Tag Archives: pointing

Autism And The Art Of Conversation

17 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Every night, I give my older son George a piggy-back ride to bed. These days are numbered, of course. George is almost nine and he’s all arms and legs. Someday soon, he will too tall and heavy for me to cart around on my back. For now, though, I treasure these last days of being able to pick up my son.

We get to his room, where I dump him unceremoniously on his bed. He tucks himself in while I turn off the light, and then I lie down beside him. For the next few minutes, it’s just him and me, alone in the entire world.

We talk. I ask him questions. He answers them.

Who does Mommy love? She loves George.
Who does George love? He loves Mommy.
How do you feel? Happy.
Did you have a nice day? Yes.
Where did you go? School.
What did you do there? Math.

Always the same questions. Always the same answers.

I follow this ritual for the sense of closeness between me and my son, because it’s a comforting part of our time together. I also do it to help him practice the art of conversation. His verbal communication skills are worlds behind those of typical kids his age. He knows how to talk, how to make requests and the occasional joke. He is starting to make the odd remark for social purposes, and not just when he needs something.

But he does not know how to have a conversation. So I am teaching him.

When George was first diagnosed with autism, he did not know how to point. Over a period of eleven painstaking months, during which I followed the same routine every single night, no matter how futile it seemed, I taught him how to point. I still cry when I think of the first time I was rewarded with him pointing independently.

If I could teach him how to point, surely I can teach him how to have a conversation. After all, they are both forms of communication, right?

From time to time, I switch up the questions during our nightly routine, and ask him something else. When I do that, he never answers the question I ask. He gives an answer to the question he was expecting. I don’t mind. It just shows that he’s not yet ready to move to the next level. There’s no rush. I can wait. It will happen when he’s ready for it to happen.

It’s OK that he has memorized the sequence of questions and answers. Children learn to read in much the same way, rote-repeating sentences that they have heard many times, before making the connection with the printed text. There is every reason to believe that George’s relationship with conversation could evolve in much the same way.

While I’m helping him learn a skill that will be of value to him for his whole life, I am treasuring those nightly moments we spend together.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

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The Beauty Of Autism

31 May

"Peep And The Big Wide World" by George

It was a beautiful moment. One of those moments that autism parents celebrate, that parents of neurotypical children completely fail to notice.

I got home after a long, hard day at work, feeling tired and cranky. As I trudged my way up the driveway, all I wanted to do was grab a glass of wine, collapse into a chair, and never get up again. I didn’t just feel lethargy. At that moment, I was lethargy.

I opened the front door and stepped into the house. Moments later, I heard a pair of feet thundering up the stairs from the basement, and a seven-year-old whirlwind launched itself at me, almost knocking me to my feet. After giving me a ferocious hug, George said, in his sweet sing-song voice, “Hi, Mommy!”

Without me saying hi to him first.

Without me or anyone else prompting him.

This was a social exchange that was initiated completely, 100%, by my child with autism – my child who has, as one of his biggest challenges, social communication difficulties.

Instantly, my energy was back and I was ready to laugh and play with my family, with this amazing child who always seems to give me surprises of wonder.

As a special needs mom, I find that my life is punctuated with moments like this. I remember firsts that I probably wouldn’t even notice if I didn’t have a child with autism.

Like the first time he pointed. What a joyous occasion that was, coming as it did after almost a full year of me teaching him how to point. I blubbed my eyes out that night, all over the Bob the Builder book that had been the vehicle for this accomplishment.

Then there was the first time he made a request using a full sentence. It didn’t matter to me that the sentence was only three words long. This child who said, “I want juice” was streets ahead of the child who, just a few months before, had indicated his need by grabbing my hand and thrusting it in the general direction of the juice boxes.

And what about the first time he pretend-played? It was a simple game that consisted of George crouching down on the ground, and crawling around with his back arched skyward while repeatedly saying, “Turtle.” So what if it was unsophisticated play that included only himself? He was pretending – something he had never done before.

More recently, we celebrated him drawing his first picture. He’d made lots of scribbly-type drawings in the past, of course (and I have kept every single one of them), but this was his first picture depicting an actual scene. That it was an instantly recognizable scene from his favourite kids’ show, Peep And The Big Wide World, makes it even more special.

We have seen the advent of humour, and this is all kinds of significant. Humour is a complicated intellectual process, and George gets it. And let me tell you, he is funny.

All of these moments, when strung together, tell a story of a very special little boy who is making a journey through life that is somewhat different to the way other kids do it. But the point is that he is making the journey and having all kinds of adventures. He may be taking the scenic route, but ultimately, he does pass through the same places that other kids do. He achieves many of the same things, but it takes a little longer and is accomplished in unconventional ways.

I believe that having a child with autism makes me a better parent than I would be otherwise.

It has given me the ability to spot a single flower in a sea of long grass, and more importantly, the power to stop and smell every single flower that I pass on this journey through my kids’ childhoods.