Autistic children do not have normal language skills. They cannot speak just because they lack “language”. Speech is not just the control of the vocal cords nor the ability to memorize words. Speech is only one of the brain’s functions but speech without language is impossible. Before a language is possible a human must acquire the ability to use concepts. Autistic children lack the ability to conceptualize which is a specific type of brain function that must occur before any child can learn a language.
Just as Mathematics begins with arithmetic but arithmetic begins with Number Theory, so language begins with conceptualization but conceptualization begins with the ability to grasp concepts. Ayn Rand’s ideas about Concept Formation is one of the great discoveries she made. Her idea about Concepts can assist Autistic children to grasp the basis of a word by referring the word to the actual thing it represents then to all things that are the same conceptually even though they may be different individually.
“A concept is a mental integration of two or more units which are isolated by a process of abstraction and united by a specific definition.”
“To form a concept, one mentally isolates a group of concretes (of distinct perceptual units), on the basis of observed similarities which distinguish them from all other known concretes (similarity is “the relationship between two or more existents which possess the same characteristic(s), but in different measure or degree”); then, by a process of omitting the particular measurements of these concretes, one integrates them into a single new mental unit: the concept, which subsumes all concretes of this kind (a potentially unlimited number). The integration is completed and retained by the selection of a perceptual symbol (a word) to designate it. “A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted.”
“Concepts and, therefore, language are primarily a tool of cognition—not of communication, as is usually assumed. Communication is merely the consequence, not the cause nor the primary purpose of concept-formation—a crucial consequence, of invaluable importance to men, but still only a consequence. Cognition precedes communication; the necessary precondition of communication is that one have something to communicate . . . .
“The primary purpose of concepts and of language is to provide man with a system of cognitive classification and organization, which enables him to acquire knowledge on an unlimited scale; this means: to keep order in man’s mind and enable him to think.
“Let us now examine the process of forming the simplest concept, the concept of a single attribute (chronologically, this is not the first concept that a child would grasp; but it is the simplest one epistemologically)—for instance, the concept “length.” If a child considers a match, a pencil and a stick, he observes that length is the attribute they have in common, but their specific lengths differ. The difference is one of measurement. In order to form the concept “length,” the child’s mind retains the attribute and omits its particular measurements. Or, more precisely, if the process were identified in words, it would consist of the following: “Length must exist in some quantity, but may exist in any quantity. I shall identify as ‘length’ that attribute of any existent possessing it which can be quantitatively related to a unit of length, without specifying the quantity.”
“The child does not think in such words (he has, as yet, no knowledge of words), but that is the nature of the process which his mind performs wordlessly. And that is the principle which his mind follows, when, having grasped the concept “length” by observing the three objects, he uses it to identify the attribute of length in a piece of string, a ribbon, a belt, a corridor or a street.
“The same principle directs the process of forming concepts of entities—for instance, the concept “table.” The child’s mind isolates two or more tables from other objects, by focusing on their distinctive characteristic: their shape. He observes that their shapes vary, but have one characteristic in common: a flat, level surface and support(s). He forms the concept “table” by retaining that characteristic and omitting all particular measurements, not only the measurements of the shape, but of all the other characteristics of tables (many of which he is not aware of at the time).
Her theory is far more than the ability to recite the names of the numbers. Consider that the brain must connect the name of a number, the word “six” with the precise quantity of “things” that are identified by the word “six”.
A child doesn’t need to actually grasp number theory to count. Memorization can do that and memory will work for awhile until a child encounters some large number for which memory wasn’t prepared. That’s where their ability to count will be frozen just as a child’s ability to acquire a language is frozen when then can no longer memorize more words. The connection between words and language is still widely unknown because of the Liberal anti-Ayn Rand animus. That in turn prevents autistic children from being taught to form concepts which is the basis of language. It’s like trying to build a skyscraper without building a foundation or the first fifty floors. It’s never been done because it can’t be done.
Ayn Rand wrote about the problem of learning a language, not just the infant’s gurgling which is treated today as “the beginning of speech” but also taught by the entire apparatus of education which is mostly composed of people who have no idea about the basis of language so they use a rote memory approach telling about which part of the brain lights up when people think instead of the correct idea which is just the opposite of rote memory.
That idea is explained by Ayn Rand in her magnificent discovery about the way a language, any language is constructed. Read the following parable about language that she wrote about Annie Sullivan’s titanic and heroic struggle and ultimate success teaching concept formation and ultimately the ability to think to a blind, deaf Helen Keller:
“The Miracle Worker by William Gibson . . . tells the story of how Annie Sullivan brought Helen Keller to grasp the nature of language. . . .
“I suggest that you read The Miracle Worker and study its implications. . . . this particular play is an invaluable lesson in the fundamentals of a rational epistemology.
“I suggest that you consider Annie Sullivan’s titanic struggle to arouse a child’s conceptual faculty by means of a single sense, the sense of touch, then evaluate the meaning, motive and moral status of the notion that man’s conceptual faculty does not require any sensory experience.
“I suggest that you consider what an enormous intellectual feat Helen Keller had to perform in order to develop a full conceptual range (including a college education, which required more in her day than it does now), then judge those normal people who learn their first, perceptual-level abstractions without any difficulty and freeze on that level, and keep the higher ranges of their conceptual development in a chaotic fog of swimming, indeterminate approximations, playing a game of signals without referents, as Helen Keller did at first, but without her excuse. Then check on whether you respect and how carefully you employ your priceless possession: language.
“And, lastly, I suggest that you try to project what would have happened if, instead of Annie Sullivan, a sadist had taken charge of Helen Keller’s education. A sadist would spell “water” into Helen’s palm, while making her touch water, stones, flowers and dogs interchangeably; he would teach her that water is called “water” today, but “milk” tomorrow; he would endeavor to convey to her that there is no necessary connection between names and things, that the signals in her palm are a game of arbitrary conventions and that she’d better obey him without trying to understand.
“If this projection is too monstrous to hold in one’s mind for long, remember that this is what today’s academic philosophers are doing to the young—to minds as confused, as plastic and almost as helpless (on the higher conceptual levels) as Helen Keller’s mind was at her start.
“There are many special or “cross-filed” chains of abstractions (of interconnected concepts) in man’s mind. Cognitive abstractions are the fundamental chain, on which all the others depend. Such chains are mental integrations, serving a special purpose and formed accordingly by a special criterion.
“Cognitive abstractions are formed by the criterion of: what is essential? (epistemologically essential to distinguish one class of existents from all others). Normative abstractions are formed by the criterion of: what is good? Esthetic abstractions are formed by the criterion of: what is important?”