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Communication Rules

We knew early on that our son wasn’t quite like other kids. First off, he was very impatient. Witness his insistence on popping out a full eleven weeks before his due date. As he grew, we noticed he didn’t seem to care much about playing with other kids, but my husband said he just took after his mother.

Then we noticed he had a knack for memorizing things. Songs. Whole books. All the dialogue from entire episodes of his favorite cartoons, including the accents from English (Peppa Pig) to redneck (Larry the Cable Guy from Cars). We noticed he loved to do things in steps and got flustered if you made him change the routine. And we noticed he wasn’t especially coachable…as did his poor soccer coach who never quit figured out how to get him to stop spinning circles in the middle of the field while the other team was scoring a goal.

Those of you who are familiar probably already know what I’m going to say. After months of testing and observation, yesterday a whole committee of teachers, administrators and therapists convened to officially classify our son as autistic for educational purposes.

It’s a weird feeling, having your child slotted into Special Education, even though in Logan’s case it actually means an accelerated curriculum in areas like math. It also means he’ll get coaching in how to greet a classmate, how to join in a game, how to have a conversation, how to recognize other people’s emotions–all things that come naturally to other people, but that he must be taught.

No one exactly agrees on the specific label. Some would call it Asperger’s. Think television’s House, or Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory. Logan is at the very high end of the autism scale and tests nearly normal one on one with an adult. It’s in a crowded classroom amongst his peers that his behavioral and social issues really come to the surface. I’m sure spending a good deal of his time as the only child on a remote ranch with four adults at his beck and call has not helped in this respect.

Now we have to learn to adapt, to build on his strengths and shore up his weaknesses, one of which is the ability to process auditory information, especially verbal instructions without some kind of visual demonstration. The speech pathologist advised us to give instructions in a step by step manner and pair it with either pictures or gestures whenever possible.

Yep, the writer’s kid is a constant, living example of ‘show, don’t tell’. Now there’s some irony for you.

So Saturday afternoon we had a blizzard (Yeah, the kind with snow. I wish I could tell you that was a freak occurrence here in May but I would be lying). Snow in May comes down in giant slushballs and soaks through gloves and coats pretty much instantly, so by the time we dragged a newborn calf into the barn to warm up we were chilled through. Then we walked in the house and the power went out.

We got into dry clothes and hunkered on the couch to read and try to get warm. Logan was sitting on the end of his bed, playing his handheld Leapster game. My husband said, “Hey, Logan, hand me that blue blanket.”

No response. Oh, right–give instructions step by step, words and gestures. Emphasize eye contact. (And yes, in case you hadn’t reasoned it out by now, my child’s bed is in the living room, a few steps from the couch. It’s a bunkhouse, people. We consider ourselves lucky to have indoor plumbing).

So Greg said, “Logan, look at me please.”

Logan looked at him.

“There is a blue blanket on your bed.” Greg pointed to the blanket in question. “Would you please pick it up and bring it over to me?”

“Why?”

“Because I’m cold.”

Logan gave that some thought. Then he looked at the bed. Then he shrugged and went back to his video game.

“Logan,” Greg said, straining mightily for patience. No sense getting angry if the boy didn’t understand. Just repeat the instructions in a better way. “Look at me and listen closely. Would you please give me the blue blanket?”

Logan gave the bed another blank look and didn’t move, at which point I finally glanced up from my laptop, assessed the situation, and said, “Logan, get your daddy the purple blanket please.”

And Logan got up, grabbed the blanket and delivered it as requested. Because he might be autistic, but unlike his father he is not color blind.

Kari Lynn Dell – Montana for Real

 

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22 Responses

  1. LOL. That’s a pretty cute story.

    I know many kids who’ve been diagnosed wtihin the spectrum of autism, most on the end that allows the child to be totally functional within society. Sounds like you have good support and a good grasp on what your boy needs. I’m sure it will take a lot of patience, something I don’t have much of.

  2. I was going to say the same thing, Kari, that it sounds like you have good people supporting you. Kind of amazing in today’s educational world. (It seems we have SO many more resources and ability to meet all kids’ needs so much better than 20, 40, 60 years ago, as well as a corresponding resistance to utilizing those, all budget-based for the most part.)

    I know so many authors who have kids diagnosed with autism. You’re in good company. 🙂

    And I LOVE the blanket story. LOL

  3. Kari, I know how you feel. My son was put in the special ed class when he entered school, for many of the same reasons you described. It doesn’t change the fact that he’s a beautiful boy, but it does make for some interesting parenting. The good news is that years ago he (and you) would have been allowed to struggle and drown without any helping hands. Now there’s much more support and understanding.

    And maybe your household would benefit from you labeling the color of everything. Just a thought.

    • We were especially lucky because Logan’s kindergarten teacher has an autistic son, so she recognized the signs immediately and asked for help. He’s been evaluated by a an entire team of psychologists, the special ed coordinator, speech pathologists and an occupational therapist. In every case they’ve emphasized that the school needs to learn to adapt to Logan rather than the reverse, which is what would have been the case back when I was that age.

      We’ve also been advised to turn on the closed captioning on our television and label all kinds of things in our house because autistic kids learn visually and having words attached to things will help them read. As for labeling colors– Logan knows them all just fine, but we maybe should do it for his dad.

  4. I should also mention that it certainly doesn’t hurt that the grade school principal is one of my high school classmates.

  5. LOL! A cute twist–wasn’t sure where your story was going. During my long teaching career, I had a number of children with autism. I gotta tell you, while they can present a challenge, they can also be quite a delight to be around with their quirky outlooks. They gave me many fond memories. One of the best was the boy who wouldn’t let anybody touch him, but he hugged me spontaneously the last day of school.

