Tuesday, October 21, 2008

More, please!

I have spent a great deal of time, at great benefit to myself, engaging autistic adults since my oldest son was diagnosed with autism in 2004.
Aside from simply enjoying the exchanges, and from learning copious amounts about what living with autism may be like from an experiential standpoint, I have perpetually searched for meaningful things that could, hopefully, cause me to become a better parent to my son by their knowing.
Firm conclusions that are somehow specific to autism have been elusive. In fact, and as a polar opposite to the Jenny McCarthys of the world, I have found that parental approaches effective for autistic children are remarkably similar to parental approaches for neurotypical children. Be patient. Be kind. Teach in a way that is effective. Sublimate your own needs for the needs of your child. Form a supportive community. Roll with the proverbial punches. Be prepared to lose a little sleep. Maximize the fun moments, but know when to calm things down. Expect yourself and your child to be disappointed and frustrated sometimes. The list goes on, and is certainly familiar to anyone who has done their best to raise a child.
But ... there is one thing that seems to be incredibly impactful in improving the quality of life for the autistic child/person. This thing is debated from a tremendous number of angles, but in the endgame most folks agree upon its importance. This thing is communication. If I could wish one thing for all autistic people, including my own two sons who are on the spectrum, it is that they find satisfying ways to communicate that expand the boundaries of their interpersonal environments.
My oldest son is an atypical communicator. He is a boy who, upon casual observation, does not move or behave in such a way as to lead someone to believe he may not be neurotypical. But, all it takes is a brief conversation with him to know you are dealing with someone special. Community members who are strangers (ie. cashiers, librarians, friends' parents) are often "thrown off" by J's interactions - they simply don't know how to take him. Still, he communicates effectively if not typically.
My youngest son, however, is not communicating verbally. Developmentally, this is not shocking as he is only 21 months old. Lots of 21-month olds don't speak. At the same time, he is not even showing the vaguest signs of verbal communication yet. Knowing what we know about the importance of communication, we started C on a sign language program a full month before he was even diagnosed with autism. That was in July. It is now October and, guess what? Baby C is signing reliably! Only two words, but they are really important words for a 21-month old to know. The first one is "eat".

There could be no more fitting end to this post that taking Baby C's second sign and directing it right back at him:

"More, please!"


Anonymous said...

This post brings back happy memories of how excited we were when our son started signing. He, too, was delayed in talking but picked up signs pretty quickly. I remember "more" and "cookies" being two of his first signs!

Anonymous said...

People interested in learning more about autism are welcome to listen to Midnight In Chicago's FREE Autism Spectrum Podcasts which can be found at www.mic.mypodcast.com

jypsy said...

"More" was one of Alex's first and most used signs. He mostly used it, as I recall, to request more water in the bathtub.

Jen said...

It's funny- even years after my kids have stopped signing I still use their old signs when I'm upset or need to make a definite point (all done! is a particularly effective one). I'm not sure why I'm the only person in the family who still uses them under stress :-)

jypsy said...

I still use "come here" with all my kids (now 16-23), it sure beats yelling across a crowded room, if I can catch their eye I can communicate that message wherever we are.

Steve D said...

Thanks for the comments. Its nice to hear from others who have "been there, done that".

Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly believe that communication, in whatever form, is the bridge to helping these children live comfortably in this world. Signing is wonderful, but the use of visual supports (pictures of things) works immediately and extremely well. Visit www.justbeelearning.com to and click on the "how to use" link to learn more. My son loved it and was able to learn to speak much more quickly with these tools. Good luck.

Navi said...

Tristan uses more, as well!