When Moe was very little, around 18 months or so, he understood a lot. He would point to body parts and objects in books. He knew all the letters of the alphabet, and would point to them on request. At some point, he stopped being able to do this. We don't know if he lost the knowledge or that somehow there was a disconnect between the understanding of the request and his ability to actually follow through.
That, however, was more about labeling items than about following directions. Moe continues to have trouble pointing to things in books, though again, whether this is an issue of understanding, attention, visual processing or just plain "I don't want to" is hard to tell. But what I do know is that Moe is following directions more than ever before.
It started slowly, and was very context sensitive, often requiring a gestural cue or sign to accompany the instruction. If Moe was in the bath, for example, I could ask him to "let the water out of the tub" and point to the drain. He would then let the water out. I could point to his shoes or touch them, and tell him "take off shoes," and he would do it, or at least try. With more repetition, we could fade the gestural cue.
But now, it is clear he understands the language from the start. We've been working with Moe on some simple tasks, asking him to do things like "touch nose, show me your head, where's your knee, etc." This isn't just about teaching Moe body parts, although that is part of it. It is about helping him learn to listen, to discriminate the words we are saying, and follow through on the words he is hearing. It seems to be making a difference.
He can understand more complex instructions too. If we're in the kitchen, and Moe asks for something to eat by pointing at it, I can say, "Okay. Go to the table," and he'll leave the kitchen and go sit down at his spot at the table. I can say "It's time for bath," and he'll sign bath and go right to the bathroom door. He knows what it means to clean up, give an object to someone, drop or pick something up, etc. Some of these are things we explicitly taught, and some are not.
Moe still requires a lot of contextual cues, especially with new instructions, but don't we all to some extent? Sometimes it seems Moe still may not be able to physically put the pieces together to follow through on an instruction, although that is happening less and less. And of course there are times he doesn't want to do what we're asking. He is a five year old kid, after all. But there is a qualitative difference in his understanding of language.
This isn't about teaching Moe to just be "compliant." There are some things you need your kids to do (come here, clean up your toys, get dressed) and of course there are safety issues as well. For a kid that puts everything in his mouth "drop it!" and "spit it out!" are pretty important. And one of the newest directions we've been working on is "stop!" He's learning so quickly these days that with just one teaching session, he knew what stop meant. It took his school a year to get to that point, and then only in very specific circumstances. Now we're working on "stop" in different environments, with him walking toward and away from us, and Moe is doing it with a flourish. He always makes sure to stomp his feet just a bit when he stops. I think he's making sure we noticed.
This is third in the series of things Moe can do. For the others, click here