Sometimes we miss happiness by looking too far for things nearby.
One of the things you read most about raising a child with Autism is that although many such children have difficulty communicating with words, they often communicate with their actions. For some reason, our Little Man, who has a vocabulary which is clearly beyond his years, does not see those words as having the primary purpose of communicating with others. He uses his words primarily for the purpose of humoring himself. But the words are there. The knowledge and ability of how to use them are there. But, for whatever reason, he chooses other methods of communication first. If he wants you to open the door to the basement, his fist step is usually to grab your hand, walk you over to the door and place your hand on the knob. On good days, that is sometimes associated with a calmly voiced “Downstairs.” On so-so days, it is voiced with really loudly yelled “DOWNSTAIRS!” and on other days – it is accompanied with no words at all.
The other day, I was doing a little cooking and he came over to grab my – possibly salmonella contaminated – cooking hands to lead me to a desired object. Obviously, I did not want him to grab my raw chicken handling hands. But, I was afraid that he would not understand my reaction of drawing my hands back and away from him. So I felt the need to communicate with him somehow. So as I pulled my hands back, I bent forward, leaned toward him and said “use your words.”
I don’t know why I picked that phrase. We never used it with him before. As far as I know, it is not something any of his therapists or teachers use with him. I think I was just channeling something I recall from some crazy parenting book about handing the tantruming that usually accompanies the terrible twos. Whatever the reason, that is what I said.
Then, something strange happened. He looked at me and said “Daddy, I want to go downstairs, please.”
Just like that, we have opened a new avenue to verbal communication. Since that fateful event about two weeks ago, whenever the Little Man exhibits signs of discomfort, or aggression, or sadness, my wife and I say “use your words.” Right now I think we are over a 75% success rate of having him respond with exactly what it is will make him feel better. In fact, as if often the case with such amazing little breakthroughs, I think this might ultimately help him voice his needs without the need of the “use your words” prompt. In fact, just last night, as I was wrestling with him to try to get his pajamas, I thought he was fussing because he did not want the jammies on. I was wrong. Without prompting, he stopped fighting, looked me right in the eyes and said “Daddy, I want to go poopie on the potty.” And, so he did.
Obviously meaningful verbal communication is only part of our puzzle. But we feel better having the avenue of communication available to us. Hopefully this mini-breakthrough leads to more!