There is a really funny skit I remember from my childhood years of watching The Electric Company called “Coffee and a Sweet Roll”. It was a simple conversation between a waitress and a customer (I will paraphrase, as it’s from memory):
“What can I get you?”
“I’ll have coffee and a sweet roll.”
“We’re out of sweet rolls.”
“Oh, then I’ll have orange juice, and a sweet roll.”
“We’re… out of sweet rolls.”
“Then can I have milk and a sweet roll?”
“WE DON’T HAVE ANY SWEET ROLLS!!!!”
“Then I’ll just have a sweet roll.”
It still makes me giggle, probably because it describes many people I interact with daily : )
If you look at it from a different angle, in relation to how your Autistic child processes information, it can lift another veil in understanding and diffusing some of those frustrating moments.
How many times have you had to repeat a command or request to your child for what you perceive to be a simple and obvious task? If your house is like mine, it can sometimes be seven or eight, and then my patience can surpass simmer and go straight to a rolling boil. While it’s true children make you repeat yourself in general, consider that your Autistic child simply and honestly may not understand what you’re asking, nor do they know how to ask for clarification. Many times, if a question or statement isn’t understood by my son he will simply bypass it and move on as if it were a “File Not Found” error that automatically redirected to a new website.
Multiple commands are difficult to process. It took me a while to realize this and stop perceiving my son as being defiant. Asking him to put on his socks and shoes, brush his teeth, and meet me in the car while I pour my morning coffee (the way I would process the morning’s rituals) would result in communication failure. I would most likely finish my tasks, expecting him to be diligently checking off the list I assigned him, and then find him on his Nintendo DS with none of the items completed. Naturally at that point (after a minor litany of loud grumblings), I would also expect him to hurry through the list sharing my sense of urgency, understanding that we were now late.
It never happens that way.
Here’s the deal. He doesn’t process multiple commands. He doesn’t break his ritual or the order things should be done because I am yelling that we’re late. He doesn’t “just know” what comes next without being told. I can tell him we are out of sweet rolls until I’m shouting it, but he will still ask for them. Why? Because at this time, that is how his brain processes information. It is MY EXPECTATIONS of him that are causing the frustrations and meltdowns, not his behavior.
If I continue to repeat myself in these same fashions, doesn’t that mean I’m expecting him to do something he’s not capable of? Wouldn’t that be the same as going into a hardware store and asking for a loaf of bread? Would I keep asking the cashier over and over for bread, raising my voice and getting frustrated, or would I eventually figure out that I have to go to a different store to get what I need?
I learned the hard way that I can’t get mad at my child when I am expecting something from him based on the way I operate and think. Something he simply isn’t capable of. Boy do I love the mornings so much more now that I am looking for bread in the right store, and so does he!
BONUS tips for the morning:
- Single commands (Put your socks on. Good. Now go brush your teeth. Great job!)
- Predictable routines
- Visual cues hanging in a central location that you can refer to
- Laying out items the night before
- Saving TV or games until after tasks are completed (still working on this one!)
- Allowing extra time for zippers, buttons, etc.
- Having races to see who finishes some of the tasks first
- Using a timer – making it a fun game
- Lots of positive reinforcement!
I loved how you entertwined the Electric Company skit into such a clear, concise explanation of synaptic processing in a child with these types of challenges. You’re doing a great job of decoding some the mysteries of this particular challenge to those of us who do not deal with it on a daily basis. I look forward to your posts because I know I’m always going to learn something new.
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