Wednesday, September 28, 2016

All Behavior is Communication

This is a tough lesson to learn.  With my two older boys I usually sought to first correct their behavior.  I didn't try to figure out what they were trying to tell me by their behavior.  Then our Bman entered the scene.   

B did not speak until he was 3.  He didn't have many gestures to try to get get our attention or point us in the right direction.  And he refused to learn sign language.  I wish I had videoed some of those speech therapy sessions when the therapist tried to teach him.  He straight up wanted nothing to do with her or her hands.

Because he couldn't speak, I had to learn to search his behavior.  Sometimes it was easy.  We'd be driving down the road and a bottle would fly into the front seat.  He was finished drinking.  Or I'd get hit by the bottle and he'd start crying - he wanted more.

At times this was nerve wracking.  Alright, I'll be honest 90% of the time this was nerve wracking.  I used to carry this large blue backpack full of stuff that might make B happy.  I'd also pack extra stuff for other kids to play with so they wouldn't touch whatever was B's favorite thing at that moment.

I can remember being at one of Sam's football games, not able to sit with B in the stands.  He was too disruptive, he would bother people trying to watch the game.  So we found a spot by the fence where I could see part of the game, if I was able to take my eyes off B.  I dumped out the bag.  This day he wanted Mr. Potato Head.  Awesome, I had a huge MPH set in the magic bag.  Some little boys come over and they want to play with some cars B had.  Awesome, he wasn't interested in those.  The boys sat down and started playing with the cars.

B is usually pretty good with parallel play (this is a fancy term in the autism world that just means he plays with something while sitting by a kid playing something else. They don't play together.). This day, he's not having it. He wants MPH and the cars.  But he doesn't want to play with the cars. He just doesn't want the other kids to have them.  I tell him we have to share.  He's still not having it.  Screaming starts.  I give the boys the cars and send them back in the stands to play with them. I try to comfort B, telling him it's nice to share with our friends and look at all the awesome things he can do with Mr. Potato Head. As soon as the boys are out of his sight, MPH because interesting again and the episode is over.

Life seemed to drag on during this time. I was always on edge, trying to anticipate what make B happy next.  Trying to cut a meltdown off at the pass.  We didn't eat out during this time.  If he food came and was too hot he'd throw it and wouldn't eat anything for the rest of the day.  But I started to figure it out.  I started asking waitresses to wait until his food was cold before bring it out.  Bring out everyone else's then bring his cold, please, it will make life easier for everyone, I promise.

Learning to read behavior has helped me be a better mother, teacher, servant and friend.  When something isn't going right, I try to think "What is this person trying to tell me with their behavior?"  It works with special needs kids, neurotypical kids and adults of all stripes as well.

It's another gift that autism has given me, the reminder that people speak through words and actions.  I've learned to believe people's actions before I believe their words.  It might seem silly for a writer to say but words have become less important. Actions are a more reliable indicator of character than words.