Hearing and Writing the Words at Last: Jim's Story

Jeanette J.A. Holden, PhD, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, CANADA

March 2006

This is a brief update on my brother, Jim – please see Jim’s Story in the Adult Manual or at our website (www.autismresearch.ca) for the first summary that I wrote about Jim in March 2005. It is always an honour to share with you tidbits of Jim’s progress. They are tidbits, because it is impossible to tell all that is happening to him – but I hope that those of you who know me, can see the huge smile on my face and the tears of joy, as I write this…. So much has changed in the last year….

Jim is composing long sentences – automatically using the very many words that he knows how to spell, and each day adding new ones to his repertoire. He talks about our cats; gardening and driving his tractor (yes, he learned to drive a tractor lawnmower last summer!); the snow and wind and thunderstorms and lightning; the bluejays and finches and hummingbirds at the birdfeeders; Capilano Suspense Bridge; mountains around Bellingham; Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria, Squamish, Spokane, Yakima; motorcycles; the list goes on. He tells us what he wants to write, and he starts off the writing by himself – only asking for help when he can’t remember a word he learned some time ago or when he wants to learn a new word.

And his pronunciation is unbelievable! He practices and practices until he “hears” that he says it perfectly. His speech-language pathologist cannot believe the difference – she now understands what he says, and I know that others do too – including strangers. This is the greatest gift of all – to be understood by others.

Jim is really starting to understand the sounds of letters, so that he begins to figure out what letter is needed when we emphasize the sound. Not an easy task for him, because English is not easy for most people to learn to write when they are adults! But Jim persists and is never tired of learning new words and phrases.

It’s hard to describe the joy on Jim’s face when we scroll through the satellite dish menu of programs on TV, and he recognizes and reads the ones that he likes to watch. There are no words in our language to express the absolute and pure joy in his eyes.

Jim still has a lot he wants to say, and sometimes we don’t understand him – but he doesn’t give up easily. Names of people are the hardest, because he seems to know so many through listening to the radio and TV and, because he has basically a photographic memory, we can’t tell if it is a name from the last day or week, or year or 45 years ago. But if we can’t guess it, he proceeds to tell us the story: a few weeks ago, he told us about someone who was a Boy Scout leader, about the green shirt and hiking and camping and fishing. We know that this is not a memory of when his brother was a boy scout, but is about someone who ran in the last election! Yes, Jim voted – and he learned to say the name of the candidate he was voting for. When we went to the polling station, and I said that Jim needed help reading the candidate’s name, Jim proudly (and loudly) stated it – so much for a secret ballot! We still don’t know which candidate Jim was talking about who had been a boy scout, but at least we have part of the story.

Jim is 53 – he’s sharing his interests and knowledge with us and with anyone who listens. A pretty special gift from someone the doctors said should be institutionalized when he was only a few years old.

For those of you who have children who are non-verbal – don’t give up. I know how hard it is when weeks and years go by and the progress seems slow, but never give up. They have a lot to say, and we just have to figure out how to help them say it. Jim talks constantly in the evenings – we don’t have to watch TV, because Jim gives a run-down on what is happening! Sometimes it is nice just to sit back and listen to his voice and to watch his expressions and see the glow in his eyes as he looks proudly at us, sharing his knowledge and his understanding. I hope that all of you who are waiting for those magic moments will soon have them too.

Part 1

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5