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Czech Please or The Mostly Non-Verbal Multi-Linguist

by Brad Ludwig

Alex enjoying my sunglasses

This is the face of someone who has a hard time saying words. Ironically, he has learned to speak the few words he can in multiple languages. When he does speak, we're never quite sure what language will come out of his mouth.

It's a blessing and a curse. He's discovered that there are many ways to say the same thing, but doesn't understand that his parents, teachers and therapists aren't as adept at speaking multiple languages as he has become. This became very apparent as he walked out of the bathroom at the Ex's house and said something. It was one word, but it didn't sound like any word we knew. We asked him if he would please repeat it. He did.

Still nothing.

When this happens, as it often does, we'll have him finger spell the word. One of the languages he's picked up is Sign Language. Alex's Grandparents parents are both deaf. I have a deaf friend, from High School, so I know a little bit of sign language. I've also picked up more as time has progressed. Not enough to carry on a good conversation but I can muddle through.

C U P A is what he spelled and said the letters very confidently.

Another episode of CSI: Alexander has now begun.

I whipped out my smartphone and hopped on the internet. Simultaneously, the Ex pulled out her iPad and did a search as well. Thus began our fevered search for what our son had just said. Typing in CUPA to Google Search gave list huge list of results. Acronyms for  agencies, player associations and the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Other searches began:
CUPA word
CUPA language
CUPA foreign language

Finally, I typed in ‘what does cupa mean’. I got some hits.
Latin: handle, tub or vat
Gaelic: cup or vial

That didn't make sense. He hasn't been watching Latin or Gaelic videos. It had to be something on the list of 7 we know of.
Italian: dark or somber

We then decided to ask Alex what he meant. Could he show us cupa? His echolalia then comes into play. He just repeated the last word I said, which is his brain’s way of telling us he doesn't understand the question and is repeating the last thing he heard. I asked a couple of times and his answers just became louder, meaning he didn't understand and he was getting frustrated with me repeatedly asking the question.

Thus ended our quest for what Alex was trying to tell us.

While writing this blog post, I found a resource that will take any word, from any language, and translate it to English. This is it. The the only 3 languages that word exists in.

Czech flag

By Min's (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I thought it was Czech. For some reason, that seemed to gel because it is the only language, on his list of 7, I know the least about.

Now comes the deductive reasoning. He was in the bathroom, getting a drink of water. He was using a cup, so my best guess is Gaelic. He was remembering another name for cup and said the word that sprang to mind.

I keep putting myself in his shoes. How hard it must be trying to communicate and people not understanding what he is saying or not always understanding what is said to him. These are the time I try not to beat myself up for being a bad parent by not understanding what my son is trying to share with me.

My son has a wonderful gifts. He has a photographic memory and is building a multi-lingual library to help him understand his world. We are all working to, one day, help him use these gifts and finally express what he’s thinking and feeling. Someday, we’ll have a conversation and it will all start to make sense.

For now, we search. We keep trying. We wait.