Autism Screening Questionnaire — Speech and Language Delay

1. did your child lose acquired speech?

A fount and then silence. A none. An ellipse
between — his breath through
the seams of our windows. Whistle
of days. Impossible bowl of a mouth — 
the open cupboard, vowels
rounded up and swept under the rug.

2. does your child produce unusual noises or infantile squeals?

He’d coo and we’d coo back. The sound
passed back and forth between us like a ball.
Or later, an astral voice. Some vibrato
under the surface of us. The burst upon — 
burn of strings rubbed
in a flourish. His exhausted face.

3. is your child’s voice louder than required?

In an enclosure or a cave it is difficult to gauge
one’s volume. The proscenium of the world.
All the rooms we speak of are dark places. Because
he cannot see his mouth, he cannot imagine
the sound that comes out.

4. does your child speak frequent gibberish or jargon?

To my ears it is a language. Every sound
a system: the sound for dog or boy. The moan
in his throat for water — that of a man with thirst.
The dilapidated ladder that makes a sentence
a sentence. This plosive is a verb. This liquid
a want. We make symbols of his noise.

5. does your child have difficulty understanding basic things (“just can’t get it”)?

Against the backdrop of the tree he looks so small.

6. does your child pull you around when he wants something?

By the sleeve. By the shirttail. His light touch
hopscotching against my skin like sparrows.
An insistence muscled and muscled again.

7. does your child have difficulty expressing his needs or desires using gestures?

Red-faced in the kitchen and in the bedroom
and the yellow light touches his eyes
which are open but not there. His eyes
rest in their narrow boat dream and the canals
are wide dividing this side from this side.

8. is there no spontaneous initiation of speech or 
communication from your child?

When called he eases out of his body.
His god is not our words nor is it
the words from his lips. It is entirely body.
So when he comes to us and looks we know
there are beyond us impossible cylinders
where meaning lives.

9. does your child repeat heard words, parts of words, or tv commercials?

The mind circles the mind in the arena, far in — far in
where the consonants touch and where the round
chorus flaunts its iambs in a metronomic trot. Humming
to himself in warm and jugular songs.

10. does your child use repetitive language (same word or phrase over and over)?

A pocket in his brain worries its ball of lint.
A word clicks into its groove and stammers
along its track, Dopplering like a car with its windows
rolled down and the one top hit of the summer
angles its way into his brain.

11. does your child have difficulty sustaining a 
conversation?

We could be anywhere, then the navel of the red moon
drops its fruit. His world. This stained world drips its honey
into our mouths. Our words stolen from his malingering afternoon.

12. does your child use monotonous speech or wrong pausing?

When the air is true and simple, we can watch him tremble
for an hour, plucking his meaning from a handful of utterances
and then ascend into the terrible partition of speech.

13. does your child speak the same to kids, adults, or objects (can’t differentiate)?

Because a reference needs a frame: we are mother and father
and child with a world of time to be understood. The car radio
plays its one song. The song, therefore, is important.
It must be intoned at a rigorous time. Because rigor
is important and because the self insists on constant vigils.

14. does your child use language inappropriately (wrong words or phrases)?

Always, and he insists on the incorrect forms.
The wrong word takes every form for love — 
the good tree leans into the pond,
the gray dog’s ribs show, the memory
bound to the window, and the promise of the radio
playing its song on the hour. Every wrong form
is a form which represents us in our losses,
if it takes us another world to understand.
More Poems by Oliver de la Paz