Autistic Songs

Alan Griswold


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How Traditional Speech Therapy Can Help the Autistic Child

When my autistic son was not quite four years old he began weekly speech therapy, an hour each Wednesday afternoon. Often I would pick him up from these appointments, and thus I would get to hear the report of how well—or how poorly—the session had gone. Maybe it was my imagination, but I swear those reports sounded exactly the same from week to week. The therapist would always begin her summary by opening the same three-ring binder, the stock tool of her trade, the one stuffed with page after faded page of cartoon-rendered social scenes. And from what I could gather, Brian was being made to sit at a table the entire time and was being made to listen as the therapist would narrate each illustration in increasing detail and then was being scored on how well he would answer questions about what he had seen and heard—multiple points for answers with words, fewer points for answers by gesture, and of course zero points for silence or an inappropriate response. “I couldn’t seem to get his attention today,” the therapist would finally say. “He kept getting distracted by the fan.”

It was summertime when Brian took those sessions, and the therapist's office was part of a sprawling complex that like everything else needed to be cooled. So upon walking out the door an inevitable question would always arise at my side: “Go see air conditioners?”

“Sure, Brian, we can go see air conditioners.”

And off he would careen, steering an uneasy path to that first buzzing box, and he would approach all these metallic idols with the same intense, corner-of-the-eye stare, hands clasped tightly, shoulders scrunching back and forth. “Lift you up?” he would ask pronoun-reversally in front of each one, and I would lift him up to verify the status of the spinning or not-yet-spinning blades. “It is on, it is off,” he would pronounce with such simple solemnity. And this he would follow with a ritual counting of all the air conditioners in each row, and next a litany of all their colors, and finally a desperate, yet eloquent pleading to let him go see at least one more—in all, a full half-hour deluge from a chattering autistic storm.

That is how traditional speech therapy can help the autistic child.

Copyright © 2011 by Alan Griswold
All rights reserved.