Encouraging words. Oh how I OFTEN forget to use them as a parent. Oh, SO often. I’m really trying to turn things around with my daughter’s perception of life. I think often with ANY child, it’s easy to get in a cycle of “have you done this yet?”, “did you do your chores?”, “have you brushed your teeth?” It’s particularly hard for me (and maybe you too, if you’re like me) because I’m really task oriented. I’m all about “gettin’ ‘er dun and I sometimes let the relationship side of things fall to the way side, because I typically feel good about myself when I can get a lot of stuff done. My love language is “service” so I really do like “doing” things for others. And my familial work-ethic is pretty strong, so I’m all about getting “things” done.
I think too, there’s the added pressure of having a child, who has some polarity issues: one on hand she’s pretty bright and is the storehouse of vast amounts of knowledge, but at the same time she has significant developmental delays that come with having Asperger’s/autism, and in her it comes out in how she relates to and lives with others in community. Profound social and emotional challenges in relating to the people around her. I know, I KNOW what you’re saying: “NO teenager has ANY skills to live with other people!!!” And of course, you’re right. These ARE critical years chalked full of all kinds of brain development, and when they come out the other side in their early 20’s they hopefully have a tool box full of healthy people skills. What we’re trying to teach her is why it will be important for her quality of life to CARE about living with and getting along with others.
And I’m trying to do it in an UNauthoritarian way. Or I should say I would LIKE TO relate to her in a way that doesn’t come across as authoritarian and bossy. Compounding this little dance is the fact that kids on the spectrum (and mine’s no different) do not relate to their environments in a dynamic, emotion sharing way. It’s very “instrumental” exchange (if there’s even an exchange of words between her and I, it’s often it’s one sided. Which brings us back to one of her first words/sentences: “I haffa tell you sumpin”. We thought that was SO cute, SO endearing!! OY. It hasn’t stopped yet). A simple way to explain this “instrumental” communication with a child on the autism spectrum is that the child may come to you to tell you something or share an experience, but it’s not sharing with you for the sake of getting your take on it and then maybe changing his point of view, his focus on the matter, or changing the outcome of the event. It’s to give you information and your response better match their preconception of how things should be…….or else. And so in that respect, instrumental sharing takes the uniqueness that is “you” out of the equation and he/she might as well be talking to the refrigerator, because what you have to say or offer is really not needed in that interaction. It’s a very one-sided lecture-based relationship (think monologues on “Dr. Who”, trains, weather patterns, or legos). So coming up with ways to make your words encouraging and meaningful to a child on the autism spectrum can be challenging to say the least. Every word, every phrase is measured and tested in my mind before I spit it out. Or at least I’d like to think “every” word goes through that process before coming out of my mouth.
And that whole subject brings me to how God is with us. He’s ALWAYS all about the relationship, never about the tasks of life. He doesn’t come to us with a list of “to do’s” or all the stuff we’ve managed to jack up in the last 12 hours. He comes to us (if we let Him) with lists of things He loves about us, He comes to us with great affection, and with a genuine interest in what’s going on in our lives. That’s what I want to bring to the party for my daughter this summer, and hopefully beyond.