How to teach children with autism to speak
It is my understanding that there is what is called an autism epidemic in the USA and around the world. California it seems is especially afflicted in this way for some unknown reason, especially in a part of
northern California named Granite Bay. So there is probably more than one mother, aunty, grandmother, friend etc. out there who may benefit from what I am writing here. I unfortunately seem to have scored an Australian record for this unhappy business. I have put an article on another part my web site mentioning
various comments made by people about autism in my family and also autism in general. The article addresses the question about vaccines, in particular the MMR vaccine particularly in regard to my oldest child (a daughter.) The article gives my daughter’s full vaccination schedule and proves conclusively that she did not receive the MMR vaccine (Measles, Mumps and Rubella combined.) I mention this vaccine because there is a lot of fuss about the connection between autism and this particular vaccine around the world, and there are parents ready to sue governments in the USA and The UK because they maintain that they had normal children and then after the administration of the MMR vaccine their child, and in the case of a lady in Britain who has been with 4 or 5 different men supposedly 5 of her 6 children were "normal" and then became autistic due to the MMR vaccine. Among her autistic children there were I think at least three different fathers. So if autism has a genetic component as scientists in the field now strongly suspect it would not be too hard in her case to work out whether autism is coming from the mother's side or the father's side. (I point out here that autism has afflicted my family both in a sibling of mine who was born in 1965 and who is now deceased and in four of my 5 children) also my children all have the same dad. If it's genetic
in the case of my children we have two generations of autism and unfortunately it all is on my side of the family.)
If you are interested the article on this is at:
My oldest child was very autistic at the age of 3 and because of this she could not speak. To a mother this is nothing short of alarming. My youngest sibling Steven; a boy who was born when I was nine years of age, was for the most part non-verbal; except for two words which he said on rare occasions: mum and John (the name of one of his brothers.) Steven passed away at the age of 24. This is the approach which was taken to help my daughter to learn to speak. My daughter received 2 hours of occupational therapy at the largest hospital in Australia (Westmead) which fortunately was on the same road as our previous home. (Fortunate because I could walk there with my daughter in a stroller. I don't drive a car.) She received this help for 18 consecutive weeks. What did they do with her? Well they played games with her, rolled her over enormous beach balls, got her to play with puzzles and blocks etc. This was done by an occupational therapist. The speech therapist was negative to say the least. At the end of many weeks of occupational therapy she announced to me that she could not give my daughter any speech therapy. When I asked her why she said it was because my daughter did not have any speech. This was true but my daughter could hear and has working vocal cords and a brain.
The occupational therapist made a bit of a blunder. She gave my daughter a lot of wooden blocks to see what my child would create with them. My daughter put them in a straight row. Triumphantly the therapist announced "There you are, see she is autistic!" I replied "Yes she is autistic, but why did you say that?" "Because all your daughter did was put them in a straight row. She cannot do anything constructive and sensible with them." I told the lady that my daughter had made a train with the blocks. "How do
you know" She demanded to know. Because she told me I answered. My daughter only had a word here or there but I as her mother was practically the only person who could understand her occasional word. Even the dads have difficulty with this understanding because of the fact that they spend much less time with the child than the child's mother.
The autism association of New South Wales used to come to my home around this time once a week and do their best to stimulate her brain with puzzles and games. They also accompanied her and stayed with her at the local pre-school. She would not stay there by herself. She cried a lot and became sick if she had to go independently. She was very afraid that no one would come and get her. I only know what was bugging her at that stage because she has since told me.
I said many prayers seeking inspiration on ways to help my daughter learn to speak and a method of doing this came to me. I went to all the church and school fetes and brought up as many children's books as I could. Mainly second hand copies of the Little Golden books series. These were very cheap. Then I obtained large blank page art books. The pictures from the books were cut out and put one to a page. I broke down the structure of the English language to it very essence for my daughter. Then I went through the books with her on many occasions and described with great emphasis slowly each picture in terms like this.
"RABBIT COOKS DINNER"
"BEAR MOWS LAWN" etc.
Eventually my daughter started to speak. At first she came up with something that sounded like Chinese, then she progressed to saying “bundy rat” for “bunny rabbit” and then she progressed from there in stages, to speaking very good English.
The format of my speech was very slow and deliberate. The grammar was simply Noun verb noun. All the trimming were left out. It would have been futile to say something like; the rabbit is mowing the overgrown grass with his brand new lawnmower. Doing that to an autistic who is struggling with language problems will probably lose their attention and confuse them. It would even have been worse to say these words in a normal speed and level of voice.
The idea in this is not to teach English or English grammar but to give to a child with autism a chance to understand the very beginning of language in this case English. (I am not bilingual, but I can't see any reason why this method would not work with any language, although in the case of an autistic child, it is best to start with the mother tongue of the country, because there are already so many difficulties to begin with, that it would not be wise to complicate things.)
If the child with autism has this mode of learning to talk will they continue to speak like a newcomer to the USA or Australia or even worse than the beginner in the English class? The answer is no. Because they can pick up a fuller grasp of the language later on from their parents, and those around them and from
T.V. radio etc.
Believe me my daughter's speech is fairly complex now, but she needed this very basic stuff for a long period of time to get her brain started on the ideas of speech. Autism muddles the communication section of the brain and if you overload it with normal flowing language the poor kid sometimes can't
cope and then won't make any progress in language/speech/understanding.
The method which I have outlined of teaching an autistic child to speak looks too simple to work, but it did. You can’t argue with success. Remember the man who was asked to bathe seven times in the Jordan in order to be healed of his leprosy; who protested against that, because there were better quality rivers in his own country (4 Kings 5:10). He had a hard time believing in a simple solution. When he carried out the instructions he was healed.
Was learning to read an unintentional by-product of the learning to speak method?
To the best of my memory, I think that I wrote the short ‘sentences” in a relatively large print with a texture colour. Two things now occur to me regarding this. It was in a sense illogical because I was the person who needed to read the text, not my daughter, who I was only trying to teach to speak. However I was probably inadvertently laying the foundations for my daughter to learn to read! (It is now widely recognized that even babies can be taught to read, if they are shown words in a large enough text on a card, while the mother says the word in a loud clear voice for the baby, and that as the baby’s brain pathways develop, the text can be made smaller, and that a child can become a good reader before he or she have learnt any phonics at all, which by the way are important, but which can be taught later on.) My daughter is a good reader and she often activates text onto a TV program or a DVD. She even sometimes chooses a foreign language such as French for the DVD, so that she can learn some of the language. My daughter has made spectacular progress in many areas and has confounded the critics: (the best medical experts in Australia on the subject of autism at the time when she was four years of age.) This is in no way to belittle them. My daughter’s progress and the techniques which I came up with were due to prayer; both my own and the prayers of others.
Two interesting cases
My mother told me about a case that she knew of here in Australia, of a teenage autistic boy who had never said one word in his life. His mother was always trying to get a few words out of him. One day she came to him and said with great excitement. “Let’s go down the street and see the fire and the fire engine.” Her son replied that he was too tired to go! The mother was astounded, and asked him why he had never spoken before, and he replied that he had never known how too! I also read about an autistic girl who started to speak at the age of 18. She also started to display a wonderful gift for painting at that time. It seems that her Catholic parents had prayed a lot for her.
Mary Ann Matulis
(There is a link to Part Two of the book near the bottom the screen on the web page for Part one.)