Wednesday 25 November 2015

Generalising dog - autism and language

My mum let our dog, Smithy, out into the garden yesterday. Anthony was the garden too. When it got dark, mum shouted for everyone to come in. Smithy was the last to come back into the house so mum yelled, "Come on dog," into the garden. This was immediately corrected by Anthony, "It's Smithy, not Dog." It reminded me of the difficulties Anthony faced with generalising his language. 

Difficulties with communication, speech and language is a basic symptom of autism. Anthony was diagnosed with autism around three years old, just like his younger brother David. For both our sons, it was the speech delay that first alerted us to their condition.

One of the things that was noticeable with Anthony was when he would use the wrong words for things or not use words that we knew he could say.  Sometimes this was due to difficulties with generalising his vocabulary. Over-generalising can be described as using a word too generally. For example using the same word 'tomato' when talking about a strawberry, a tomato, a pair of socks or maybe even a car because they are all red. Under-generalising is the opposite. This could mean learning that the term 'cup' only refers to one particular cup - perhaps the blue sippy cup a child has at home. If the child was unable to recognise that the other receptacle's with handles used for drinking are also cups too then they are being too specific with the term. The word 'cup' is not being used generally enough. 

Anthony had both of these issues, but the garden incident reminded me mostly of his over-generalising. Initially, all dogs were 'Smithys'. We seemed to manage to explain that Smithy was our dog's name but this seemed to make it worse. The term 'dog' suddenly referred to everything hairy with four legs. This included nearly all the animals at the pet store including rabbits, gerbils and hamsters; the cows and sheep we passed driving to my parents house in Scotland and the horses ridden by the police. Put a furry blanket on top of a table and it might also become a dog. There was something very strange about being told that a dog had chased a dog up a tree and a man on a dog was watching them?

Thankfully, we've come to understand these issues and try to head them off before they occur. Early on using Makaton signs helped us label different items effectively. We can point out the difference between items such as a car and a bus so they are registered as different terms. This is best explained immediately when a new word is introduced.  However, we aren't always there when this happens. Anthony learnt the word 'pathetic' from someone the other day. Without really understanding the meaning of the word, it has been immediately over-generalised so everyone is 'pathetic'. He might have some interesting conversations at school today! 

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  1. really interesting. Must watch out for Oscar doing either of these. Thank you. #spectrumsunday

  2. This is a really interesting post lovely, and something I wasn't really aware of. It will definitely be useful for when we do eventually get some more speech from Hayden. Thanks for linking up! Hope to see you again :) xx

  3. Can also look for difficulties with generalising skills. That's being able to do a task in one setting and not being able to generalise or transfer it to another setting.

    1. For example, being able to put your coat on at home but then being completed baffled by doing the idea of how to put your coat on when at nursery. Same task, different environment.


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