Assertiveness training

My oldest son talks less frequently than some other children, but he does “talk.”

When he was younger than he is now, people often saw fit to remark upon his early attempts at communication in a less than complimentary manner. Stutters and stammerers are used to such treatment. The struggles of speech production are rarely appreciated, merely mocked. Initially I was ill equipped to either retaliate or educate. I took solace in the lonely thought that “I knew otherwise.” I knew that his instincts were “keen.”


Empowerment is an annoying but popular word. As a natural born wimp from birth, at some moment on the journey I decided to adopt this approach for my own children, not the wimpy but the empowering. I would learn to speak up, not be mealy mouthed, challenge and stand tall, but I'm still practicing.

***

I launch into a monologue of the glories of one of our cats. His attractive appearance, skittishness and howling yeowl. I wax lyrical of his charms, more dog like than cat, more intelligent and delightful than the average feline.

My son takes a step towards me to look me straight in the midriff.
“Mom?”
“Yes dear?”
“It's not nice to have favourites.”

Some people learn better than others.


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Exclusive and Elusive

One of the strangest things about a speech delay is the effect it has on a parent.

Lucky parents like me, notice that ever so gradually over time, the delay has diminished. They are less non-verbal. They have oodles of words. They can stick a whole stack of them together to form what resembles a first class sentence.

The stutters and stammers are less frequent. The diction is poor but comprehensible to anyone who is sufficiently motivated and interested. Yet their meaning……….is so often mysterious.

This could be a fatal flaw for a parent, but I say, if in doubt, just jump in with both feet.

“I wanna go mushroom surfing!”
“Uh, uh, uh, finish getting dressed first and then you can go mushroom surfing.”

“Mom?”
“Yes dear?”
“Now you are beed dah Super A Plus!”
“I am? Really! I don't think I've ever had an 'A' for anything, let alone a Super or a Plus, for that matter.”
“Well…..now you are be!”
“B! I've been demoted already? I only just had the A. What did I do wrong?”
“Not 'B'……'be'”

“D'ya know……ya can git…….. hedgehog pants?”
“Um…..no…..actually I didn't know that. Do you want hedgehog pants?” I can think of few things more painful than knickers full of prickles.
“Japan.”
“Japanese hedgehogs? I didn't know Japan had any hedgehogs? Porcupines perhaps?”
“No. Japan is have sonic.”
“Er……sonic…….sound……um…..”
“Sonic, he is be from Japan.”
“Oh, I don't think I knew that either. Oh! Sonic the Hedgehog is Japanese!”
“Yes! I am be want pants like dat.”

“Dad?”
“Yes.”
“Where it is be?”
“Where is what?”
“My……DNA is be?”
“Oh, your DNA is in every cell in your body.”
“In my hairs?”
“Yes.”
“In my nail?”
“Everywhere, every single cell has your own unique DNA.”
“I am like.”
“What do you like?”
“Unique.”


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Prosody is contagious?

[Ref 1 Prosody = the pitch and cadence of speech, also tone or volume for current purposes. Many autistic children, including mine, have speech patterns that distinguish them from other disabilities.]

It is my nature to be annoyed. The list of petty annoyances is long and continues to grow. One ongoing annoyance is when someone telephones and begins gabbling away with a thick incomprehensible American accent. They do this because they have mistaken me for my daughter. These youthful chums are taken aback to learn that I am 'the mother' because we 'sound the same.' Whilst I would like to 'spit blood' in response, I am incapable at the moment, due to the jaw surgery. There again I can't answer the phone either, which is equally as annoying.

Very occasionally I will hear my own voice, perhaps after we have used the videotape on the children. I find it disconcerting, as it doesn't sound like me at all. I wonder how many people are familiar with how their own voice sound, as if one were an external listener? But I digress.

I attempt to speak the Queen's English with a huge plastic splint in my mouth. I sound…..weird , even to my own ears. My BBC accent has morphed into a slurred, drunken dialect of unknown origin.

I have a stack of library books on the dining room table, in an attempt to resume 'business as usual.' Because the cuisine on offer is not to my children's taste, I lure them to the dining room table with the bribe of stories. I ignore the little voice pricking my rules of decorum, because everyone knows that to read at the dining table, is the very height of bad manners.

I attempt careful articulation with lips that are numb and pins and needles fluttering over my face. Clarity of speech is essential or I will have to repeat myself, which may be more than I can currently endure.

I avoid the tactile books as there are only so many issues that I can deal with at one time. [translation = the books that have texture, are part of junior’s ‘sensory diet’ but generally provoke meltdowns unless carefully choreographed.]

It is more of a picture book, which means fewer words and lots of attractive illustrations. I read slowly, with careful annunciation, which still sounds as if I have a mouthful of marbles. I keep each word distinct and try not to spit all over 'Voices in the Park.' [Ref 2] I draw their attention to the anomalies and visual jokes, which further distracts them from the torture of dinner.

As I close the book and reach for the next one, junior asks, “mummy, why are you dah sound of dah robot?” Oooo the life of a marble mouth.

Ref 1 = from Pervasive Developmental Disorder, An Altered Perspective by Barbara Quinn and Anthony Malone [The best introductory book.]


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How do I love thee?

Junior is going through a negative phase. It runs along the lines of 'Nobody loves me /I have no friends/ everybody hates me.' Our current campaign is to turn this around, accentuate the positive and eliminate this kind of spiral thought process. The tendency of many autistic children to drift towards depression is marked in statistical analysis.

I leave spouse in charge and dash to the shower. I'm not able to hear much because of the water, but as I stand on the toweling mat to dry myself off, I can hear voices outside in the hall: 'd'ya luf me?' Is that what he asked? Bless his little fragile ego! His speech delay makes him sound as if he has a mouth full of marbles. He is difficult to understand unless you're familiar with his tone and phraseology, which I am.

I can also make out his sister’s voice, mumbling something or other. His phrase is repeated at ten second intervals as I pull on socks and a cardi. I don't bother to brush my hair, just run my fingers through as I'm in a hurry. If I speed up I might just be in time to prompt her to make an appropriate verbal response, something to help repel his inner voice of doubt.

She is of such a kindly disposition towards her brothers, that I'm confident that she'll manage it on her own. Nonetheless I'd like to witness it. I poke the corner of the towel in my ear to dislodge the water and clarify my auditory channels.
I step towards the door and swing it open. I see her sitting astride his back make making small growling noises. Her little brother's words are suddenly clearer, easier to distinguish = 'geroff me!' he squalks.

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