|Our spirited 6 year old!!|
"A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time."
-Annie Dillard, Author
We had expected to hear these phrases of protest at the age of 2, but were quite surprised when they didn't emerge until around the age of 6. Such is the scenario with a child who experiences significant speech and/or communication delays.
You would think we had asked her to move a mountain, but what we really wanted her to do was something quite simple: sit on the potty, brush her teeth, step into the bath, brush her hair or etc.
We learned rather quickly that demanding things of her was not going to work. If we proceeded on that course we would be continually at odds with our daughter and was that really how we wanted our relationship with her to be? No!
So, we started to think back on our observations of her play, how she responded to various scenarios, and what were high motivators to her. We quickly realized that counting, numbers, and lining things up were the common denominators in all those situations. Kylie also loves anything Disney.
Once we had all of those pieces of information, we just had to figure out how to speak "Kylie Language."
Learning to speak our daughter's language literally changed our lives! We saw a level of cooperation from Kylie that was simply amazing.
An example of how we implemented these pieces of information occurred when we took Kylie to the hospital to have an x-ray for one of her doctors.
On a piece of paper we made a list/schedule of what was going to happen. (Kylie taught herself to read, so we were able to use words, but you could also use pictures).
The list said:
1. Put on a silly, heavy dress
2. Lay very still like Sleeping Beauty
3. Take a picture of my tummy
4. All Done.
We shared the schedule/list with Kylie once we arrived at the hospital and were in the waiting room. (If you share the schedule too far in advance it will create more anxiety rather than lessen it)
When the 2 female x-ray techs met us in the waiting room, we had Kylie show them her list and we quietly explained to them that our daughter experiences autism and that if they could play along, it would really help things go smoothly.
We then had Kylie read each point to the techs - this was very empowering for Kylie and allowed her to feel somewhat in control (like a supervisor on the work floor)
The 2 x-ray techs were amazing. They helped "the princess" get dressed for "the silly ball" - even having her twirl in her silly, heavy dress. They gave her an "extra fluffy pillow" for her head and made a big deal of taking a picture of her tummy and having "the prince" (daddy) "wake her up" with a magic kiss.
Then at the end - to our delight, they awarded her with princess stickers! It was the most amazing experience and Kylie was calm and in control the entire time.
There are multiple benefits for using a list/schedule with numbers/counting:
1. Your child's expectations are set in advance. They know exactly what is going to happen and their anxiety is lessened because the element of surprise is now neutralized.
2. They know that the task at hand has a beginning and an ending. They know there will be a firm stopping point and they know WHEN that will occur.
3. Having a numbered list/schedule helps them to know in what order the steps are to be completed. They don't have to worry about "What's next?"
4. The concern/anxiety of the unknown is greatly eliminated or lessened.
5. They know in advance what is required of them and have an opportunity to ask questions or to prepare mentally for what is coming.
An additional piece of advice to keep in mind....
When your child protests (and they WILL at times), be sure to discipline appropriately. Do NOT discipline your child for communicating with you (even if they are screaming a "NO!!"). Instead, address the attitude, tone, and level of politeness that frames the communication.
When your child screams "No!!" calmly say to your child "Thank you for telling me. I can tell that you don't want to do what mommy asks"
You have just created a safe place/platform in which to communicate with your child. You have also effectively modeled the tone of voice and calm demeanor of how conversation should be handled.
This doesn't mean that your child will get out of following your directions, but it allows him/her to know that you are listening and hearing their voice. Your child will feel validated and oftentimes is willing to tone things down and proceed with constructive dialogue verbally, through pictures, signing or whatever form your communication might be.
The point of going through these added steps is to help your child to explore and discover what they are feeling and for you to begin to mold him/her into an adult who can communicate effectively and appropriately. It does take a little extra time, but it will pay off with closeness and cooperation in the end.
Express to your child the message of "We need to be kind to each other and talk nicely. It's ok, that you don't like what I asked, but you need to tell me with kind words in a quiet/calm voice"
As a parent, you can say it in many words or consolidate it to just a few (you will know what your child's specific needs are, but usually, in these cases, less is more)
You want your child to know that they can say/communicate anything to you - nothing is off limits, BUT that they need to do so in a respectful and appropriate way.
This is a valuable step in creating a close bond of communication within your family. Your relationships will thrive if you are able to communicate effectively.
"Behavior in the human being is sometimes a defense, a way of concealing motives and thoughts, as language can be a way of hiding your thoughts and preventing communication."
-Abraham Maslow, Psychologist