goes over to a box of animals and looks for a rhino and a leopard.  He doesn't have a transitional object, he has a transitional object of the day, supremely important on Wednesday and then Thursday dropped like a candy wrapper.  Today it's a leopard.  Yesterday it was a metal spatula.  I don't know.

"Come here for a second."

He blinks.  "Lepar."  That's 4 months of speech therapy.

"I know, but come here for one second first."

"Lemmmddd."  He's not paying attention to me.

"Stop, for one second, just come here--"

"Lepp lleppp lle.  Hmmwp!"

"Listen to me! just come here, you can get that later--"

And then God touches him and he says:

"No, Daddy, you have to wait a minute, I'm doing something right now."

BLAM!    I am blown away by the complexity and maturity of it-- that's not even his voice-- and simultaneously furious that he would talk like that to me, that the first coherent sentence he puts together is used to blow me off.

I almost explode. 



It sounds indignant, disrespectful, but that's not his intention.

He sees people can talk, and when they do they control things.  So the only thing standing between him and domination of his environment are words.   Words aren't for communicating, they're for effecting.   Words are power.   You don't even have to know what they mean.     They're magic spells.

The words don't matter, he doesn't even understand them, for him it's all prosody, the way people wrongly say "I could care less" or "for all intensive purposes" or a quote in Latin, they know what it means but not what it literally means, the literally part is irrelevant, because they're communicating something else that everyone gets.  He figures that surely I'll get it because he's heard me use those exact words before, and when I used them it worked.

He's not telling me, he's conjuring, he thinks that sentence will change reality, cause it to be true that he is allowed to find the leopard.  In the same way he hears my words "come here for a second" not as a request but as a omniscient description of the future: "in moments you will be compelled to do something that you will not like."


But I'm too angry to figure this out, I'm too angry to see things his way, I see them only my way,  this is why when they emptily say, "I'll bet you're a great father" I say "as long as my wife is alive."

He sees the rage and frustration in my face.  He starts to cry, my boy, my little boy that I love.  The boy that is now confused- he used words, and they failed--  they backfired--

He tried; I failed.

At this moment I still don't get it but by instinct I know I'm wrong somewhere, so I hug him, I tell him I'm very sorry I yelled at him and that I will help him get the leopard, but buddy I wasn't saying you can't have it, you can, "come here for a second" just means you come, I do one thing very fast, then you go.  Not many things, just ONE thing.  And buddy?  That was very, very excellent talking, I LOVE it when you talk like that, and we're going to talk about benkenobi's lightsaber is blue and parasaurolophus and pirates.

He grins, my mystical boy,  he has a leopard in one hand and a rhino in the other and he puts them both in my face and roars excitedly, and I think as long as I can stay out of his way, he'll be great.


related: AM Radio Kids




This IS my son. I don't kno... (Below threshold)

July 3, 2008 6:43 PM | Posted by steve: | Reply

This IS my son. I don't know what to do.

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Callooh! Callay!Th... (Below threshold)

July 3, 2008 6:49 PM | Posted by melodious_frog: | Reply

Callooh! Callay!

The protagonist in this sounds like a masterbating narricist.

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thanks........................ (Below threshold)

July 3, 2008 9:29 PM | Posted by Diane Abus: | Reply

thanks.....................the man has great taste in sons;
aspergers people are awesome and very individualistic.always viva la differance....................they are so special the society owes them..............for all there is to learn...................

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Can't really say why, but t... (Below threshold)

July 3, 2008 11:39 PM | Posted by Zeecon: | Reply

Can't really say why, but that moved me.

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Thank you so much for menti... (Below threshold)

July 4, 2008 1:41 AM | Posted by Leslie Feldman: | Reply

Thank you so much for mentioning paternal age as a possible cause of a child not being able to speak normally.

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I didn't have a speech dela... (Below threshold)

July 4, 2008 3:18 PM | Posted by katyase: | Reply

I didn't have a speech delay-- I was "preposterously hyperverbal" as a child, but that interaction reminded me so much of ones with my own father. He was very logical and heard only the words, and I was trying to say things more with my rate of speech than with the words themselves. A beautiful story, again.

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Thank you doc. I just reliv... (Below threshold)

July 4, 2008 6:04 PM | Posted by Amanda: | Reply

Thank you doc. I just relived one of the most powerful moments in my life.

It's going to be ok, Steve. He is my son too. Four years and tons of hard work later you wouldn't be able to recognize him though. Just don't ever, ever give up on him.

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This child is a genius.... (Below threshold)

July 5, 2008 7:27 PM | Posted by Stephany: | Reply

This child is a genius.

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Assuming that the writer is... (Below threshold)

July 6, 2008 2:44 AM | Posted by Matthew Holford: | Reply

Assuming that the writer is correct in his analysis of "Buddy's" view of life (a massive assumption, but there's nothing else to go on!), then the little boy needs to understand one thing, and when he understands that thing, he will understand human communication. Words mean something, and people are capable of understanding, if they choose to. However, the extent to which one is listened to depends upon one thing: one's position within any given hierarchy - the father, for example, couldn't accept what his son said to him, not because it was inappropriate, nor anything else, but because his son is supposed to obey him, not the other way round. Do you get me? Now, the first thing a person does, when they meet one, is to drop you into their system of hierarchies, and that's the basis upon which they deal with one. Children are at the bottom of most hierarchies. So, when the little boy understands that it doesn't depend upon how much he wants something, nor which form of words he uses to convey that, as to whether he gets that thing, or not, but rather on whether the person he's asking views him as important enough to grant what he wishes BECAUSE he wishes it, and perceives that he needs it.

