Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Say What?

Ryley do you know Lady Gaga?

Yea Caden I know Lady Gaga?

How do you know her?

And so the conversation went until Caden was thoroughly upset because Ryley didn’t really know Lady Gaga but instead knew of her and her songs; Ryley was upset because she once again had no idea what she said that upset her brother so badly. Side note: Caden saying Lady Gaga was just too cute for words!

I’ve said before that Caden’s flavor of autism is particularly literal. This doesn’t sound like a big deal but it is a constant source of frustration and meltdowns in our household—and honestly we all fall victim to the literal-figurative trap on a regular basis.  We all stumble though in different ways.

Ryley is just at that age where slang and slightly-too-moderately obnoxious back talk seems to be the norm. Neither make sense in Caden’s world. For example in Caden’s world “that’s cool” means that something is of an acceptable temperature to eat, drink, or bathe in. Obviously Ryley’s meaning is very different when she is describing a day’s event. “Whatever” is a particularly confounding word to Caden because it doesn’t fall anyplace on his either or continuum. To be fair, whatever isn’t a particular favorite of Caden’s daddy either and it appears that mommy has a bad habit of using this one a lot too!  A number of incidents occur in the car on the way home from school because Ryley wants to tell us a story while Caden is baffled over what the story means. She gets upset because he is interrupting, he gets confused over what everyone is talking about, and we get upset because they are arguing.  In a perfectly logical the kids have gone to bed kind of way, this whole thing can be avoided with careful word choices but how do you tell a 6th grader to expand her vocabulary to meet the increasing demands of achievement testing while telling her to keep things simple for her brother. Can you ban slang simply because her brother doesn’t understand it? Simply put—there isn’t a solution that works and is fair to both of them.

Of course metaphorical phrases like it is raining cats and dogs are red flag triggers and with a little mental energy can fairly easily be avoided. But what happens when you try to get Caden involved with a sport to encourage social interactions only to have a child or another parent enthusiastically cheer “go Caden?” What happens is that Caden thinks you literally want him to go, he doesn’t understand what he has done wrong, and he ends up on the ground in a fetal position rocking back and forth.  Starting to see the challenges yet?

Now consider that language implies an either or situation for Caden. Everything is black or white, one thing or another. There isn’t a place in Caden’s world for shades of gray or subtle nuances.  Caden knows that 1 minute literally means 60 seconds so telling him in a minute better mean that you are going to follow through in 60 seconds or we are going from a 0-60 meltdown in lightning speed. Same thing applies if you give him 10 more minutes to play; he can’t handle more or less time than that. Honestly Caden learning to tell time has not overly helped us with the literal language situation although I’m super proud that he loves numbers so much!  This is just one example but consider a situation that recently occurred in our household compliments of mommy.  

I asked the kids if they wanted me to make eggs for lunch. They both said yes but when I got to the kitchen I realized we had hard boiled the last dozen to color for Easter. Changing lunch plans for Ryley wasn’t a big deal but for Caden I had, in his world, broken my word. In his words, I lied to him. Most of us can understand that I had no intention of deceiving him but his world doesn’t allow those subtle lines to be drawn. I had in essence made a promise that I could not or would not follow through on. Of course he had something else to eat for lunch eventually but he still references my lie. 

Something that has stood out to me since my first graduate communication course years ago was the following question and answer. What’s in word? Everything. In our household that couldn’t hold more truth. Just like my blog, some days the examples are adorable and some days they are horrific but they are all just a part of Caden’s tale.