The hills are alive...
I never thought I’d be saying this a year ago, but Ben has become quite a chatterbox.
Until this year, most of his language has consisted of repeating or reciting. And as I’ve written previously, he has a knack for using memorized language in a plausible context, so the casual observer sometimes doesn’t realize that his language is echolalic.
Recently, however, he seems to be talking a lot more. Seriously, a lot more.
And get this - most of it makes sense.
And quite a lot of it is completely appropriate, spontaneous and ORIGINAL.
(Cue the marching band and the balloon drop.)
Interestingly, even as this amazing burst of language is happening, there’s still something very different about how Ben talks compared to his typical peers. It’s so hard to convey in writing because it’s about intonation and sound.
He has this lilting, chipper style of speaking that sounds like an upbeat TV show host. For Bay Area folks: think Doug McConnel from Bay Area Backroads, for example.
I think I know why this is.
Ben learns language from listening to adults, from reading books and listening to adults read books, from watching videos. He rarely picks up language – beyond the occasional catch phrase – from other kids.
Adults are so much more predictable and controllable for Ben. He can ask us to repeat things. He can have us read the story over and over. He can watch the video again and again. Adults will adapt what they are saying to help him understand.
Language from other children, on the other hand, must go by, from Ben’s perspective, in a confusing, nonsensical blur.
So Ben’s language has a polite, precise and sing-song-y cadence that we adults tend to use when we are reading a story or talking to children, TRYing to TEACH them how to comMUnicate like NICE GIRLS and BOYS!
Grownups find this quality of Ben’s completely charming, of course.
But unfortunately, it’s one of those things that is beginning to set him apart from his same-age peers. Especially those of the 4-going-on-16 variety who have already cultivated an air of adolescent cool. And I have a feeling it’s going to get worse before it gets better. His NT peers’ social sophistication will increase far faster than his own, as well as their capacity to be judgmental and, sometimes, just mean.
I don’t even like to think about it.
Luckily, Ben is already a gifted mimic. I’m guessing that we can, at some point, consciously teach him how to sound more like a kid. And as much as I wish that wasn’t necessary, I know that playground politics will require it eventually.
So far, our best avenue for this is a Backyardigans episode called Surf’s Up where the characters all go around saying, “Dude!”
We’ve already started practicing that one.