Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Analogy Works Both Ways

Well ... hello again everyone. Long time, no blog. On with it, then.

In the hubbub of daily life in the D household (and believe me when I tell you that a term that adequately describes our level of chaos has not yet been coined), it is exceedingly and unfortunately rare that focused, direct, one-on-one communication is able to take place.
It is very fortunate, therefore, that my 7-year-old, highly verbal, autism-spectrum son and I have established a new bedtime routine that provides that well-needed time. T, my middle son, is also welcome to join in, but this is a routine that J thinks about now all day long, and simply will not do without. This routine is well known in many households around the world, and is certainly not unique to us. It is ... Bedtime Stories.

To understand why this simple topic justifies a blog entry of its own, one must understand the stage of interest/learning/discovery/passion/focus that J is at right now. I think of him as an intellectual tuning fork in a lot of ways; interacting with him is rewarding (and enjoyable and fun) on so many levels (especially - as many "autism" parents can relate to - being previously told that his likelihood of developing valid communication aptitude is very low) and yet also rigorous by virtue of needing to resonate with his particular and fairly demanding communication style.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I settled into a certain genre of storytelling that is based on modifying fables ("the moral of this story is...") to fit the theme of a young Indian Brave named Redwing. Actually, it began as Redwing - largely due to my ignorance of Native American nomenclature and resulting cliched approach to inventing a name (let alone the Detroit NHL franchise of the same name) - but very quickly changed to a new name.

Me: "This is a story about a little Indian Brave named Redwing. One day Redwing..."
J (interrupting): "But my favorite color is Blue"
Me: "Okay, blue is a great color. I like orange, myself. But this is a story about Redwing and the big archery contest..."
J: "Awww. But my favorite color is blue. Why is Redwing Red?"
Me: "Redwing is his name, but the important thing is that he needs to get ready for the big archery contest! So Red wing decided one day..."
J (interrupting): "If he was blue, then he would be my favorite color, you know."

*pause, as I consider...*

Me: "Once, there was a little Indian Brave named Bluewing..."
and off we went - a tradition was born.

Now we have run into another unexpected issue. J now recognizes when I am using an analogy to his own life to try to create a teachable moment.
Example: We recently took a trip to Hawaii. My wife and Baby C were unable to go, depsite the existing travel plans, due to Baby C's own issues (he was diagnosed with autism in August). J had very significant homesickness issues due to, in his own words, Mommy and Baby C not being with us. After we returned, I adapted a Bluewing story to mimic this set of circumstances. I very cleverly wove a tale about how Bluewing was going "whale-watching" on an island, and how he would be honored to travel with his father and all the fun adventures they would have, etc, etc. At the end of the story, to which he listened with his characterstic stoic intensity, he immediately asked, "Why did you tell a story about me being homesick in Hawaii?"
I explained the value of analogy and how it helps us to understand difficult situations in our own lives, and I think that resonated with him. Because, ever since, he will certainly point out when I am inferring an analogy but he has no real objection to it. In fact, he may have warmed to the idea that maybe the Ol' Man has something relevant to offer his little 7-year old body of wisdom. And I can't help but think of this bedtime story routine as a reasonable extension of Social Stories, which seemed to help J so much from ages 3-5. Social stories presented J with digestible information in the form of a simple storyline accompanied by little pictures (i.e. "going to school" or "visiting Grandma and Poppa"), whereas Bedtime Stories seem to be fulfilling a more advanced set of needs in terms of a budding sense of ethics and morals (Bluewing is a pretty upstanding little Indian Brave) in a format that is easily digestible due to the routine and mutually-agreed-upon format.
All of which serves as yet another reminder that, in many ways, raising a child (or two) on the autism spectrum is not wholly different from raising a typically developing child. A little understanding and acomodation does go a long way...

Tonight, I told J that he needs to tell me a Bedtime Story. That from now on, Tuesday night is the night that he has to 'reciprocate'. Do you doubt his grasp of the nature of the analogy?
J: "There once was an Indian Brave named Orangewing. (big smile; "because that's your favorite color, Dad"). He knew he had to go to work. But he was sick. So he went to work sick, because he always goes to work. "


Sharon said...

Hi Steve
Happy New Year to you and the family.

This is a lovely story with a positive moral! I love how J showed how he wanted to make you enjoy his story better too.

Buck Rogers said...

That was an awesome story. The intelligence of a child's mind amazes me everyday.

Niksmom said...

Well, I sure hate to sound like a broken record but this seems to be my matra for the day:

We can learn so much from our children when we get out of our own way, yes? LOL

Happy New Year to you and your entire family; it already sounds like it's off to a pretty neat start. :-)

kristina said...

Happy happy new year and thanks for a story about, well, the power of stories!

Club 166 said...

Happy New Year, Steve!

At our place, I use a variation of the two kids names (if one was named "Joe" and the other "Shirley" I might make them named "Foe" and "Early")

The kids both love this (I make up little adventure stories-kids lost in the sewer, abducted by a witch, etc.) while I always try to weave in little messages. I consider it a win-win.