Monday, February 11, 2008

The Sound of Language

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.


jaki said...

I'm continually amazed and appreciative about how well you know Ben...and most especially how well you "translate" Ben to the un-informed (me)! Thank you.

Tim said...

He's got the the rad moves. The super, super rad moves.

Anonymous said...

I know just what you are referring to. Chee has an unusual lilt and tone in her voice as well. I never thought about how it may (does!) set her apart from her peers. Very insightful on your part.

Micaela said...

My daughter does this too! I figure she could have an extensive acting career if she so chooses.

KAL said...

Around here it's: "Mommy, let's go on a Mission to Mars!" Seriously, how great that he's got all of this original language even if it sounds a little different than his peers. Sam also has that sing-song-y quality and I think you're dead on: I also think it's because he mimics what he's used to hearing - adults and TV.

Anonymous said...

Go Ben!!!! Connor quickly caught up in his expressive language delay around age four as well, and like Ben, he sounded like an adult. Most adults didn't pick up on it, but kids sure do! I didn't have to teach him to talk like a kid, by 5 and a half he had many different friends voices that I could recognize in his mimicry. It wasn't really his unusual style of speech that set him apart from his peers, but advanced reading & learning skills combined with poor social skills and emotional immaturity. Connor is aware of being different from other kids & I think practices at playing a kid role to fit in better. At almost 7 now, he has made a lot of progress and his first grade teacher believes he fits in well with his peers. I hope Ben will too. It's really great to read about his progress!

Anonymous said...

My son is now 11, and still has a strange prosody. I'm not sure if you have Ben in any speech therapy or social skills therapy, but it's never too late to start.