Dakota: “Auntie Kat, who is that lady?”
Me: “That’s me silly”
Dakota: (long pause) “Really? I like you better like that. You should be like that again.”
Me: (in my head) OUCH!
I told Dakota that I am older now and that people change as they grow up and get older . I tried to use an example to make her understand and so I asked her if she looked the same now as she did when she was a baby but I obviously forgot how to talk to a four year old because she drifted off into some place way more fun that listening to Auntie Kat. A few minutes later, she said something about me not being pretty like in the photo and since the getting older thing was not a success I tried to explain that I’ve been sick for a long time and when you don’t feel good you don’t bother to put on makeup or do your hair all pretty. WRONG AGAIN!
Putting make up on is her newest obsession (ever since her 4th birthday) and as soon as I saw her face I realized I had just confused her even more so I asked her
“Would you love Auntie Kat more if I looked like I used to in that picture?”
It didn’t take long at all for her to answer “no” so I went on to explain that it didn’t matter what I looked like, because all that mattered was how much we loved each other and that the way we love other people is what makes us beautiful. .For a second there I was almost proud of myself for teaching her this very important lesson but before I could pat myself on the back, she interrupted me to repeat the fact that she wanted me to look like the picture again and could put on my makeup! (Can you blame her? Obviously I wasn’t using it! lol)
To add insult to injury as my mother likes to say, about two days later, my son Tyler saw the same picture and had an opinion of his own to share with me.
Even though Tyler is 12, he is really closer to the same emotional maturity level as Dakota. It is important to remember that kids with autism see things in black and white and the way that someone feels about something is as foreign to them as feelings were to Spock in Star Trek!
Anyway, when he saw the picture (why I left that damn picture out, I’ll never know!), he said “I like you that way better. You should be like that again” DOUBLE OUCH!!
At the time, I wasn’t able to look at it as objectively as I am now and since it was less than 48 hours since Dakota made almost the same remark I just wanted to bury my head under the covers and hide my hideous self from the world. I felt like the main character in the movie, “The Elephant Man” or something at that point. But I gathered myself up by my “mommy strings” and again, tried the same routine, ahem…I mean tried to have the same discussion with Tyler that I had had with Dakota a couple of days earlier and guess what? I got almost the exact same result! I obviously need to work on my communication skills with children! LOL
However, choosing to look at my “not pretty anymore glass” as half full, I think I may have gotten through to Tyler a little when I explained that words, true or not, can hurt other peoples feelings. At first, he totally didn’t get it so I asked him in a way that was I knew he could understand. I asked him:
“How would you feel if someone told you that you were a bad skateboarder?
What if someone said you couldn’t even do a kick-flip or a 360?”
He thought about it for a second and then said angrily,
“I’d sock them because their lying! I learned how to do a kickflip in 2 hours when it takes most people…”
At that point I realized he took me literally and was thinking someone actually said that stuff about him and I knew things are getting off track. After more explaining we, or I rather, determined that IF someone said that stuff, he would be angry because that person made him feel bad. I explained that some people don’t get mad, they get sad and feel bad about themselves and it can even make some people cry. He looked at me with a look that said “What IS she talking about now?”
If I put myself in his shoes he was probably thinking that all he did was state the truth. He saw something and told me what he saw. He communicated. After all, that’s what everyone’s been teaching him to do all his life right? He had no ill intent. So why on earth is his mom going on and on about this? (Poor kid, he must think we are all crazy!)
I do so much explaining and re-explaining that sometimes it feels as of I’m interpreting one language to another only to realize that the interpretation is wrong and I have much more to learn.
At the end of the day all I can do is hope that my message may have gotten through and that he filed away in his “backpack” somewhere. I give myself an E for Effort anyway!
I should probably explain the “backpack” thing huh? It helped me so maybe it will help you in terms of how you think of the things you are teaching (or trying to teach) your child.
Tyler had a therapist about a year ago who was coming out to our home to try and help him get through the abuse that he had recently suffered at his previous school. When she first started seeing him, she would just talk to him and anybody could see that he was off in his own little world (probably skateboarding in the biggest, bestest skatepark EVER!) and not paying attention to her at all. So in an attempt to explain to her what I was sure she wasn’t aware of I told her,
“He is not listening to you. He isn’t hearing a thing you are saying. You have to get him to look you in the eye and then test him by asking him what you just said”.
She replied that in her experience, children like Tyler take in MUCH more than most people think, including their parents, doctors teachers, etc. She said in order for him to learn, it takes repetition. You just have to keep teaching him over and over until he gets it, (or until you die of old age lol).
I told her I didn’t think anything she said actually got in, you know, past his ears and she said,
“Tyler’s brain is like a miniature filing cabinet that can never be filled up. Everything he hears or experiences gets filed in this filing cabinet and he carries it around with him everywhere he goes, like a backpack. You may think he isn’t hearing or understanding what you are trying to teach him but you have to keep on doing it. You have to keep teaching him over and over for the rest of his life because you never know…one day he may just pull something right out of his backpack when he needs it most.”
At the time I thought she was nuts and was SURE that he had once again been placed with a therapist who didn’t have a clue about what she was doing. We were going through so much at that time that I can’t even begin to explain.
With Ty, some things stick and some don’t. I’ve been teaching him simple things since he was a baby and at the age of 12, he still hasn’t learned some of the most basic functions that we perform every day without even thinking about it. (But he can learn a skateboard trick in mere minutes and remember it forever! He can “beat” the most complicated video game in mere hours, do math problems in his head that I can’t do with a calculator.
Tyler couldn’t talk for a long time, he had his own language that nobody else understood but believe me, it was a real language to him. Before he was even able to communicate well he has had the ability to hear an infomercial or an ad on the tv or radio and then walk around for days or weeks repeating it, word for word, in the same voice, with the same inflections and everything! It’s amazing…and weird! lol But simple, everyday things that are necessary to live an independent life he still hasn’t learned. In fact in many areas I can see his growth slowing. stopping and in some cases, regressing.
Anyway, I don’t remember the exact incident but Ty did something and I started to get after him and, it was something I’ve said a gazillion times before, since he was little but he had not yet “picked up” on it. Before I could finish my “mommy wisdom”, he pulled it RIGHT out of his (metaphorical) backpack and said it to me before I could! HE FILED IT AWAY SOMEWHERE AND IT WAS THERE ALL ALONG!!!! I couldn’t believe it! I absolutely freaked out because I was so happy and so proud of him! I was seeing another part of him that I didn’t know was there until that precise moment. The therapist was absolutely right!
Unfortunately I acted in such an emotional, illogical way that he probably thought I had lost my mind (once again) lol. The look on his face told me that he couldn’t figure out what I was making such a fuss about, after all, he simply did what I’d been telling him to do for oh…11 years? LOL
I wish I could see what he sees through those beautiful eyes of his. I mean besides the fact that I’m not pretty anymore! LOL
To be continued…