People always ask me “how bad” is Jake’s autism. As I’ve discussed before, it’s probably the hardest question I get asked because I really don’t know the answer.
Part of the challenge in answering that question comes from the inevitable follow-up: “Is he verbal?”
He uses his words sometimes, and he makes up others, but mostly he navigates with echolalia and/or gibberish, which I still believe he uses as filler in conversation.
He has trouble with pronouns, and certain diphthongs like “th” and still refers to himself in the third person more often than not. He gets his point across, but it’s not always intelligible or conversationally appropriate.
At one of our very first Speech appointments, Jim (our favorite SLP) had Jake make the “guh” sound in Go while sitting in an office chair. If Jake complied, Jim would spin the chair, much to Jake’s delight. I think it was his first introduction to words having power.
Jake also struggles with motivation. More to the point, educators struggle with Jake’s lack of motivation. I think that spells it out a bit more clearly. It’s getting a little easier now that he’s developed as much as he has. He was never the “potty train and I’ll give you a sticker” kid. If he didn’t get the reward, who cared? He wasn’t going to jump through our hoops for something as petty as an M&M or a sticker.
Jake, as part of his being the firstborn, and part autism, loves to have control over what music we listen to in the car. I’ve downloaded a bunch of his favorites from iTunes and we play them from the iPhone through the car’s stereo. He HAS to be the one to control the music. He’ll take requests, but it’s been literally months since we’ve driven anywhere and NOT listened to Bohemian Rhapsody.
Siri will happily play any song you want, if only you ask her to. “Play ___” and you’ll get your wish. We’ve been trying to get Jake to try using her voice-activated DJ services for a long time, but he’s never even tried. I think he knew it would be disastrous.
For some reason, and I still don’t know what it is, he gave it a shot the other day. He really likes Pitbull’s song, “Don’t Stop The Party.” To make things worse, Siri won’t recognize the phrase “don’t stop the party” on a good day. She just doesn’t. You have to ask for Pitbull. I was alone in the van with Jake when he pushed the button (no warning or preamble) and said, “play don’t stop the party.” It wasn’t even close, and I’m his Dad. I gently praised him for trying (too much applause and he shuts down), and suggested he try “Pitbull.” His Pitbull sounds more like “Baseball.” Siri was unhelpful. I racked my brain for words I thought he could say well, and came up with California Love by Tupac. He tried it, and she understood! You should have seen the twinkle in his eye.
After a few more successful songs, including Humpty Dance by Digital Underground, “Queen” in general, and Happy by Pharell Williams, he was beside himself. “I can play any music I want!” he shouted with his best maniacal laugh.
Of course, I was driving, and he did have my iPhone, so I couldn’t video the exchange. I had to try to recreate it later. During my filming opportunity, Annie wanted to be let out, and Beth was dealing with a cranky Kole (my great-nephew) in the other room, so the video isn’t of the best quality.
Here’s the bottom line. Siri thinks his Beach Boys is Beast Boy, his Pitbull is Baseball, and he doesn’t really care to listen to the music right now, he just wants to have her repeat his request back to him. As an added bonus, he thinks it’s pretty hilarious when she guesses wrong; so we have low frustration factor.
Now we’ve got the perfect formula: motivation to try, low frustration at failure, an impartial judge who will work with him without ever getting frustrated, a situation where he can be self-guided (read: without an audience), and Tupac Shakur. What’s not to love?