When the assessors told me that Joey’s comprehension of speech is at a twelve-month level, I wasn’t sold. The speech therapist at the Regional center explained that it seems as though he can understand more of what’s happening at home because he knows our routines. But it seemed perfectly possible that he just hadn’t chosen to communicate his understanding at the assessment. So Thursday and Friday, I tried talking to Joey without signs, gestures, or props: and he can’t understand what I’m saying. If I sign as I say “Are you hungry?” then he will say “Okay!” or run to the kitchen or both. If I just ask, “Are you hungry?” he doesn’t know what’s going on. I spent two days saying everything without visual hints, waiting, and then repeating myself and adding signs and so forth.
They were right. I was wrong.
I can’t wait until our Signing Time dvds get here; even if Joey doesn’t choose to sign, if Kit and I can start signing to him, that clearly helps him to know what we’re talking about. I’ve been looking into ways to learn more ASL (in some ways, it makes more sense for me to try to learn EES, or Exact English Signing, but ASL is a cooler and more widely used language, so I’d rather use that) in a structured way. I can keep adding single signs via the internet, but I’m not going to get a real grasp of grammar or syntax that way. And I know that it would be best if I could learn directly from a D/deaf person. Right now, I’m thinking about asking my parents for an ASL class for my birthday—but that’s, what, like six months away. But in the meantime, I’m going to look for more dvds and ask for book recommendations. The only other person I’ve really talked to who has a young autistic son has decided not to sign with him—and he doesn’t talk. I’m in favor of sign based on a recommendation from the first speech therapist and what I know about sign and D/deaf kids (which turned out to be much more controversial than I would have guessed). I want Joey to learn a language, and any language will make it easier for him to learn other languages. He has been losing words for more than six months now, and his useful vocabulary is down to something like twenty words now (he can also name things that he is seeing in Blue’s Clues). If he can sign, then by all means, let’s sign.
I’m writing this on Easter, although it won’t post until tomorrow, and it’s so springlike here: totally over the top. Downtown, where I’m drinking iced tea, there are petals raining down from flowering trees. Even though it’s Easter, I’m keeping up my guilty Sunday pleasure, taking a few hours away to sit by myself and write. Joey has his evaluation on Wednesday, late in the morning. There’s so little that I can do to affect what will happen there that I am overpreparing in dumb ways, packing a diaper bag with things he really likes (fruit smoothie pouches, Harold and the Purple Crayon) and picking out a comfortable and nice-looking outfit. The only other time he’s been evaluated for anything was the speech evaluation, which involved a lot of shrieking and crying and Joey throwing himself to the floor. I’m told that this will work differently; I hope so. Kit will be staying with my dad, so at least it will just be Joey and me. I had a phone intake interview with the evaluation coordinator at the Regional Center (the institution that will be evaluating Joey), and it was very detailed in some ways (“How does Joey eat? Is he weaned? What does he drink out of?”)—I only really got upset when she asked me whether he has any repetitive behaviors, and she accepted my rambling “I don’t want to say hand flapping, because I know that’s a thing, but he certainly . . . waves his hands . . . when he’s upset or excited” quietly. When the interview was over, she gave me the “You will be receiving services, surely” version of her introductory talk.
I told a friend about what’s happening: that we’re having Joey evaluated for the possibility of autism this week. She came for a playdate on Friday, bringing her two adorable little girls (one of whom is about to be three and the other of whom is five days older than Kit). She asked hesitantly whether this was because of vaccines, which I tried to quickly debunk (later, I posted an article on Facebook about the total lack of connection between autism and vaccines, and she “liked” it). She seemed surprised that anything might be wrong with Joey: sure, he doesn’t talk, but he seems like basically a happy kid—just an antisocial one who likes to run in circles and flip light switches. And he is super great; if you’ve never met him, you’ll just have to take my word for it, but he’s really a wonderful kid. I’m still adding signs every day to use with him, and so today I’ve been able to use Easter, bunny, egg, hide, and find. He’s still not completely interested, but I’m hoping that when we’re able to hook him up with some Signing Time, he’ll start using it with me. He does seem to appreciate some of the signs that I’ve been using for longer (open, gentle, alone, outside, cracker, cookie), and is more likely to act as though he has “heard” them than he is with my words alone.