Stressing the Consonants

One of the “heroes” of autism, and one of my personal heroes, is Temple Grandin. If you know anyone on the autism spectrum and have a desire to learn more about what makes a person on the autism spectrum tick, read about Temple Grandin. (There’s even a movie of the same name.)

Temple Grandin is a 60-ish year old woman with autism. Her mother, Eustacia Cutler, is also my hero. During the 1950’s when parents with “weird” children were being told to lock up them up, Eustacia Cutler did not lock up Temple. She dealt with Temple’s behaviors all by herself. Her husband was absent and eventually they got divorced. She was literally alone, with four kids and one of them was Temple. Many people laid the groundwork for behavioral therapy and I believe she was one of those pioneers. She simply had to come up with techniques and strategies on her own to deal with her daughter.

Temple Grandin turned out just fine, in my opinion. She went to college and then went on to earn a PhD in animal husbandry. She is considered an expert in her field. These days she also tours nationally to talk about her autism.

What is some advice from Temple Grandin?

I listened to her speak once at a conference and I want to share something I consider important.  She was discussing how typical people could talk to a person with autism so that it’s easier for that person to hear your words. Temple Grandin knows exactly what works with a person with autism. And, she knows exactly how she struggles to understand the world around her.

Temple Grandin said something along the lines of “When you talk to me, try to stress consonants. It really helps me understand the actual words that you’re using. It’s easier for me to hear the words when you stress the consonants of words.”

I thought this was very valuable advice. Practical, informative, and insightful. And, it didn’t come from some doctor taking an educated guess. It came from a self-aware person with autism.

What a relief that the world of autism has someone out there like Temple Grandin who can give a first-hand account of her disorder and be able to articulate advice in front of a very large audience. Many people on the spectrum cannot do that. She has admitted it isn’t easy for her but she does it to help others like her.

After hearing the advice about consonants, I began to find ways to really incorporate the advice into my daily conversations with my child, especially when he is struggling to listen to me or understand me. Now when we talk I try to speak slower and stamp a bit more on my consonants. I do this because it may help him to hear my words.

Also, learning about the value of consonants has brought me back to my college days in the theater department. I took a few speech classes back then and remembered how much consonants were stressed. I was taught that they were important if an actor on a stage wanted to project their voice to the back row of a theater. They had to learn to “hit their consonants.

On aside, my son met Temple Grandin during that conference. I remember every detail of that 45 second meeting, even if my son didn’t quite recognize the significance of the meeting.

I said “hello” to Temple and then introduced my son ending with “he has autism.” Temple ignored me completely after that and immediately focused on my son. She suddenly had to teach him how to handle a “proper” introduction.

This whole encounter became this awesome teaching moment. An older person with autism teaching a young person with autism how to shake hands and look at the person you’re meeting.

What was so amazing was her determination that this young child “get it right.” She had just met my son but was suddenly very invested in him. She understood how a small child needed to learn how to properly introduce himself in our world and she wanted to model this behavior for him. It was very important to her and she would not let my son go until he said, “Nice to meet you,” while also looking her in the eye.

After three tries, he finally did it! She responded, “Now that’s the way to do it!”

I hope this little “nugget” helps you communicate with your child as well as giving you some potential research material. I’d recommend learning about Temple Grandin. She often tours at conferences so even try to hear her speak. You’ll see a person who presents herself simply as who she is. There’s no hiding for her. She puts her autism out there so she can help our kids. Or, she ends up actually working with your kid! Either way, she’s to be applauded. And thanked.

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