Our Autism Story – Day 12 – “Communication”
Like many people with autism, Brahm had and still continues to have communication challenges. Immediately after Brahm turned two and right before his autism evaluation, he lost all of his speech. Around his second birthday, he seemed to have a large vocabulary of words and then he inexplicably lost his words…literally. He forgot words he previously knew and lashed out by screaming for things. When he started to talk again he flipped the wrong words for objects (e.g., he called a ball a hoop and vice versa, after previously knowing the correct words).
With the help of ABA and other therapies, he has regained a very large vocabulary. Although Brahm knows an impressive amount of words, we still have a very difficult time having back and forth conversation with him. He normally only talks about objects and obsessions that interest him. It is extremely difficult to get him to tell you things (e.g., What did you do today at school? What is the story about?). Brahm often has no filter on his mouth. He frequently makes inappropriate comments to everyone. We have heard it all from “That girl has a yucky face!” to “You smell like old donuts!” to “Are you bigger than my mom?”. Add this to the list of reasons why it is difficult to go out in public!
There are a lot of other ways Brahm communicates besides speech. He has a history of self harm behavior and aggressive behavior towards others if he is frustrated and cannot convey what he wants. Brahm often turns to gibberish when upset and the correct words do not come out, just screams and noises. Also, Brahm will make a lot of strange sounds when he is stimming, usually when he is happy (e.g., when he is spinning himself or eating a tasty bowl of cereal). When Brahm is anxious, he tends to retreat to a different space away from other people, scratch himself until he leaves marks, and / or break objects. The end goal is to work towards helping Brahm use spoken language in his angry, anxious, and frustrated moments.
P.S. - When Brahm asks inappropriate questions or make inappropriate remarks, please keep in mind he cannot help this. It seems the more we put attention on the inappropriate remarks, the more he will talk about them. Usually extinction (i.e., ignoring) is the best response.
P.P.S. - In those moments where Brahm “loses” his speech, it helps to first give him time and space, and then “script” for him. This is basically giving Brahm the phrase or sentence he might want to say in those moments. For example, if Brahm is angry because a light was taken away from him, you could say “Brahm…say…I am angry because you took my light away.” The goal is to get him to repeat the phrase.