It has happened more than once that I have walked into a classroom containing students with autism to be greeted by one of my students as, “Hi Speech!” Everyone (including me) gets a good laugh that a student thinks my name is “Speech” (there are surely worse things to be called!) and I am happy that a student gave me a spontaneous greeting.
One lesson that I have taken away from this though is that we need to be very careful of the language we are using with our students. In this case, the students have probably heard “Are you ready to go to speech?” or “time for speech” from one of their teachers when I come into the room to pick up a student and the student has learned that “speech” surely must be my name since they hear it every time I am around.
While a typical child may be able to decifer that “speech” is not a name, children with autism generally learn language in more of a gestalt manner (learning language in chunks instead of the individual meaning of each word) which makes it more difficult for them to learn and generalize words. A typical child may easily learn that the word “bug” does not just mean the first type of bug they ever saw and another person labeled for them. They soon learn that a “bug” can mean many different kinds of insects and it can also mean “go away” in the context of being told “don’t bug me.” A child with autism will often need to be taught specifically what belongs in the category “bugs” and will be confused by the phrase “don’t bug me” until it has been explicitly taught and demonstrated to them.
Thinking about being called “Speech” reminded me was that we need to inundate children with autism with many models for the words and word combinations that we want them to learn as well as opportunities to use them. We shortchange them if we make the assumption that they will make their best progress learning words and language skills if given the same input a typical child is given.
I am happy to say that I haven’t been called “Speech” in a while, but I wouldn’t mind it every once in a while!