Early this morning, about 5:30, Janey woke me up by putting a Tupperware container of cheese on top of me. This means she wants some cheese cut up. We keep a knife right in the container for convenience. In my sleepy state, I asked "Where's Daddy?", hoping he could do the job.
We ask Janey questions like that all the time, questions we don't really expect an answer to. I've tried at times not to, to not to push her to talk when she doesn't want to. But the questions sneak back, because that's a natural way of having a conversation, and in general, I like to talk to Janey like I would to most people. It's easier, and it assumes competence, which is important to me. But that doesn't mean she answers me...usually.
After a pause, I was very very surprised. Janey said back to me "Daddy just went asleep".
It's hard to really explain how surprising that answer was, but there were many, many unusual things about it. One is that it was original. It wasn't echoing something she'd heard. Almost all her speech that is more than a single word is an echo. Sometimes it's echolalia that works just right in the situation she's in, but most of the time, it's not. She'll say lines from a movie, or something that one of us said that caught her fancy. She'll sing, or obsessively repeat our refusals "I'm not taking you for a car ride right now! We don't have any salami! It's time for bed!", things like that.
Janey will also often give yes or no answers (but sometimes mixing up yes and no). It usually takes a couple tries. We'll say "Do you want some crackers?" and wait for an answer, and then we'll rephrase it "Do you want some crackers, yes or no?" or perhaps "The food I want is...." giving her a fill in the blank. And eventually, she'll say yes or not, or repeat "The food I want is crackers"
Almost all Janey's speech that isn't scripting or echolalia is used to express wants. That's great. We love knowing what she wants, and we will praise her heavily for saying something like "Want to go for a car ride?" or "Want to watch SpongeBob?", telling her we really appreciate her telling us what she wants.
So---what we almost never heard is speech that is original, speech that doesn't express a want, speech that answers a question, or speech that is a sentence.
When Janey does say something like she did this morning, there is a tone she uses we don't hear any other time. It's slower, with less expression. It doesn't flow out like her frequent scripted speech. It's very deliberate. And that is how she said "Daddy just went asleep"
Tony had not actually just gone to sleep. He was in the bathroom. But often, when Janey wakes up in the middle of the night and wants something, Tony will very justifiably say "I just went to sleep!" And so, Janey heard my question and understood why I was asking it. She understood the subtext---why are you waking me up to give you cheese? Why aren't you asking Daddy? (Tony usually is awake long before I am. He's the world's ultimate morning person)
Progress with Janey can be very, very slow. It can be so slow it appears not to be happening. We can try to teach her something and see almost no progress for years and years and years. But she's learning, at the pace she can and wants to. Today's sentence was a wonderful reminder of that. For whatever reason, speech of some types is incredibly hard for Janey. I think the part of her brain that would form answers beyond yes or no, that would form original sentences, just doesn't quite work like other people's brains. I think that accounts for the very different tone she uses for the rare times we get those sentences. They require use of some other system in her mind. It's like if we wanted to solve a math problem using only verbal skills, or wanted to walk without the automatic motor skills.
I don't believe in breakthroughs with Janey. Having her say a sentence like she did today doesn't mean it's going to start happening all the time. That's not the point. In some ways, it's a reminder of why it's so hard for her to talk in that way. Even in this case, the sentence wasn't quite accurate, and it wasn't quite grammatical. But it happened, and we need to always remember that Janey had abilities and capacities that doesn't show themselves on a regular basis.
Every day, I am so proud of Janey.