    • Aw, that’s sweet. And yes, our boy is pretty fun. He doesn’t have temper tantrums, issues with touching, aggressiveness or any of the really hard to handle stuff that can go with autism. In fact, he has no temper at all. I’ve never seen him get truly angry, only frustrated. Mostly he’s a very happy guy who sees nothing wrong with his modus operandus. It’s the rest of us who sometimes want to beat our head on the nearest solid object.

  6. I LOVE the story, Kari. You will have your challenges…with Logan and Greg! HAHAHA Autistic for one and color-blind for the other!

    But knowing now will make the difference in Logan’s life, IMHO.

    What have you told him? Have you told him he’s been diagnosed with something? Or how have you explain things to him? What about your parents? On board with all the changes you will have to make in communication?

    When you get tired of the snow, come down and stay with me for a week or so. We’ll even drive down and see Keri and Liz!

    • Logan loves the extra attention and time out of the classroom to go to the resource room or the math room, so we haven’t bothered explaining anything. One of the benefits of his kind of autism– he is literally incapable of giving a crap what anybody thinks of him. Wouldn’t that have been handy in high school?

      My parents are more of a challenge, but they’re slowing starting to grasp why he doesn’t respond like other kids and that he most likely never will. My dad isn’t bothered much but my mom is very worried that he’ll never have friends. I’ve got a couple of books and the movie Temple Grandin on order to help them along. The thing is, he’s so borderline that he actually could grow out of a lot of the problem behaviors. The social thing…maybe, but probably not completely.

      My snow is only supposed to last one day (yes, we have more in the forecast, then we’re shooting back up into the seventies, which is hot for us at this time of year. I’m thinking your humidity would leave me nothing but a puddle.

  7. Oh, what a story on empathy and understanding. Logan is so luck to have such wonderful parents. Autisim is so wide and misunderstood at present, but I don’t know one child who fits into that round peg. Autism is different and falls outside of the “general diagnosis.” Thank you for sharing this story, Kari Lynn!

  8. What a great story. Thanks for making me laugh out loud. I’m so glad you have a good support system with your family and your school. That will make such a huge difference for him and for you.

    My son has high functioning Aspergers as well and I’m so fortunate to have that good support system too. I’m very encouraged by the continued growth I see in his social skills. He’s 16 now. Whenever I talk about this I think of the movie Shrek when Donkey says: “Ogres are like onions, they have layers.” Our guy is like that. We keep peeling the layers back and there’s more good stuff there.

    • That’s good to hear. Right now the other kids love him, but my biggest worry is that somewhere along the line it’s going to hit him that he doesn’t quite fit in and he’ll get slammed with a lifetime of self consciousness all at once.

      • I hear you. I didn’t talk with him about his diagnosis till he was in 6th grade. A long time I know (he was diagnosed just before his 4th birthday), but I was really concerned about putting a ceiling on what he could do and concerned that he would see his Aspergers as a negative. Waiting to talk about that “official diagnosis” was a good thing for us.
        He sees his Aspergers as part of who he is. He just turned in a term paper a week ago and the subject he chose was autism. One of his main ideas in the paper was that people see autism as something that has to be cured, fixed or autistics as people who are damaged. He said, “I just want people to understand me and accept me for who I am.” Huge lesson there for myself and his dad.

        • I have a very cool article saved on my home computer about the new research into asperger’s/autism and how their way of thinking is a huge advantage in many kinds of problem solving. I’ll post it here this evening.

          Here’s how I think of it: like it or not, the so-called ‘normal’ people hardly ever come up with the ideas that change the world. It’s the ones whose brains operate uniquely who are able to step outside the box and revolutionize their field. .

  9. Thanks Keri, you’ve given me some useful insight. My 4 year-old great-nephew (crap, that makes me sound old!) sounds much like Logan. I will now have greater understanding now about what my sister and her family are going through when trying to communicate with him.

    • Humble appologies for spelling your name wrong! I hate when that happens to me…. but I couldn’t find a way to edit once it was posted.

      • No problem, KC, we’ve got both Keri and Kari here so it does get confusing. And for anyone trying to get insight into autism I highly recommend looking at the movie Temple Grandin and at her books (although the animal science gets a bit heavy in a couple of them and you probably don’t really need to know how to masturbate a pig). I’ve had a couple real AHA moments listening to her describe what it’s like inside her head.

  10. GREAT story Kari. And I love your outlook on things. Parenting: constantly about adjusting, changing and creating to fit things around what your kid needs. go yall!

    So awesome with how the schools can adjust around to meet kids needs.

  11. Kari, you are the mistress of the surprise ending, and always make me laugh out loud. That said, I know this must be hard to process. I hope the extra attention for your son helps though, and I’m glad his school has the resources to make it happen.

    • Thanks, Gwen. The thing about autistic kids like mine who are very verbal…they’re pretty damn fun. Quirky, and always surprising you with their unique take on things. It’s their teachers and coaches who have the hard job. And yes, it throws you for a bit of a loop the first time someone comes right out and says, “Your kid is autistic” even when you’ve been expecting it. But for parents of an only kid like us there’s also a real sense of relief, because maybe it’s not just that we really suck at this job.

  12. I think wordpress has something against me. I’ve been trying to comment. : ( I will condense my original comments to what was really important. Kari, your son is so lucky to have you as a mom!

    • Aww. Thanks Shawna. Sometimes I wonder, when I spend half a day with my head in a story and my hands on the keyboard while he entertains himself, but I think all writers feel that way at some point, no matter what kind of kids they have.

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