I remember there was a point when DC was much younger that I realized that because of his autism I was coddling him a bit and doing things for him that he was really able to learn to do himself.
I did understand that he had to be taught just about everything and was not going to just learn things the way other children did.
One of the extreme examples I used (and still do use at times) to explain this to others was/is:
He might understand that this is a chair because I taught him that it is:
That does not mean that he understands that this is also a chair…
He did not just pick up knowledge, he had to be taught just about everything.
One day I realized, after asking him to put something on the counter, that he did not know what the counter was. It was there. He saw it every day, but it did not have a name. The sink did not have a name, neither did the refrigerator or the microwave. He used the counter and the sink every day, but he did not have a word for them. When I told him to wash his hands, I may not have called the place where he washed his hands the sink each time. When I told him to get his cup, he knew where his cup was but again, I may not have said “from the counter” every single time. He knew where to wash his hands and get his cup so the thing he was concentrating on was washing his hands or getting his cup, not on the other words in the sentence. I did not TEACH him the words and he was not going to just pick it up from the conversation.
A bit of a rude awakening for me….
As much as I thought I was teaching him all day, every day and naming things all day, every day, because I did quite a lot of things for him, specifically in the cleaning up after one’s self department, I missed all this.
Of course, we began right there and then to go through the entire kitchen.
When he went to his Dad’s I asked him to do the same because again, just because it is a counter or a sink in my house does not mean he will know it is a counter or a sink elsewhere.
Flash forward to a few weeks ago when DC had an appointment with his neurologist. He does not happen to like this doctor at all and as little as we have to do when we go there (weight, blood pressure and questions), he gets anxious beforehand.
To help alleviate his anxiety, we were going to the diner with the giant pancakes because we went there the morning of his last appointment and as we all know, if we do something once, it IS tradition.
I had only been to this particular place once and we were with my mother at the time (but…. Tradition) so I was not sure of what side street to turn off the main road we were on.
I looked up the address and asked DC, who loves to help direct me to where we are going by saying “Left” “Right” “Turn” or “Ooops, we took a wrong turn” when I miss it – to look for ‘Fairway Street’.
Now I know he knows what signs are – he reads quite a few of them, but I realized that even after all of the practicing we have done for what to do if he got lost (to call either me or 911 and read the signs around him – the signs being ANY signs – Stores, Road, ANYTHING that could tell me where he was) he did not know specifically what a street sign was.
Me being me, now convinced that I am just a complete failure HAD to teach him right then and there! He had to learn the difference between street signs and other signs and he had to learn it right away.
I started pointing at every street sign we saw. “What does that say?”.
DC who just can not almost ever, follow where anyone is pointing, was looking in every direction but where the sign was. I realized that I had stopped dead in the middle of the road while trying to make him see the sign, so I continued on without him ever finding the sign I was pointing at.
Now the pointing thing has always been an issue. He just cannot seem to follow a pointing finger to whatever anyone might be pointing at (except if he is the one pointing something out, like a bookstore). Every once in a while he will get it but when that happens I suspect that he has already spotted what I am pointing at. I have tried hand over hand pointing. I have tried just pointing with his hand. I have tried putting my hand right up against his face so he can follow my finger and many other things over the years. Pointing out something to him is always just hit or miss.
I tried again at the next street sign; stopping in the road and getting frustrated that he could not spot the sign I was pointing at before I had to go to let the traffic behind me continue on. I did this a few more times before we got to the diner. I was frustrated and he was getting very frustrated.
There was a street sign across the street so I had him read that one and explained that it was the name of that street. If there were two signs, it meant one was the name of the side street and the other was the name of the street we were on.
I knew that it was all too much information but I could not let it go.
We did this all the way home. It was hard because some signs were on telephone poles and others on metal poles. Some had more than one sign, like the one at the diner, and it was really difficult trying to explain all of this while driving.
Level of frustration: HIGH (for both of us)
He was finally able to pick out a couple though; mostly in places where there was not much traffic and I could stop without worrying about rushing him.
Moving on, I asked him the name of the street we live on…. Even though he knows his address, he did not know the answer to that question. I do not think that he understood that an address IS the name of the street. Maybe if we lived on Blank Street, it would have clicked with him earlier on, but we live on Blank Road and our last address was Blank Ave.
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of street signs in our neighborhood to point out when I walk him around, but I have been pointing them out where ever I see them.
My next step is to try using google street view so he can take as long as he needs to find the signs without people beeping and swearing at me in traffic.
I am sure they can come up with plenty of other reasons to beep and swear at me on the road….
Much like it taking 3 years of Special Olympics swimming to realize that he did not know that he could open his eyes with the goggles on, I am wondering how the heck I missed this.