Tag Archives: autism and pronouns

“Come Dance With Me!”

Those were Emma’s exact words.  She beckoned to me, then to her brother, Nic and then to her dad.  “Come on.  Come dance with me!”

This sort of utterance is something we have waited for, helped Emma with, hoping that one day, some day she would say something like – “Come dance with me.”   For those of you who know all about the issues of pronoun reversal, the difficulties in initiating and maintaining interactions, the challenges of expressive language and the importance of Emma’s words, skip down to the last paragraph, but for the rest of you, stay with me as I try to explain.

A defining characteristic of autism is pronoun “confusion/reversal.”  I have problems with the “confusion” assertion, as it seems pretty clear to me that when Emma says “Do you want pancakes?” she knows I don’t want pancakes, but is expressing her desire to have pancakes.  Either these are the words she would like me to say to her or these are the words she can locate to express her desire to have pancakes.  I don’t think Emma is “confused” about who loves pancakes.  I don’t for a second believe that when she asks such a question it is her intention to invite me to eat pancakes, while she foregoes eating them herself.  So no, I think that part of the whole “confusion” piece is actually incorrect.  However, I do think the idea that when speaking English, she is “me” when referring to herself and I am “you” when she is speaking, but that that is reversed when the other person speaks, is confusing.  And if you aren’t confused yet, try explaining all of that to someone whose first language isn’t a spoken language.  And after you’ve tackled that, move on to possessive pronouns.   Good luck to you, good luck.

One of my favorite quotes from someone I know who is Autistic is:  “My first language is written, my second is music, my third is math and a distant fourth is spoken.”  It perfectly describes that person’s loves, challenges and neurology.

Emma voiced her desire to have us dance with her, not simply asked that we watch her perform (something she also loves to do) but wanted to dance together, is also worth mentioning.   All of us love to dance.  When I was single and in my twenties, I used to go to Studio 54 with my girlfriends.  Our preferred night was Sunday as it was designated “gay night” with the best music and we knew we could dance all night without worrying about guys hitting on us.   Let’s just say –  the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  Still, dancing by yourself is one thing, it’s quite another to invite a group to join you.  For Emma, it was even more significant as parallel play is the norm for her, though recently we’ve seen an increase in her desire for interaction and playing games.  Interacting requires much more expressive language and an ability to tolerate a lessening of control over any given situation.

So last night we danced.  First to Gwen Stefani, then Michael Jackson, back to Gwen Stefani and Emma, ever the dancing DJ, even threw in some Lady Gaga.  It was a great night.

*I have been trying to figure out a way to work into this post the photograph below.  No opportunity presented itself, so I’m just going to post it, completely off topic, but it was too good to pass up.  Emma is terrified of dogs.  Even this dog.  He was adorable.  “Emma don’t you want to pet him?  Look how cute he is.  Don’t you think he’s cute?”


But he really was cute, don’t you think?

Read My Fear Toolkit published in the Huffington Post

Hide and Seek

Like many children, Emma loves nothing more than a rousing game of Hide and Seek.  Except Emma doesn’t like to look for anyone, she just wants to be the one to hide, always.  She also only likes to hide in one place.

Which kind of defeats the whole purpose of the game.  Because not only is she utterly predictable, she’s also really hard to miss.  Never-the-less, we do our best to play the part of surprised “seeker”.
“Hmm, I wonder where Emma is?  Let’s see…  could she be in here?”  Dramatic throwing open of various closet doors and curtains, followed by, “No.  Not in here.  I wonder where she could be hiding?!”  There’s a great deal of crouching down, looking under chairs, the bed, her desk, while muttering, “Gosh, I can’t imagine where she could be!”

All of this is done while Emma variously – sings, hums, makes loud breathing noises or whispers to herself , “No, not going to find Emma under the mattress!”

That she is also squirming around makes her hard to miss, still we do our best to play the part given us.  Eventually if we are taking a very long time to “find” her, she’ll give us a little help.

By yanking off the fitted sheet to reveal herself and yelling, “There she is!”

In the theatre world, this would be called stealing lines, hogging the stage or any number of disparaging phrases.  But to Emma she’s simply trying to help us out and we appreciate it.

“Oh!  There you are,” we shout before grabbing a limb and tickling her mercilessly.

“Let go!  Let go, let go, let go!”  Emma squeals.

“No, no, no.  I’m not going to let go.  I’m going to tickle you and tickle you and tickle you..”

The other day while in the midst of just such a moment, Nic appeared in the doorway to Emma’s bedroom, “What are you guys doing?”

“We’re playing hide and seek, want to play?” I asked.

“Yeah okay,” Nic agreed, somewhat reluctantly as he knew Emma would only want to hide underneath her mattress again.

“Should I count or do you guys want to find me?” I asked.

“You and Nicky hide?” Emma said.  Meaning she wanted to hide with Nic.

But I pretended not to understand as every interaction can be an opportunity to teach (we’re trying to help Emma with her pronoun reversal problems), “Oh okay.  So you’re going to find me and Nic?”

“NO!  Mommy find.  Emma and Nic hide!”

“Emma you have to say, Nic and I are going to hide.”  Nic took her finger and made her point to herself, “Me, Emma.  You say me,” then he looked up at me with an expression of mild exasperation.  “No wait, that’s not right.”

I nodded my head.  “It’s okay, Nic.  You’re doing great.”

“Okay, okay,” Nic said, starting over again.  “Em, you have to say I.  I’m going to hide with Nic or Nic and I are going to hide.”

At this point Emma had lost all interest and was trying to get one of her favorite youtube videos up on her computer.

“Come on Em.  One last game,” I encouraged.

“Five minutes then computer,” Emma said.

