This weeks task for Eli has been the phrase, “Hi, I’m Eli”. I’ve noticed time and time again that with his lacking social skills, he is not very good at approaching others. Most kids his age don’t really care who a kid is or if he’s “weird”, they see a kid and want to play with them. A child will go up to Eli and say “Hi” and Eli just stands there awkwardly and says nothing; they’ll ask his name or some other question, and again, he stands there saying nothing. Eventually the kid will either walk away or they will just initiate a game with Eli and he will follow suite and play with them. I really want Eli to progress in the social skills department before we hit kindergarten.
He has come a long way in such a short time and it is amazing. When my husband or I walk into the room he is in, we are greeted with “Hi mommy” or “Hi daddy”. He greets his therapists when they come to the door. He very seldom says goodbye to anyone. He is very good at communicating with those of us who spend a lot of time with him; when it comes to new people he gets very nervous, shy, and quiet. I want him to feel confident enough to speak to a new person, especially when they initiate first. Thus began us learning “Hi, I’m Eli.” All of which are words that he can say individually. One of Eli’s weakest areas in his speech is vocal planning. He knows what he wants to say in his head, but when he speaks it comes out jumbled or babbled. He has to plan the words out carefully in his head before he can speak them (until he gets enough practice, then it becomes more natural). When asked to say the phrase word by word he nails it, when asked to say it all together is where he loses it.
I explained to him that when you meet someone new you say “Hi, I’m Eli” he laughs and tries it, but fumbles. There’s too many I’s in there and it comes out sounding quite silly. Despite sounding silly, he tries it again and again. But really, this is how he learns to speak now. I will quiz him all day long, mostly casually when we’re playing games or watching tv so he doesn’t realize we’re learning. What I’m noticing now is that he WANTS to talk. He wants to learn new words and phrases. He loves being able to communicate with everyone he knows. Meeting new people is hard, even for adults, let alone starting a conversation with them. I know that it will come with time, but for now I could hear him tell me “Hi, I’m Eli” all day long.
I’ve had several people ask me how I started to realize that Eli was a little bit different. Being that he was my first child I didn’t have a lot of knowledge of how and when children were supposed to reach certain milestones. All children are different and some warning signs don’t present themselves in all children. I’m going to start with what I saw in my own child.
Just before Eli turned one he was saying “mama” “dada” and “up”. Once we hit his first birthday he stopped talking all together and went back to baby babble only. We found it a bit odd and started to watch him a bit closer. He never really imitated us (speaking or even motions, like patty cake). I had trouble (and still do) getting him to sit down to read a book with me and he had trouble looking at those who were speaking to him; almost as if he didn’t even hear them.
When he neared 18 months we sought out speech therapy for him. It was then we realized that there were many signs that we didn’t even notice yet. Eli would line up all of his toys; they had to be in a certain order and could not be moved. He preferred playing by himself as well. When I would sit down to play race cars with him, he would get up and walk away. When Eli would get hurt or upset he would run away crying but never turned to me for comfort. He would run away to be alone and didn’t want to be bothered until he calmed himself down. Then there were the tantrums. They never really lasted long but they did happen quite frequently throughout the day. He wasn’t diagnosed with autism until we moved out to California but we did qualify for services in Michigan and made a set of goals to work on with Eli.
As Eli got older, some of these traits disappeared, some stayed, and some new ones came in. As he aged we realized Eli has a lot of trouble registering social cues and verbal tone. We could be angry and be reprimanding him and the acts as though we are playing pretend and its funny. When a child doesn’t like what Eli is doing and asks him to stop, Eli, again, thinks they are playing and continues the behavior until the child either gets angry or leaves. He doesn’t notice emotions, except his own. I would be watching a movie and start crying and Eli wouldn’t even notice. As I just said, he didn’t register when we were angry or annoyed either.
I’m sure there may be other signs that aren’t popping into my head as I type this but for now it is a good start. As I said in the beginning all children are different, the warning signs I saw in my child may not appear in other kids and vice versa. Below I’m going to attach some links that give better insight to autism warning signs than I may be able to give.