In short, people judge whether they have to co-operate with a person, before they look at what that person is asking for. That's my experience, anyway, and that little boy, although he's quite evidently brilliant, will spend a very long time, in a confusing world, trying to work that out. He's operating a system of equality, where things get done because they should be done - everybody else is operating a system of control. Look out, because if he ever works out that that's what's happening, he'll refuse to co-operate, point blank, with anybody. He's trying to copy what he sees around him, and he'll copy whatever he perceives the system to be.


PS You won't be able to read this, without wondering what authority I have to say it, in order to assess whether or not you believe it. I have absolutely no qualifications in the area of psychology, nor sociology, nor anything else in that area, so you may now dismiss what I wrote as twaddle.

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He's operating a system ... (Below threshold)

July 6, 2008 3:11 AM | Posted by Amanda: | Reply

He's operating a system of equality

Matt, I can tell you are very familiar with this. Either you have such a child or you were such a child yourself.

Doc, if the boy in the story is your son, please consider getting in touch with other parents who've been there. Most docs and therapists will not be able to help you with this one. All they told me was to give him Ritalin and send him to a special needs school...

Thank God I never listened to them. He has an amazing talent for math and physics, he's already bored out of his mind in regular school. He does have a weakness in language arts, due to his auditory processing disorder, he gets special tutoring from me on that.

Your kid IS a genius, he's just stuck.

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Amanda wrote:"Matt, ... (Below threshold)

July 6, 2008 6:08 AM | Posted by Matthew Holford: | Reply

Amanda wrote:
"Matt, I can tell you are very familiar with this. Either you have such a child or you were such a child yourself..."

LOL. I still am. And I'm still waiting for somebody to give me what I ask for - what I perceive I need - without making their own subjective assessment of whether or not I deserve it. I wonder whose interest it's in to perpetuate this system?

If somebody doesn't know what the want/need, then the only way to find out is to walk through their system (as evidenced by their behavioural pattern), in order to establish what it is that they don't understand (or which they understand very well, but keep being told they're wrong about); which is a painstaking business, but is the only methodology I know. Drugs have no place in the process, by the way.


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I remember reaching many co... (Below threshold)

July 9, 2008 8:25 PM | Posted by VelvetElvis: | Reply

I remember reaching many conclusions as a child that I would later find reaffirmed in the works of Marx. Having been raised an atheist, it was this innate longing for equality that came to be the heart of my system of values. I considered myself a natural born socialist long before I'd ever heard of asperger's.

BTW, isn't the lack of a speech delay the main thing differentiating asperger's from Developmental Disorder:NOS?

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He grins, my mystical</b... (Below threshold)

January 31, 2009 1:37 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

He grins, my mystical boy, he has a leopard in one hand and a rhino in the other and he puts them both in my face and roars excitedly, and I think as long as I can stay out of his way, he'll be great.

this proves that people should play with action figures throughtout their adult lives and it should be encouraged in society. or do we do this already on a larger scale?

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Great story. My son has si... (Below threshold)

April 2, 2009 4:56 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Great story. My son has significant verbal delays as well; every once in a while he'll come out with a sentence -- a sentence! -- complex and absolutely right for the situation and I'm floored.

Occasionally I've noticed him getting better, verbally, when he's resisting a demand. Not something you're going to do deliberately, of course -- but you were demanding he do something, he *really* didn't want to, and that made him reach just a little farther and get just the right incantation.

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I love that story. It remin... (Below threshold)

January 24, 2012 2:34 AM | Posted by [email protected]: | Reply

I love that story. It reminds me of how I feel inside, now more than ever. I know I'm not inferior but I also know that in some ways things don't come as easy as they do for others, and I know I experience lots of problems in communicating....but anyway, that is not the important part. The important part is, (I learned this working in mental health, primarilly), (especially the job at the state mental hospital, with all the involuntary civil commitments): like the father in this story, all parents/friends/caretakers of the mentally ill need to come to terms with the patient's 'normal.' Not the parents idea of normal, not society's idea of normal. We need to understand and learn to appreciate who the patient really is. Day to day. Not just who we want them to be...it is far more likely (in my experience) that this will actually encourage more healthy behaviors on the patients part---not, repeat not, 'enable' them to be crazier (although that is a pretty common misconception). I used to work with a patient 'Cindy' who was delusional 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. She literally never viewed things the way anyone else ever did, and she hallucinated all the time to boot. She had a lot of grandiose ideas ('I cured cancer/Alzheimer's/AIDS, I won 9 medals in the Olympics today, listen to all the events I won, I will create world peace'). It used to make me so sad when she would talk to her family and all they would do is insist she was delusional and try to reorient her to reality. And leave visits quite early. I am quite sure from watching her face (sad, defeated, quiet, now) that while she may or may not have understood some things mentally, she certainly understood a certain lack of acceptance and some kind of judgment and discomfort from her family, emotionally. Because they would simply not appreciate, even a little, her own personal normal. Who she was. ...I don't see (destructive behavior/thought processes)happening at all with the comments on this blog, which is refreshing. I just wanted to have my 2cents. Thanks.

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Oh! Addendum. I am not in a... (Below threshold)

January 24, 2012 2:49 AM | Posted by [email protected]: | Reply

Oh! Addendum. I am not in any way saying the child is mentally ill. I am not in any way, in fact, saying there is anything wrong with him at all. My comments were strictly for caretakers and whatnot. And I think the ending of the story is so appropriate for much of child-rearing: love 'em and know how to let them be.

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Dear Alone,Thank y... (Below threshold)

January 29, 2015 9:30 AM | Posted by H: | Reply

Dear Alone,

Thank you for your brilliant blog. Are you still alive? If we wish to donate, how will we know the money will go to you and your family?

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