“Yes. One, two, three, four, five…”

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism and an interview with her older brother Nic, go to: www.EmmasHopeBook.com

Emma and her Singing

“Sing Zoo Zoo Zoo with your mouth closed?”  Emma said this morning as she was getting ready for school.

“Good idea!” I said.  And then began to sing one of her favorite songs with my mouth closed.

She waited patiently until I had finished the first refrain and then said, “Emma’s turn!”

I knew, before I began singing that she meant she wanted to sing the song with her mouth closed, but since repeatedly correcting her over the years hasn’t made a dent in her continued use of “you” in place of “I” or “me,” I have begun taking her words more literally and seeing how that works.  Other than mildly irritating her, I’m not sure it’s making much of a difference.  The elusive pronoun continues to trip her up.

In addition there are words which she finds impossible to articulate.  A few of them can be found in another of her favorite songs – “Fabulous”.  Emma says – Sandy lot – or something that sounds suspiciously like that, in place of Fabulous as well as humming the word “imported” which is used repeatedly in the song, instead of making an attempt to say some version of the word.

Yesterday I tried more than a few times to have her repeat my enunciation of “imported” first by singing the lyrics “towels imported from Turkey, Turkey imported from Maine…” but when that didn’t help I tried to have her say “imported” all by itself.  I could see how hard she was trying, she watched my mouth as I said the word, she tried her best to mimic me, all to no avail and eventually wandered off into our bedroom where I could hear her singing loudly her own special version of the song, the tune utterly recognizable even as the words were not.

Richard found the lyrics of the song online and printed out several copies so each of us could review and sing along with her when she launched into yet another rousing rendition of it, which happens more than a few times over the course of a day.  Emma articulates a few lines of the song beautifully – “I want MORE!” and”Excuse Me Thank You” then lapses into her “Emmalish” – impossible for anyone to decipher.  Sometimes Emma will allow all of us to join her in singing, but often, particularly when it is her brother, Nic who is singing along she will stop abruptly and yell, “Nicky L. stop singing!”  or “Nic!  Stop talking!”

To which we respond, “No Emma.  Nic can sing too if he wants.”

“Forget it, it’s no fun now,” Nic will say as we wait for him to continue.  “She ruined it.”

Or if Nic does have the fortitude to continue, Emma will stand silently for a moment before seeking refuge in her bedroom and shutting the door.  It seemed as though it was as much a gesture of contempt for the whole unruly scene as a desire to escape the singing.  Nic usually shrugs and returns to whatever it was he was doing before the whole thing began.

I cannot hold a tune.  This is a fact I came to terms with early on in junior high school when I was contently singing along to “Angie” by the Rolling Stones and was ridiculed for my off key trilling.  My ego bruised, I was careful to hum or sing quietly under my breath or in the privacy of my own room.  Something I have continued to do ever since.  Emma however, did not inherit my tin ear.  Hers is the voice of an angel or Broadway singer, (depending on the song) as she belts out songs in decibels I didn’t know were possible.

The other week when we gathered to sing Happy Birthday, the one song anyone can sing off key with abandon, with no fear of ridicule, Emma out sang all of us put together.

“She’s  got a set of pipes on her,” Richard said, proudly when the song had come to it’s end.

“Yup.  She sure does,” we agreed.


Early this morning Emma climbed into our bed.  “Hi Mommy!”

“Em, it’s too early, you have to go back to bed,” I said.


I listened to her make her way back to her bedroom.  When her bedroom door closed, I marveled at how just months ago, this would not have happened.  In the past, Emma would have refused to leave or screamed until one of us took her back to her bedroom where she would not have gone back to sleep or she would have left and begun screaming minutes later.  This morning, there was nothing but silence.  The silence accentuated by the thick layer of snow covering everything and which continues to fall as I write.

Later, when something crashed into one of the windows, causing the dogs to start barking downstairs, I tiptoed into Emma’s room.  She was in her bed, with her head on her stuffed green monster, Muzzy.  “Hi Mommy!”  she said.

“Hi Em!”

“Just you and me,” she said pointing to herself and then me.  “Just you and me in Emma’s bed.”

“Yes, I said, sitting on her bed.  “You and me” is something Emma has begun saying for a few months now.  It is another milestone.  She says it as she points to each person she is referring to.  While this may seem inconsequential, it represents an astonishing leap in cognition as well as tremendous developmental progress.  One of the telltale signs of autism – a lack of pointing – is something Emma is now beginning to do.

“Muzzy, teddy bear,” Emma said, pointing to her monster.

“You love your Muzzy, don’t you Em?”

“Yes,” she said.

And I love that Emma has taken to referring to her stuffed monster as “Muzzy, teddy bear.”  It’s such an apt description of what he is to her.  And like all things Emma, her choice in “teddy bears” is a bit unconventional.

Emma just came into the room where I am writing with her “twin”, an enormous doll I bought for her one Christmas.  I ordered it over the Internet and had to send a photo of Emma, with instructions on the correct eye, hair and skin color.  When the doll came, complete with Christmas party dress and faux fur stole, Emma looked at it and wandered off.  A pile of unwrapped presents remained under the Christmas tree abandoned.  Every Christmas we have attempted to entice Emma with a few things we think she might enjoy only to have her barely take notice of any of them.

“Look!  Doll!” Emma said  as she sat down with the stripped down doll in her arms.

“Oh Em, you have your doll with you.  What’s her name?” I asked.

After a pause Emma said, “Girl.”

Then she picked up some of her picture books and began “reading” to “girl”.

“Have Eddie come, get christmas presents?” Emma said while we were still in New York.

“We’ll be in Aspen for Christmas,” I told her.

“Open Christmas presents at Granma’s house,” Emma said.


For Emma to show even a remote interest in opening any presents this Christmas will be a first.