This summer, Ben has a couple subtle, but powerful additions to his evolving social language toolkit.
1. The courtesy laugh
He has this new chuckle that he uses when he knows something is funny but he's not necessarily laughing spontaneously, or when he wants to signal us to laugh at something that he's saying. The chuckle sounds very much like a combination of Ernie from from Sesame Street and Enos from the Dukes of Hazard.
2. Conversational filler
He's sprinkling his sentences with filler words like "well" and "so" and "okay." Since Ben's language evolved from echolalia, this has never come naturally to him. It reminds me of the many bits of speech we take for granted; and that its these non-signifying bits that give conversation its, well, like, spontaneous feel.
"What are you doing, Ben?"
"Well, I'm just playing with trains."
(While acting out the story "The Hat")
"Okay...you'll be Benito Bedoglio."
(While playing with a new Sesame Street feltboard)
"Let's see... I think I'll put Elmo's backpack here."
3. Premeditated charm
When he wants me to stop talking or is trying to distract me from directing him, he'll come close and say softly, "Mommy, will you kiss me?" He's realized this is a very powerful way to shift the tone of the conversation, as well as my mood.
A few nights ago, we heard a crash from his room. We rushed in to see he had dumped out the bin of Thomas engines onto the floor. Keep in mind that he has dozens of engines so it's pretty loud. Also keep in mind that this is something he had just done earlier in the day as part of a robot rampage, so we rushed to the scene.
Turns out he had just dumped out the bin the way most kids compulsively dump out bins - just to get all the things out. He was calm, but surprised to see us at the door with worried looks on our faces.
"What are you doing, Ben?" I asked, just to clarify that what I was seeing was indeed benign.
"Oh, nothing," he said with a tone so perfectly reassuring that he had to have been quoting something.
Then he quickly put the bin over his head and smiled. "I'm just...wearing this... as a HAT!"
Not only has he mastered charm, but he's moved on to farce.
And we suddenly felt as if we had been thrust into an episode of Faulty Towers and that at any moment a Vicar would crawl out from under the bed.