October 8, 2006

Miracle Worker

When Anne Sullivan arrived at the Keller household, she noticed that the family did not hold little Helen to any standard of civilized behavior. Helen ran around the dinner table, yanking food off the adults' plates, among other things. The Kellers tolerated this for two reasons: they felt that Helen was entitled to accommodation because of her "afflictions,” and they had no way of teaching her otherwise.

I am guilty of this mentality, too. Most of the obnoxious conduct in our household is due to "afflictions," too. I am not indulgent, but most of these behaviors are utterly intractable. If I had to mete out discipline for every infraction, I would do nothing else all day and I would issue consequences for the same undesirable behaviors day after day, year after year. (Wait. I do that now.)

Anne Sullivan must have known intuitively that despite her disabilities Helen Keller still existed in sighted and hearing world. It is a harsh truth that I have come to understand, too, as the boys have gotten older. While we have struggled with simple social rules that most 4-year-olds easily have mastered--do not touch other people; wait until others are finished talking before speaking; no screaming indoors; answer when your name is spoken; time has marched on.

Now that the boys are teenagers, I realize that not only will I not be around to remind them to make eye contact when speaking to someone, I will not be available forever to cook, do laundry and organize their lives into manageable bits.

Time for a paradigm shift. Even kids like mine, with their limitations, have to exist in this world. Talk of increased privileges and responsibility discourages me. I can't very well say, "Here's $5. Ride your bike over to Jewel, pick up a loaf of bread and box of Rice Krispies."

It recently dawned on me that there are a number of tasks that the boys COULD DO quite competently given an opportunity. I could send someone to the yogurt case to select a few and bring them back to the cart. I could show the boys which half gallon of orange juice is the best buy this week. Jeff announced to me that junior high kids are expected to make their own lunches. Done. Hart wants to select his own clothes to wear each day. Done. Take the garbage to the curb. Done. Learn basic kitchen skills? Do laundry? Select and wrap a gift? Initiate a playdate?

If I waited until the boys learned to use appropriate volume when speaking before demonstrating very basic life skills, I'll be shopping and cooking for them for a long, long time. I learned recently that teaching hair-washing is not that difficult if demonstrated and broken down into basic steps. Wet, shampoo, lather, rinse.

1 comment:

JFS in IL (the webpage below is for AutismNews Illinois) said...

Hi. This post reminds me of when I visited my Joe's developmental preschool class years ago and saw the teacher and aides trying to get the kids to sign "more" at snack time.
I asked, "How about 'More please'?"

Adding a "please" had never occurred to them. I had Joe (who we had taught to say, not sign, "please") demonstrate.

A couple weeks later when I visited all the kids were saying or signing "please".

Now if I could only get this kid to empty the dishwasher or take out trash cans w/o a major meltdown. He CAN do it, autism or no autism! He is on the rotating chore chart with his three NT siblings. Well, they try to not do chores, too. But I hear what you say about not being able to send a kid like Joe or one of yours to the store, etc. Sigh.