Quest for Language 4

I have already written about  a few easily definable moments in Robert’s life when he made so called “breakthroughs”.  He generalized imitation of gross motor movements; he said first word “pop” or first part of a word “o” ; he understood computer voice giving him simple directions; he understood human voice as asking him to point to one of two objects.  Yet in times between any two of the  steps forward some changes were brewing.  Except, it is much harder to document, pin point, or describe  what it was and when exactly did it happen.   One might think that getting  data from Robert’s school that documented every single response would provide some clues.  Unfortunately, it is not so.  Data from discrete trails documented only what was happening during discrete trails. Not outside of it. And that is one of many reasons why the collected data provides little information on formation of language.

But  memory is also unreliable. It coils itself around a few events that left  visible marks but somehow ignores everyday boring developments. There is no time card to pin point when a new concept entered the mind. At best  we can say that something happened before or after something else and thus we can detect the sequence.

I don’t claim that Robert learned/knew/possessed the skills listed below at the times I assigned to them.  The approximate times I wrote in parenthesis tell  when  I REALIZED that Robert had those abilities.  But then, those abilities do count only if another person can confirm their existence.

1. Robert could hear. (1year)

2.He could crave beautiful sounds. (18 months)

3.He learned that one sign from American Sign Language ” more”  gave him what he wanted  (mostly bubbles)  (around his third birthday)

3a Robert learned to imitate other people’s gestures (3 and 9months)

4.Robert was able to interpret many environmental sounds:  That his father  walking  upstairs; that mother’s car passed by without stopping;  (2 years old, 3 and 4)

5.He learned that producing a specific sound can result in a sweet and sour taste of a lollipop, or make the door open, or bring the box of juice from the top shelf straight into his hands. (between 3 and 4)

6.Robert learned that if I said something with a specific tone of voice he supposed to do something. (Around 3 )   He didn’t know what exactly he should do, but he knew it was something.  Luckily for him there were only three or four tasks I asked him to perform at that time: close  the front door or refrigerator door,  put the bottle of grape juice back in the refrigerator,and pick up something from the floor.

I do remember being with Robert in the kitchen and asking him to close the refrigerator’s door after I took something out of it.  I remember Robert backing off into a hallway to check the main door. It was closed.  I remember him looking at the floor and picking  a small breadcrumb.  I remember him scanning the table to check for large bottle of juice. Finally, I remember him closing the refrigerator door.  I remember that because, at that time this chain of actions proved to me that Robert didn’t have “receptive” language.  He scanned the environment for cues that would allow him to decipher the sounds I produced. He already decoded my voice as a request upon which he should act, but for the specifics of the request he referred to his surroundings. He understood my voice as a request, but he didn’t decipher the meaning of that request.

At the time this happened I interpreted this development as a negative one.  It showed Robert didn’t understand me. Now, I realized how positive  it was.  Robert understood sounds coming from me as a request upon which he should act.  He just didn’t understand the details.  That was a step toward formation of language.  Moreover, he was able to differentiate the tone of voice with which I expressed demand from all other tones I used for different situations.

Have I realized then that this was the step in right direction  I might  utilize this skill better and build on it.

7. Robert followed commands given by computer voice (around his 4th birthday).

8. Robert discriminated aurally between two labels (4 years 6 months)

Now, at twenty, Robert still struggles with language.

He could do so much better if…

He could do so much worse if…

The unpleasant thing is, I don’t know what those “ifs” are.

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