A Mind of My Own
Posted by Gail | Filed under Autism
Chapter Twelve — I Just Don’t Understand (Part 4)
This brings us to other language gaps: idioms, puns, nuances, double entendres. Inference, metaphors, allusions and sarcasm are totally lost on him. Since Malcolm is concrete, he is also literal. “It’s raining cats and dogs,” and “I’m going to kill you,” all have different meanings for Malcolm than for other children. Each of these unique language sets have to be explained, practiced, used (best with humour) and discussed before Malcolm “gets” them.
Thankfully there are plenty of resources available to help kids like Malcolm if you just hunt around. I did, and I found a package of 100 idioms with pictures and explanations that we used to get him understanding some of the most commonly used idioms, and the idea of idioms in general. Now, when he hears something that doesn’t make sense literally, he’ll ask me if it is an idiom, or some other part of language he doesn’t understand.
While all of the stumbling blocks I’ve described have taken hours of work to overcome – and there are still hours of work ahead – I take heart whenever Malcolm reaches a new milestone. Malcolm, I am happy to report, has learned how to lie. He doesn’t do it often, but he has done it, which means he’s reached a new cognitive level – not one most mothers celebrate. But I do. And even though he can only lie when in his mind he’s pulling someone’s leg… so he can’t lie about serious stuff… I’ll take what I can get.
With work, Malcolm’s intonation has improved and he has become better at noticing body language and hearing tone. Many of the language issues that used to leave him baffled, now just take a little longer to process. We are always talking about socialization issues, like the fact that a joke told a second time, to the same person (usually me) isn’t funny. “Either you have to find someone else to tell this joke to, or find another joke to tell me, if you want to get another laugh,” I say to the boy who loves the sound of laughter and so tells me the same joke over and over to try and pry one more from me.
Very often when I ask Malcolm a question I need to give him time to process not only what I’ve asked but also how he’ll respond. If it’s a question that requires he make a decision and communicate that back to me I’ll often say, “You don’t have to answer right away. Think about it and I’ll ask you again in 20 minutes.” That’s usually enough time for him to have formulated the answer he wants to give me.
This, of course, can be a killer at school. Teachers ask questions and want answers right away. It’s part of their testing. But it doesn’t work for Malcolm. And it’s one of the things I have to make clear at the beginning of each new semester with each new set of teachers.
Lest you think I am a paragon of virtue with the patience of Job, I’ll quickly put that myth to rest. I’ve lost my cool, popped my cork, and hit the ceiling. I’ve wanted to strangle my kids. But they’re still here and so am I. The thing I haven’t done is suffered silently. I’ve told them exactly how I feel. I leave the room and take time to think about what comes next. And then I either ask for suggestions about what we’re going to do differently or I law down the law. Kicking butt has its moments and delivers results, so I’m not afraid to do it just because Malcolm has AS.