Tag Archives: language and austism

Talking Letters

I was graciously interviewed on Monday night by a remarkable woman.  I hope someday to tell her story.  During the interview, I read the following post.  I wrote this a few weeks ago, and just never posted it.  Ah, summer break how you mess with my writing schedule.


Communicating with an autistic person has more variables than I could ever name.  Due the many degrees of autism (hence the spectrum) you sometimes require many ways to say the same thing.  But one thing is crucial, no matter what you are going to say, keep it simple; especially for a young child with autism.

When Ryan was newly diagnosed, I was on a deep learning curve, reading every article, attending every seminar, talking to whomever I could.  Aside from learning how to control his erratic behaviors, my biggest concern was his language. For I was certain, his loss of language was the key to his frustration with the world.

After a few years of behavior modification, and speech therapy (with the aide of sign language) Ryan was able to retrieve his words. Nothing short of miraculous to us, for then most of his frustration was alleviated.   We were carefully trained to speak to him with few words so he could process them.

I once attended a seminar where Temple Grandin was the keynote speaker. She described eloquently what listening to someone speak was like for her. She said it was like seeing words across a computer screen. If someone asked her a question, she would see the words in her mind and have to “read” them. Hence, it took her some time to respond. And if someone moved on to another question, she had to start over.  Sounded like a vicious cycle to me. But her words stuck with me and I took to heart the instruction of using few words and then…waiting. Needless to say, I still try to speak slowly to him, because I am a fast talker, even though he can now communicate on a level that would fool an unknowing outsider.  It still makes his life easy if I keep it simple.

Ryan recently discovered the captioning on his Kindle. Actually he saw it on my Kindle first and asked what it was. Not a particularly stellar moment for me (I was trying to secretly indulge in a guilty pleasure of “Orange is the New Black”). He was quietly standing behind me as I chopped vegetables while watching and he began reading the dialogue-out loud. Luckily it was an innocuous moment: no nudity or cussing, but when he realized he was seeing the words as they were being spoken, he immediately asked what it was. And then wanted it for his Kindle.   Much as I wish he would use his Kindle for reading, (but really, how could I ask if I use my Kindle for extracurricular too) he mainly uses it for “The Google” and Netflix. He is a master at searching for any show or movie he wants to watch, a modern child, for sure.

After a few days, I hear him narrating a movie he’s watching, not just the dialogue, but parts like “crickets sound in the distance”, “laughter in the background”. When I walked over to see what he’s watching, he says, “Look at my talking letters, Mom.”

Talking letters?

What a brilliant way to describe captioning. After all, they are letters that are showing what people are saying. Why I didn’t think of that?

Ryan reminded me you don’t need a lot of words to describe something. Keep it simple and your message will be heard. This time, he taught me.

Talking letters. Maybe I should copyright that…


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