Monday, November 14, 2011


So recently we had an RDI autism consultant fly up to see us from Houston. It was an eye-opening experience in a number of ways. But I think what struck me the most was what she had to say about Patrick and demands.

When she brought the issue up, I wasn't sure at first quite exactly what she meant. So when I asked her about it, she commented on how Patrick is saying "no" to what we say, even before he has really thought about what we're asking of him or inviting him to do. This seems to be something that's really common for kids with autism, it turns out.

So, essentially, my efforts to get him to engage have been misplaced -- or perhaps have even backfired -- by causing him to associate my words with a sense that he's about to be forced to do something whether he wants to or not.

The recommendation she offered was to invite him nonverbally when I can. To talk a lot less. And to give him space and time when he's overwhelmed rather than compounding the situation by chasing after him and adding further demands to what he's already experiencing.

It also caused me to reflect on the "demands" of being a parent to child with autism. At least for me, the demands come from the intense feeling of incompetence when your child screams "no" and runs out of the room. It comes from wanting so desperately for him to grow and succeed, and feeling like you're failing and letting him down.

And is those very feelings that often cause me to chase after him when he runs, those very feelings that cause me to feel like giving up rather than patiently giving him space and re-engaging around a familiar activity.

And so, with a nod to Pema Chodron, I think it's time that I learn to become more familiar and comfortable with these feelings. To sit with them patiently and compassionately. Because in a development that really shouldn't surprise me given the field that I'm in, I'm learning from this that learning to help Patrick is, first, about learning to grow myself.

Peace to all of you.


BP said...

This post really hit home with me. When dealing with my own autistic angel, I find the sense of inadequacy as her parent and advocate the most when she does not or cannot respond appropriately to my invitations, even when I think she would enjoy what I am offering. I feel a responsibility to introduce her to as many experiences as possible since she is limited in her ability to seek out new things on her own. Being quiet and patient, waiting for her to engage in her own time, is difficult to do on many days. I find when I am exhausted from trying to understand or reach her that I resort to virtually no spoken words and depend on a lot of gestures. This almost always works better and I try to remind myself everyday that the constant chatter is more for me than for her. After 11 years with my daughter you would think I would remember that non-verbal children are usually overwhelmed by the way we speak,the number of unnecessary words we use. The sense that I have to, as her mother, "fix" it all, makes me more active when at times the best thing I can do for her is to be more passive. Anyway, I am blathering on when all I wanted to say was, thanks for your post!

steve said...

Thanks for the comment, Becky. It's interesting, I've been having some more success with Patrick lately just announcing that I'm going to do something. You know, like, "hey, I'm going to draw a picture of Jacob." Then I work on coordination by only having one pen available and when it's my turn to draw something, I may only draw part of it and see if he notices. If not, I might comment like "hey, that leg's not finished!" And when he finishes drawing the leg, I might say "I'm SO glad you finished the leg, now we can draw the face!"

The irony is he's doing better in the interactions I have with him "off camera" (i.e., when I'm not trying to record the interaction to share with our RDI consultant). I'm not sure if that's due to him being camera shy, my own anxiety about wanting it to be "perfect" or just what...

Love and miss you, my dear friend.


Brazen Hussy said...

Your statement about non-verbal communication was an interesting one to me, as I have just attended an educational seminar that dealt with engaging our at-risk students (for me, that is nearly all of my students) by using non-verbal, non-threatening communication. The presenter stressed that this is a way to allow teachers actions to speak loud enough that when we finally do choose words, we choose them wisely. Seems like an interesting tie-in with the autistic child that I didn't even think about until reading your post. You are an inspiration, my friend. Just know that when you can't think your way through a solution, LOVE is enough. :-)