Communicating with our older son, Gavin, has always proved to be challenging. He is four years old and really only started talking within the past year. I wouldn’t have exactly classified him as nonverbal before, but his ability to communicate meaningfully was extremely limited. Previously, our day to day lives comprised of one guessing game after another trying to decipher what it was exactly our child needed or desired. My little one would become so frustrated that it was commonplace for him to bang his head on the walls and floor. Over and over. There was always one spot on his forehead, close to his hairline, that was constantly a little swollen. It was a constant gray or yellow bruise. And it felt like my heart was constantly breaking.
Now, the little butt head won’t shut up.
I consider myself very fortunate that I have a child with autism that is now able to communicate effectively. That being said, we still continue to meet challenges everyday. But because Gavin is the offspring of Jim and I, we are usually met with his very smart, goofy, and let’s face it – asshole – sense of humor. Here’s the thing with talking to someone on the autism spectrum: everything is taken and meant very literally. Sarcasm flies completely over their heads. Metaphors? Forget it. And just because something is logically correct, does not mean his friends, family, or teachers will agree. Gavin is one hell of a problem-solver, and he sure did not inherit that from me.
Here is a quick little example of how he takes things literally. Not too long ago, I was talking on the phone with his little ears in the room. I don’t even remember the context of the conversation but the words “and then the shit hit the fan” flew out of my mouth. I was off the phone a few minutes later and Gavin stops what he is doing and looks at me, so concerned. “Why is there poop on the fan, mommy? Get the poop off of the fan!” We don’t even own a fan. I then explained to him that there was no fan with poop on it.
Earlier this evening, we had a little incident that involved a combination of (inappropriate) logic and Gavin’s difficulty understanding emotion/facial expression. After I couldn’t stand the whining and pleading anymore, I drove the kids over to my brother-in-law’s house so they could so swimming for a little bit. I originally just wanted to throw them in the backyard with the sprinkler, but Gavin “already did that today at school.” Well, Gavin and his cousin (who is one week older than him) were having a little misunderstanding over a ring pool float. Gavin got over it and went about his business splashing away, while his cousin sat and cried for about a half hour or so. As I was trying to cheer his cousin up and trying to lure her away from her cry-fest, Gavin proclaims how happy he is and how great he feels today. He was so proud of himself for exclaiming this to the world. Gavin then said how he wanted to make his cousin happy again and get rid of her sad face. So cute, right? Well, it stopped being cute as soon as Gav started throwing small stones at her face. The two kids were immediately separated as Gavin was clearly being a malicious little brat.
Except, he wasn’t. As upset as his cousin was, Gavin insisted he was trying to get rid of her sad face. He thought the rocks would knock off the sad face and then she would have a happy face. This is his very real logic. I can totally imagine and trace out his train of thought there, too. But in the great big world outside of his beautiful mind, this is completely unacceptable behavior. He doesn’t understand, but he certainly could have caused harm. And then trying to explain to his upset cousin that Gavin didn’t mean to hurt her, that he thought he was helping her.
For this family, I would say that little incident was just part of another average day in this house. Jim and I are always catching ourselves correcting our own sentences before we are finished talking. Not censoring, but making sure we are speaking as literally as possible when talking to Gavin. Jokes are a tough one. Speaking figuratively or in examples will lose him. We have to explain our emotions to him, make sure our feelings match our facial expression. Honestly, I struggle explaining my own emotions to myself, to anyone. I have always been a complicated mind. I truly believe that Gavin will do amazingly great things one day, that he will work through and overcome the obstacles of having autism. Right now? Well, we are just going to have to figure it out along the way, even when the shit hits the fan.