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Free ebooks ==> William 85 would be very difficult for William’s teachers to cope with and how he would be made fun of by his classmates. William’s speech lacks many of the linguistic devices we use to build a conversation. He often will not answer my requests for clarification. He will not repair the conversation when it apparently breaks down. I’m sure he’s not even aware that it has broken down. He has little awareness that I need help in following the sense of the conversation. He makes ambiguous references that could refer to several different things or different people but without clarifying the context: What color is he talking about? What shapes? Who was three years old? The topic of the conversation is also not what one might expect. Much of the conversation of typical children involves reference to the social world: Whom did you see yesterday? What was he doing there? In typical conversation, the references are to other people who share the linguistic space of the speaker and the listener. Instead, William refers to the physical world (shapes and colors) with only passing reference to people. He perseverates on trains and returns again and again to the colors, the shapes, and the time of the trains’ arrival and their direction, as if I require this information rather than the context of the story. I do not need all these details; I need an overall message. As it so often does when trying to engage in conversation with a child or an adult with ASD, the sense of it all eludes me. I am immersed in detail, swimming in a whirl of sensations. These familiar words begin to sound strangely unfamiliar. Soon the meaning of individual words starts to slip away. Without an easily identifiable reference, I listen more and more to the sounds and the rhythm of the speech. The constant repetition serves to make the familiar extraordinary. As I struggle to understand, I can’t help wondering if this is the way William feels when listening to other people talk. Does he feel shut out of the conversation, unable to locate meaning in the social use of language? I doubt it, as he shows no distress at my incomprehension and little awareness of my difficulties. No doubt he lacks the insight that Sharon had in her conversations with other people. But William must need to communicate and must enjoy it at some level. Otherwise, why does he tell me all about the subway stations? Most often when children with autism speak it is to ask for something they want, like food, a favorite video, or access to their current interest or preoccupation. Sometimes they will talk about their interests at length, presumably to share that interest with another person. That spark of wanting to share becomes the key to intervention (discussed later in this chapter), but to

86 A MIND APART generalize that beyond the child’s interests and preoccupations is very difficult. This situation suggests that some children with ASD want to talk but will not do so in most circumstances (see the story of Gavin in Chapter 1); others cannot talk even with the right motivation and need to rely on augmentative forms of communication such as picture boards and voice boxes. It also strikes me that William does not use metaphor in his conversation. Things are not like something else; they are the thing itself. Metaphors are a ubiquitous part of conversation and are an important way of conveying meaning. Many of the concepts and expressions we use have a metaphorical connotation: “Time’s a wasting!” “I feel down today.” “As I look into the future, I see a bright tomorrow.” And so on. The wonder of language is its limitless capacity to convey new meanings. Paradoxically, this is accomplished with a finite number of words and a finite way of combining them using the rules of grammar. To create and understand metaphor is an important linguistic skill that appears to be hard-wired in the brain. Children begin to appreciate metaphors as young as three years of age and can understand the difference between literal and metaphoric meaning as young as five. From an early age, then, metaphors bring coherence to the myriad sensations experienced by us all. It’s true that people with autism and AS may use phrases that sound like metaphors. For example, Justin (Chapter 3) would often use clichés, which are really “dead” metaphors: “That sound does not turn my crank anymore,” he would say. In this context, he was using “my crank” as a metaphor for a mood state. But it is not a metaphor as I mean it here, because Justin did not come up with it himself to create a new meaning; he only adopted it from common parlance to reiterate an old message. It is no more truly metaphorical than using the literal words to express the same thing. Another type of false metaphor consists of made-up neologisms or words with private and idiosyncratic meanings. These may be interpreted as metaphors by the listener but do not function in this manner for the person with autism or AS. For example, some children with ASD refer to family friends by the cars they drive or by their street address. “Hello, Chevy van,” one boy said to a family friend who had just arrived for a visit in his car, a Chevy van. “When is 42 coming for dinner?” another boy with autism asked. In this context, “42” happens to be the street number at which that person lives. In a neologism, some aspect or detail associated with the person becomes that person. The person is effaced by a detail. That detail does not symbolize the person as in a metaphor; it is as if that person is the

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