Who’s on First?

An excerpt from the famous Abbott & Costello exchange:

Abbott:  I say Who’s on first, What’s on second and I Don’t Know is on third.

Costello: That’s what I want to find out.

Abbott: Are you the manager?

Costello:  Yes.

Abbott:  You gonna be the coach too?

Costello:  Yes.

Abbott:  And you don’t know the fellows’ names?

Costello:  Well I should.

Abbott:  Well then, who’s on first?

Costello:  Yes.

Abbott:  I mean the fellow’s name.

Costello:  Yes.

Abbott:  Who.

Costello:  The first baseman.

Abbott:  Who.

Costello:  The guy playing…

Abbott:  Who is on first!

Costello:  I asking YOU who’s on first.

Abbott:  That’s the man’s name.

Costello:  That’s who’s name?

Abbott:  Yes.

Costello:  Well go ahead and tell me.

Abbott:  That’s it.

Costello:  That’s who?

Abbott:  Yes.

I’m living a kind of ASD version of this exchange every day.

“You got this for your birthday,” he says, holding a crank with a tiny car.

“No, I got this for my birthday,”  I correct.  He repeats.

“You could eat this,” he says pointing to some mini donuts on a plate.

“Can I eat this?”  I correct.  He repeats.

He loves the “Easy” button.  One of the secretaries in the office of his school had one on her desk.  He comes in that office, once a week, for speech therapy at 4 p.m., after the secretary has gone home.  Not understanding or respecting boundaries in any way, he used to run up to her desk and push it.   His speech teacher told him, “That is not yours.  You must ask permission.”  ABA then did a “permission” program with him.  They thought this worked.  Hmmm…

I gave him his own “Easy” button for his birthday.  Now, he tells me, “That’s not yours” and points to it.  Absentmindedly, I respond “No, that is yours.”  He repeats. “That is yours.”

“No,” I answer, “That is mine.  You say that is mine.”

“It’s mine,” he repeats.


These words that I have used, without a second thought my whole life, are now huge issues in our household.  I never recognized what a difficult concept pronouns are to teach.  I wish everyone who sees my son daily would walk around with name tag with the word “YOU” plastered to themselves, so my kid can learn his pronouns.  Likewise, I would stick an “I” on him.   But then what about the situation when he has to use “ME”, “MY” or “MINE”?

ABA and speech are trying to teach this concept through game playing and use of “your turn”/“my turn” but it simply is not generalizing over to daily life in any way.  If he is thinking about it (and I assume so sometimes when he hesitates as he is trying out a sentence on me) he will resort to proper names.  It becomes “Mommy’s turn” instead of “your turn”.

In other circumstances, it will be, “Mommy is folding clothes” instead of, “Oh, you’re folding clothes”.  He would never turn to another person and say, “Look at her.  She is folding clothes”.

If he wants to know where his dad is he will make the statement “Daddy is upstairs,” even if he has no idea where his dad is and even if he knows his dad is not at home.  One would expect, “I want to play with Daddy.  Where is he?” This is completely unnatural and has never been used in our house.

Sometimes, if he is wants to know what I’m doing, he does not ask, “What are you doing, mom?”  Instead, I get, “What is the girl doing?”  (At least I’m just a “girl” and not “old woman”).  He was asked this “what is the girl/boy doing” question as part of an ABA program.  He would look at pictures and describe three actions within the pictures.  The purpose was to develop language.  Instead, he has morphed this sentence into asking me what I am doing.  “What is the girl doing?” or “what is mommy doing” instead of “what are you doing?”

Every day, he has a bump, bruise, trip, fall, bang, bump, etc.  Instead of saying, “Mommy, I fell!”  he yells, “Are you okay?”  If I say, “What happened?”  I get a blank stare.  I then have to ask, “Are you okay?” to which the response is always “yes.”  If he is not okay, I usually get, “Let’s play the CHOO-CHOO game!!” so I know asking “Are you okay?” is his way of telling me he just mildly injured or startled himself in some way.

I realize that his mixed-up words are a blessing.  The words may be tangled up like Christmas tree lights in a box, but they are out loud and communication nevertheless. Many children with ASD are nonverbal.

So while I get frustrated trying to convey the appropriate use of pronouns, I’m grateful for my son’s constant verbal discourse.  Truthfully, he keeps me laughing through the day.  Sometimes, it’s just difficult to understand who’s on first.

[Excerpt of Abbott & Costello – Who’s on First from http://www.baseball-almanac.com/humor4.shtml]


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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13 Responses to Who’s on First?

  1. I’ve thought about the same Abbott and Costello bit when having “conversations” with Little Miss! LOL. It does get frustrating, doesn’t it?

    We’ve also been playing the your turn/my turn game with Mr. Tony — to about the same level of success. When we ask whose turn it is, we usually get a proper name instead of a pronoun too. And the “what happened?” question for falls…? I am SOOOOO there with you!

    It’ll come. T is a bright boy. It’ll take a LOT of work, but as you said — you’re already over half the hurdle. He talks. He has words. The order will come to place when he’s ready. Hugs to me Erm, I mean, you.

    • solodialogue says:

      Lol! It’s a strange thing how similar our kids are. I really think Little Miss and T would have great fun together – or maybe that would just be us with our martinis, watching them! It mostly gets frustrating for me when I try to explain and then my explanation gets confusing! Ah, well, everything in time! 🙂

  2. Amanda says:

    I agree with Karla. Things will fall into place. We used to practice with sock puppets. Now when he says “do you want some juice?” he actually means “do you want some juice?”. 🙂

  3. Oh yes, infuriatingly difficult to teach. ‘i have it with both kids now, and their beloved red devil Elmo doesn’t help matters.

  4. ElizOF says:

    It eventually comes together… I agree. Even Abbott and Costello figured it out …eventually. 🙂
    Cheers to you…

  5. Lizbeth says:

    Funny and so true!!

  6. OMum22 says:

    Karen, as I was reading your post I thought – oh I so wish I had this problem with Owen, my little non-verbal guy. I know you acknowledged that in your post and please don’t take it as a criticism 🙂 I do know exactly how you feel because this is Oliver’s problem too. He doesn’t get pronouns at all but like you I just keep plugging away, modelling for him. One thing that has helped with Oliver’s functional speech is visuals. I remember reading an autistic adult explaining that sometimes finding the right word was like trying to match socks in a tumble dryer, as it was tumbling. Visuals have really helped Oliver find the right word which eases his frustration which leads to “behaviour”, lol.

  7. Haha, I’ve often compared the whole echolalia piece to the Abbot & Costello routine! And the Easy button- we have one at the house- Brian has to press it each time he goes by the shelf it’s on.

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