When language barriers pop up in life people usually throw in a little bit of guess work to get their message across to others. When two people speak different languages and one is looking for directions, I’m sure things like hand gestures get used. When sign language needs to be used, lip reading is often mingled in to their communication.
Many parents of children with autism, I’m sure are familiar with the feelings of frustration as far as communication barriers go. Some of these frustrating moments don’t even involve different languages, everyone in these households usually are speaking/ learning the same language. And yet there are just enough missing pieces to the full equation of communication that guessing what their child wants still seems to show up more then they would like.
A special needs parent might ask why their child suddenly threw a baseball at their television. The first question might be, why is their child on the spectrum mad? And then they might question themselves, why didn’t I notice them getting stressed? When in reality their kiddo wasn’t mad at all, but just enjoys the outcome of breaking something because that means their parent is going to run to them and talk loudly to them. The parent may even ask if the child is ok and make sure they didn’t get hurt. This child was never mad, they just don’t know how to communicate that they have a desire to have their parent talk to them. Confusing right?
But the real kicker isn’t the price of the tv being replaced, it’s the parent standing in the pile of confusion wondering what set off their kid, and how they can keep it from happening again… When really the equation has nothing to do with being over stimulated, under stimulated, grumpy, tired, or hungry. Their is instead a language barrier keeping the kid floating out on a raft, while the parents are sitting on an island looking in the wrong direction. Seriously frustrating.
Luckily we haven’t had a tv broken… Yet. We’ve had mirrors, glass candles, multiple kitchen chairs, bunk bed railings, play stations, game controllers, bobble head toys, and other things broken… But I digress and who’s counting anyways right?
Before Mr. L got diagnosed he would yell and cry for hours. He would bang his head on anything and anyone. Turns out a lot of this was because he was frustrated that he couldn’t tell us what he wanted. I mean if you had a toddler leave your bedroom, go to the living room and start screaming, would you know he wanted chocolate milk in a sippy cup- made with whole milk and chocolate syrup? Shaken, not stirred. And that he wanted a grilled cheese? Yeah we didn’t either.
If little Mr. L had at least gone to the kitchen he would have set us on the right track in letting us know he was probably hungry, and was becoming a super picky eater. When these screaming meltdowns would happen we would offer anything we could think of, and eventually after getting to the right room, we could sometimes narrow it down to what he wanted. But sometimes he would get so over stimulated fighting to get what he needed he would blow past the point of help, and my husband or I would end up on the floor holding him, trying to keep him from thrashing and hurting his head until the meltdown was over.
After years of learning the PECS system, speech, OT, ABA, social work, and caring teachers, the meltdowns don’t really happen anymore, thankfully! Our kiddo still gets mad and we don’t always understand each other. But all of his basic needs can be verbally met and this last year he has been sharing verbally his interests with us, and we’ve loved learning every day what he is thinking.
So today I decided I wanted to share a victory we had last Saturday with Mr. L. As a family, wearing our masks we decided to go to a local comic book shop. My husband is a comic book fan and the boys usually like to pick out a kids comic book to take home for us to read to them.
Well on this trip, a few minutes in Mr. L started asking for a train book. My husband and I told him that we didn’t think they had any train comic books, but that he could pick out a different story. He repeated that he wanted a red train book, so I started naming off other comics he was usually interested in. Getting frustrated with us he raised his voice a little, exclaiming that he had said he wanted a red train engine book, assuming we hadn’t heard him previously.
As his parents we knew he was getting upset, and a replacement comic wasn’t going to happen. So Mr. C and my husband headed to the register and we soon left. Once in the car Mr. L raised his voice higher yelling that he wanted to go to the library to find his book. Sadly we reminded him that because of Covid-19 the library was still closed.
At this point Mr. L started crying telling us through his frustration that he needed a red engine book. I asked my husband if a local book store had opened back up yet, and after further investigation and a phone call we found out that it had opened just the day before. So my husband drove us over and Mr. L and I hopped out of our van and with our masks back on quickly went inside.
Once inside we checked the children’s section, and I showed him every train book I found. But again he blurted out, “I want red engine, blue engine train book!”. So we went to the cashier and asked if they had a book called, “The red engine”? The kind cashier looked and offered 4-5 books, but none of them was the holy grail. So Mr. L and I headed back to the kid section and I was hoping to win him over with something else when he repeated again, “red engine, blue engine!” When it hit me, we use a learning website called Starfall, there are little short stories on it, and one of the stories had a red and a blue train in it!
So we turned back around and asked the cashier if there were any stories that had red and blue trains. As the nice guy was happy to look again for us I began to explain the website possibility. Soon the guy looked up from his computer with a smile on his face and told me that his store didn’t have the book, but that the website Starfall actually sold the book from their site and showed me his screen.
I graciously thanked him, told Mr. L that I found a way to order the book and we headed to the car. I told my husband the awesome news and ordered it right there in the parking lot.
It took a bunch of detective work, but we solved the case and his book should arrive sometime next week! Sometimes it’s the smallest things that feel like the biggest victories. My son didn’t have the vocabulary or spacial concept to explain that he had been wanting to own a copy of a story he had been listening to for a few weeks, but after asking and searching, we figured it out.
Do you ever feel like you are playing detective with someone you know? Maybe a busy toddler? Tell us about it in the comments below and don’t forget to like, follow, and share 😉✌️