Talking is not the be all and end all in autism
"Does he talk, does he say anything at all?"
A mum at a special needs playgroup once said to me, "I'm just desperate to hear her voice and hear her say mummy. Can you imagine not hearing that from one of your kids?"
Of course, I can.
However, I believe this mum made a basic error in her comment. True, her daughter doesn't talk, it doesn't necessarily follow that she doesn't have a voice.
Our son David has autism and no, he doesn't say any actual words. He uses makaton sign language most of the time. He sometimes uses PECS which is a series of picture cards to form sentences and he often vocalises with both of these. Without sign or PECS it would be extremely difficult for anyone to understand what he was saying. But trust me, my son has a voice.
He tells me when he wants something and tells me when he doesn't. He tells me when he's having fun and when he's distressed. And he's more likely to sign and give an effort to say daddy than mummy. After all, why request me? I'm always here.
About a year ago David's signing vocabulary started to expand far beyond the 20 or so words he knew that mostly related to asking for his favourite food items. He started signing 'swing' in the garden and 'house' when it was time for home.
One afternoon I was retrieving him from the car after returning home from his nursery. He held me tight as I went to release him from the car seat. I took the opportunity for a hug and said 'hug' as I squeezed him awkwardly. I went to get him out for a second time and he grabbed me again. This time I stood back and said and signed 'hug'. Then I asked him what he wanted. For the first time, David signed hug. I was close to tears. I praised him and he giggled, juggling around as I nearly crushed him. We continued signing and hugging for at least two minutes if not more. Soon, my daughter who was sat on the other side of the seat started asking for a cuddle too so we went into the house.
David may not say many words but we are working with him to help him say more. We have a great speech and language therapist that works with him and us. He will 'fit in' more if he talks, but even when he is older he could be like the other 25% of people with autism who are non verbal. Talking is not the be all and end all. He expressed his opinions and sometime understands situations. That's not even considering the progress he's made with his receptive language (the language he hears) such as following instructions.
I think David has a fine voice. Did you know A baby has to hear hundreds of repetitions of words to pick up them up. Everywhere they go, babies are listening and adding to their words lists. Imagine though that the baby didn't hear any of those words because they weren't engaged with them. David's had to pick up sign via a much shorter number of repetitions, just like hug above, because it's not happening everywhere.
No one signs at the shops, in the playground nor most other places we go. We don't even all sign to each other in the house, but that hasn't stopped him. And overall his I was far more delighted with his desire to sign and have a hug that I am about his perhaps odd attempt to say mummy. Showing affection seems a fantastic way for him to use his voice if you ask me.