Ben is talking. A lot. It’s still not conversational. He’s not stringing sentences of his own together to form complete, coherent, unique thoughts. But he is stringing sentences of dialogue and storytelling together. He’s reciting long passages to himself and he recites them to communicate with others.
His language has gone far beyond the simple parroting that is echolalia. Though, sometimes he repeats your words back to you in order to communicate. This means sometimes what he says is a bit off. If I say, “I love you, Ben.” He’ll look me in the eye—briefly!—and say, “I love you, Ben.” If I then try to make the distinction, “Ben says, ‘I love you, Mama.’” He’ll say, “I love you, Mama,” instead of repeating the whole phrase. But Mark cuts out the confusion and leaves off the name: “I love you.” “I love you.”
Other times what he says has meaning within the repetition. We have a nighttime routine that consists of several shared phrases. One is “Squishes and kisses or all done?” If he wants lots of squishes and kisses, he’ll say, “Squishes and kisses” every time I ask. If he’s already reached his limit, he’ll say “All done” and then fake bonk himself on the head like he’s being knocked unconscious. When he’s just about squished up, but not quite, he’ll say, “Squishes and kisses or all done.” What he doesn’t say is, “Squishes and kisses and then all done.” But the meaning is clear, because he makes a choice about what he says. Whenever I try to shape the “or” into an “and” he fakes bonking himself on the head like he’s being knocked unconscious and pushes me away if I try to engage him, whether our routine is finished or not. Ben wants nothing to do with this and/or distinction. Unless, of course, someone is singing “Conjunction Junction.”
As hard as it is for me to let go the important distinction between “and” and “or”—for now, only for now—it’s more important to recognize the limits of shaping and the moment of choice. Ben has chosen not to make the distinction. I don’t know why, but it’s a choice. He’s quite capable of following our lead, but on this one thing he chooses not to—and bedtime isn’t the only time the distinction has been introduced and rejected. So, I try to leave it be and let the words have the meaning he intends without policing his grammar. Someday he’ll have to learn that “or” doesn’t mean both, but for now he can communicate with us without that distinction. And the important thing—the most important thing of all—is that he’s using the skills he has to communicate to the best of his abilities and gaining new skills and new words every day.