There is no more remarkable organ that the brain. It houses everything of importance in one's life: memories, experiences, learnings, reflections, new ideas, and more. It reveals, as it so often does when we call on it to help us, or does not reveal, what one knows. With autism, it often does not reveal. I have long suspected that our silent children with autism know more than they show, and I have wondered how frustrating it must be to be shut off from a world which relies so heavily on communicating one's thoughts and needs for survival.
I know certain "autisms" to be true. When our son experiences something and cannot verbalize or discuss or reflect about the event, he sometimes finds a way to let us know, often months or years later, what he learned.
On Saturday, en route to the beach, the trip was interminably long due to traffic jams and construction, so I grabbed the Magna Doodle and played a game with Greg. Somewhat verbal, although not reciprocal conversation verbal, with spelling and basic math skills under his belt, Greg has a vocabulary that is sufficient to play a word guessing game even though he cannot make full sentences without borrowing lines from video tapes he has seen over the years (much like the young man recently seen on television who used Disney videos for his communication needs).
I wrote spaces indicating the number of letters in the word, filled in one, or two, or even three letters and showed the Doodle to Greg. I could feel him studying. Sometimes, as in _w_. ___. _t_. ___. ___, I intended the simple noun, "water" and Greg shocked me with a verb like "watch." Jay and I laughed together as Greg engaged fully in the activity which would help him pass time doing something that enabled him to show us what he knew. Believe me, I have witnessed in my 34 years of teaching that all children want to show how smart they are, even 29 year olds who have grown up in a world different than a normal one.
After playing awhile, I tried a few more difficult concepts. Curious to see if Greg knew some more advanced vocabulary that is a bit abstract, I wrote __c__. ____. ____. __y__.
Jay and I just looked at each other, each incredulous, as Greg answered, "city." I can't remember that Greg ever learned about that, but I recall that we often pointed out Philadelphia when traveling over the Ben Franklin Bridge. Had we said "city"? We couldn't recall. Certainly in school, Greg's elementary teachers had taught this in a basic geography class, but that had been years earlier. Could he remember that from twenty years prior? We'd read lots of books to Greg over the years, but did a book teach him the word, "city"?
We continued the word game. I taxed my mind, thinking of some of the projects Greg and I had done together as homework at Linglestown Elementary, and came up with our pine tree project. We'd walked through our development taking pictures of every pine tree, then identified what type of pine each was and labeled them on a poster. I can't remember ever mentioning the next shocker, __f__. _____. __r__. _____. _____. __t__. I was certain Greg would never get this one. Yes, he's seen Bambi and Land Before Time. Still, we always used the word, "woods", when hiking the mountain. Greg looked at us, certain in his choice and shouted, "Forest!" Shaking our heads in surprise, we laughed together at his knowledge!!
To engage Greg in a word game that normal children enjoy, to have him show pride in his guesses, to see what vocabulary he has stored in his brain over the years that we might never know otherwise, to get a glimpse into how his mind works as he guessed words that sometimes fit, other times did not, and to experience this shared learning with Greg....life doesn't get any better. Ordinary family moments that turn special are the treasures of this existence.
Never underestimate what your child has stored away, even your nonverbal child. They see, they copy, they hear. They learn. Otherwise they could not handle the difficulties presented to them daily in this non autistic world. All the more reason to get rid of the label, MR, when classifying our children with autism and find a different way to categorize them.