“Specificity”

I am going to share a funny experience we had this week. On Saturday I decided to take a shower and do my hair. When Jacob came upstairs he had drawn symbols all over his face with pen. I responded with

Me: “OH NO! why would you do this? I don’t want to see pen on your face ever again!”

Jacob: “I am so sorry mom. I’ll fix it.”

Jacob left and I continued doing my hair.  A few minutes later Jacob returned and said “Look mom I fixed it!” Jacob’s solution to pen on his face was to completely black in his face with marker (Luckily it was not permanent).

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At first I was upset. Then I laughed and thought it was funny. But as Jason and I talked about it after, we spoke about how literal Jacob is. In my frustration I told him I did not want to see pen on his face again so he made sure I could not see any pen on his face. Clearly not the best solution but I was not specific. So I take some blame in this. Over the past few years I have realized that I need to be very careful about what and how I say things to all my children especially Jacob.

Last November I attended a conference given by Judy Endow, a Writer, and speaker who also happens to be Autistic. She spoke about what she calls “The Hidden Curriculum”. Hidden curriculum is all the social information most people know even though they were never taught. It has a lot to do with our slang sayings that do not mean what they actually say.  For example, she told us a story about when she was young she was quite upset and someone told her “don’t get your panties in a bunch”.  Well from that day on she always bought her panties individually and never “in a bunch”.

A lot of you may not know but autistic children’s brains are not wired to allow them to automatically pick up untaught, unspoken social information. This is why they are know to be “socially awkward”. They hear what you say, and in most cases do what you say but not what you ment. An example of this is when I say to Jacob “listen to me”. In most cases he will turn his head away. I don’t know about you but I tend to get upset when I ask someone to listen and they look away. What I have learned is that I need to be specific. If I want Jacob to look at me, then I need to say “Look at me”. When I ask him to listen I need to accept that he may be turning his ears towards me in hopes that he will hear what I say better. I have realized while working with Jacob that he understands everything I say the exact way I say it. This is not a bad thing but it has definitely taken some getting used to.

Having a child with autism forces me to look at the world differently. I have realized that I need to be slow to anger. When my Son does something that seems wrong I need to take a step back and think about what is the real issue. What is truly causing the problem? I cannot jump to conclusions. To me Jacob’s thought process seems so backwards most of the time, but when I take the time to analyze the situation I realize that it makes a lot of sense. Like with his marker fiasco. He solved the problem of me not wanting to see the pen on his face by covering it with marker. In this situation I need to take the time to listen to him and to try to understand his thinking. I also need to take the time to use these moments to teach him the appropriate action and to not jump to consequences or punishments. I am not saying there weren’t consequences to him colouring all over his face but If I just get mad and send him to his room or put him in a time out I believe I have lost the opportunity to talk to my child about the best way to handle this problem next time Although I hope this never happens again, the principle is the same in other situations.

So the lessons I learned:

  1. Be specific in my expectation of others.
  2. Take the time to analyze a situation before reacting
  3. Don’t leave your son colouring downstairs while you shower 🙂
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