I listen in, shameless ear-wigging. It’s a treat for me, to hear my son volunteer information, engage in what might be described as social communication. Social communication is generally the fluff of human exchange, unnecessary, but we all do it anyway. Many would say that our lives are richer as a result. This kind of fluff is generally not the kind of chat that autistic children or adults engage in. I now understand that it’s purposeless.
For years and years we have endured silence or meltdowns or functional language. Functional language is used to communicate one’s needs. When babies first start to communicate, often they use single word commands such as ‘juice’ or ‘milk.’ Parents encourage their children to tack on additional words, depending upon their own priorities such as ‘please.’ Gradually, small sentences emerge, three words, and later more. The average child can use single words in a social context, ‘look! Star!’ This is social communication. The child is seeking the joint attention of someone else, inviting the someone else to share, it is not functional. My autistic children never did this, not as toddlers nor when they were older. They do now, occasionally, but it’s just one of the many things that I can’t take for granted.
Some children will never communicate verbally. Some children will, eventually. Many will achieve functional language because it has a purpose. Some, may surprise me by indulging in fluffy talk. Fluffy talk is hard to define but you know it when you see it or hear it.
The easiest kind of fluffy talk to recognize, is complements. I say something nice about you and you thank me or offer a complement in return, completely purposeless, for some people.
The best kind of fluffy talk sprouts into a conversation, an exchange of words, where each person takes a turn. Clever people call this reciprocal exchange. It’s the exchange bit that’s pivotal. If I make a statement or ask a question, and no-one responds then I might not bother to do it again. Some people, the really desperate kind of people, count the number of exchanges. They may start with just one exchange, a statement and a response. Sometimes the number of exchanges increases. It may even increase sufficiently for me to be able to categorize it as a conversation, a fluffy one with no purpose.
Six years ago I could not have imagined that there would ever be any fluffy talk around here.
“What you fink my worsted day is be?” “Monday?” “No.” “Wednesday?” “Yes.” “Coz of therapy?” “No.” “But I thought you hated double therapy on Wednesday afternoons?” “Yeah, but I am hate other fings morer.” “What’s worse than double therapy?” “Dah wart doctor!”
Nearly nine years for fluffy talk to emerge. I sincerely hope that other people have the chance to be lucky and fluffy too.