My son was severely autistic by age 3. Completely non-verbal, except for the near-constant shreiking and chanting sounds. No communication what-so-ever. We moved to California, so he could be in a special program for kids like him when he was 3 years old, and he attended the program for 30 hours a week. At age 5, after 2 years in the program, he had made little progress (we thought!) Then suddenly one day, he spoke. He pointed and said “GO!” Over and over he repeated himself, until the light turned green, and the car started moving.
Three months later, he was putting words together to make small sentences, like “pick a berry” and “find it.” By the end of the year, he was able to write his name on the chalkboard. But here is the interesting part: Even though he never spoke a word and never gave any indication of understanding speech at all, until he was 5, by the time he was 8, he was able to talk about things that he remembered from when he was 2 and 3 years old. Like our old house in Idaho, with the purple kitchen, where we lived until he turned 3. One time when he was 8, he talked about a “sandwich fish” at the “snake store” in the mountains….o.k…?… huh?
Trying to make me understand, he kept saying “people get a snake. I see sandwich fish, like this:” (he put his palms together like a sandwich) “head stick out, feet stick out, swim around…sandwich fish!” I pulled out an encyclopedia, and showed him a picture of a turtle, and he shouted out “yes!” Then I knew what he had been describing was the turtle he had touched once, when we went to a reptilian pet store with my brother, when Ben was almost 3 years old.
That’s just one example from many, showing me that even during those very difficult and sometimes seemingly hopeless first 5 years, Ben was aware of his surroundings, and he was remembering. He was aware, even when all signs told us otherwise.
One of the very most helpful activities in his early program, was called “What were they thinking?” It’s quite simple, really. Every day, the autistic kids would gather round in a circle, while the teacher and her aids would either hold up pictures or drawings of a person doing something, and they would ask “what is he thinking?” Most of the class was non-verbal, so the aids would respond for them, with guesses, starting with completelt off-base guesses, then helping each other to refine their guesses, until they got it. (For example, there might be a drawing of a child on a sidewalk, looking at a ball, in the street.)
Anyway, good luck to all of you out there. My son is 20 now, and he is doing exceptionally well. I know that’s not typical, and not every child will have such profound recovery, but for sure they won’t, if they never get the chance. Trying never hurt, and it’s all you can do. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are wasting your time, when you are only trying to save your child from autism. Don’t ever stop. -Kristine