i know what you mean!

“once upon a time there was a little kitty…”

Posted on: June 7, 2011

– Mẹ kể chuyện “ngày xưa có một con mèo con” cho con nghe please.
– Con kể chuyện cho mẹ nghe đi please.
– Ngày xưa có một con mèo con… nó làm gì? May không biết!… Nó đi ra playground… trượt cầu tuột màu đỏ!
– đúng rồi, sau đó nó làm gì nữa?
– nó… lấy nhiều thật nhiều cà rốt cho con mèo mẹ ăn!
– đúng rồi, sau đó nó làm gì nữa?
– May không biết !

– Mommy please tell me a story about “once upon a time, there was a kitty…”
– May please tell me a story please.
– once upon a time, there was a little kitty… what did she do? I don’t know!… she went to the playground… to slide down the red slide!
– yeah, then what did she do next?
– she… got lots and lots and lots of carrots to feed mommy kitty.
– yeah, then what did she do after that?
– I don’t know!


“Once upon a time there was a little kitty” is May’s current favorite request. Usually at nap time and bed time, I would tell May stories about herself using the little kitty character. Many of these stories are just about May’s day to day activities, since she’s at the point where she’s trying to recount events and incidences, so I’m helping her with the frame work so she can learn how to tell things in sequence. And then there are other stories that are about how the little kitty learns to do the right thing. Turns out, these stories are sooooo much more effective than any other sort of behavior modification method I have employed. May was saying “no” left and right this past month (not to everything, but to things that she doesn’t like) which irks me. I don’t object to her saying no, I just don’t like hearing that word. She knows Son and I prefer the polite version of it in Vietnamese, which is not only polite, but very respectful. But because of Pocoyo (which is a great show, by the way), May picks up “no” faster than any other Spanish word. Anyways, I finally put an end to that with the story of the little kitty who wanted to copy Pocoyo and say “no” so badly, but she also knows that the right thing to do is to say “da. kho^ng” to her parents. She thought long and hard about it and finally she decides to say “no” to Pocoyo himself when she talks to him, and “da. Kho^ng” to her parents, that way she can do both and make everyone happy including herself. Lo and behold! The volume of No’s was cut down by 80% after that. It might start creeping up again, so maybe I’ll have to turn this into a favorite naptime story or something…

It’s fascinating to observe how her mind works at this point in time. When I tell May these little kitty stories, she clearly understands that I’m talking about her, and recounting events in her life. She contributes real facts and correct information when I ask her what follows next in a sequence of events. And then she systematically turn everyone in the little kitty world into cats – mommy kitty, daddy kitty, friend kitties, etc. etc.. Yet, at any point in time, she can instantly snap back into reality and knows that she isn’t a cat, her name is May, she does all these things in real life, her parents are not cats.

Understanding figurative language is particularly difficult for people who are on the autistic spectrum. They would have difficulties recognizing that the little kitty stands for May. To some autistic people, it will always remain incomprehensible. They’ll be taught and learn to recognize the patterns of figurative language, and they can be trained to behave and respond appropriately when they recognize figurative speech coming their way, but they will never fully comprehend it with the ease that May now does.

When I was thrown into American school and picked up English through ESL, Grammar was like that to me. Because in Vietnamese, things like verb subject agreement and tenses don’t exist, I had no base for new information integration. I simply memorized how things appeared, and then when it was my turn to use grammar, I would just try to recall through my memory all the things I had seen, doing my best to match what I remembered seeing to what I needed at the moment. Finally through years and years of practice, English became my dominant language, and grammar became part of my nature; I could feel it in my core, at ease with it, have fun with it, see the need for it. Some people will go through life not feeling grammar all all. Some people go through life not feeling figurative language…

From reading personal accounts of people who are on ASD spectrum and from my own sister whose child is autistic, I’ve come to find lots of information that is valuable to my own life. Many techniques Chau uses to teach my nephew appropriate social behaviors and linguistic acquisition can be used on any child. These techniques are often very effective. You provide an autistic child tools to express his feelings and desires verbally to cut down on undesirable behaviors. You empower a 2 year old with language to verbally express her feelings and desires to prevent meltdowns. It’s all connected.


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