By Susan Schaller
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Additional info for A Man Without Words
Unlike Ildefonso, who repeated everything without comprehension—a visual 37 A MAN WITHOUT WORDS echolalia—Mary Ann simulated communication with meaningless speech and gestures. She didn't seem perturbed by the lack of meaning as long as she was acting like other people. I never saw her use language, but her communication was not all nonsense. The day before she had signed "blood" and graphically portrayed sexual intercourse via gestures. There were bits of meaning without any coherence—a string of items flung out randomly.
What did he understand? Did he think of language as simply a more permanent string of names than his gestures, or did he somehow glimpse a more sophisticated system? On the bus ride home, I became convinced that we could never truly meet. His questions and my questions would never find answers. He would always wonder how to break the code and find meaning and rules. I would always wonder what had caused his tears and, especially, his trance when confronted with written names. I missed the bus the next morning and was late.
He moved even closer, breathing deeply. " his dark eyes asked. My face beamed as I signed "cat" and opened the book to the cat picture. "Cat" he signed, but without a change of expression. I waited, but he did nothing. "Ildefonso," I signed, his namesign which I had picked up from the teacher. Elena had probably invented it. I pointed to him. " "You—Ildefonso," I repeated, head nodding. "Ildefonso," he signed looking at the wall behind me. Twenty-seven years without a name. I wondered if it meant anything to him now.