In Blog Post # 44: Raising Alexandru, Part 1, I related several of our adventures while raising Alexandru, starting with bringing him home from the orphanage. During that time we were constantly learning more about him, including a diagnosis of Autism and ADD and the challenges and behaviors that often accompany those parts of his life. Here I am going to pick up where that post left off, and continue sharing events from the often amazing journey we call Raising Alexandru.
I thought I was teaching HIM, but…
As I wrote about in Blog Post #4: A Young Child with a 2 “Word” Vocabulary, he came to us with 2 “words” — (1) point and (2) scream. Having no language up to age 4 was a huge challenge for him.
So I tried from the time we brought him home to help him learn language. I would talk to him, first saying the sentence in Cued Speech (for English) and then say it in sign language. It took a LONG time for this to work and it ended up backwards — instead of me teaching HIM signing and cueing, he taught ME to use what I call “baby sign language”.
Here’s how that came about. Due to his short eye contact I would usually only have time to say 1 word before he looked away. So I unconsciously learned to talk to him in one word sentences, signing the most important word in what I wanted to say to him, and sign it fast before he looked away. “Eat!” “Go!” “Dress!” “Stop!” “Bed!” “Come!” “School!” “Home!” “Gentle!”
Once I realized this which was obviously not what I wanted to model for him, I went back to cueing or signing the whole sentence, most of the time at least. Even though I don’t think he paid me any attention, I comforted myself with the thought that at least he saw me with his peripheral vision. I’ll report the resolution to this problem next time.
Head bonking, shoulder bruising and nap time.
Alexandru was very affectionate. He loved for us to hold or hug him. But whether due to his autism or some other learned behavior from the orphanage, his ways of showing affection or response often involved strong, sometimes painful, physical contact.
For example, his favorite form of showing us affection was what we called “head bonking.” We would be holding him when, he would suddenly bonk his head against our jaw, or face, or body. And these were not gentle little taps, but bashing head butts! They HURT, yet it was obviously a sign of affection from him. At first we tried to get him to stop, and replace this with kissing or squeezing, but he was not having it. We finally decided if we couldn’t change this, we could at least lower the risk of pain and injury. So we set out to teach him to be GENTLE with his head bonks. Each time he bonked us, we immediately signed “Ouch!” and had him try it again with a much softer tap. It took some time, but after a bit more pain and effort, he understood. From then on, head bonks were out, and love taps were in!
Another of his behaviors we called “shoulder bruising.” Remember one behavior common to autistic children is what is called “perseveration.” This basically means when he would get interested in a task or item, he would intensely focus upon it to the exclusion of all else. My husband would say “He’s locked in again.” This isn’t automatically a bad thing (see Blog Post #44 for the story of his Lego Titanic), but could cause trouble.
For example, sometimes he wanted something, and when I said “no”, he just couldn’t let go. He would go into a zone, unable to let go of his focus on the item. He would ask me repeatedly, determined to keep doing it until I said “yes”. When I tired of his repetition, I would turn away or move on to another activity. To get my attention back he would tap my shoulder, gently at first. The longer I would not give him the response he was looking for, the more urgently, and harder he would tap. He would keep tapping so hard I often ended up with a bruised shoulder! It was like he couldn’t help himself, he just wasn’t able to let go of trying to convince me. I would like to say I came up with a brilliant solution that quickly resolved the issue each time it arose. Nope, this behavior was so much a part of him that I had to find a totally different solution.
My solution was a version of two old sayings: Choose your battles wisely; and “she who turns and runs away lives to fight another day.” Whenever it became clear he was locked in to his behavior, I would lock into mine — literally lock myself in a bathroom where I kept a few good books just for these occasions. I would stay in the bathroom for 45 minutes to an hour and read. This gave him enough time and space that he was able to finally let go of his perseveration, get out of his zone and accept that I said “no”.
One other technique I often used when he would start acting out of control and misbehaving was “Nap Time”. I would say, “Time for us to nap” and take him to lie down. I’ve always used naps as a solution to many of my problems, and this worked for Alexandru as well. When he first lay down he would violently rock himself back and forth, as if he needed to get all the tension out of his body that had built up. Eventually his rocking would slow to a stop, and he’d fall asleep. I believe naps are an excellent way to resolve many problems.
LESSON LEARNED: It is practically impossible to teach a person sign language if they refuse to look at you.
LESSON LEARNED: A person trying to communicate may sometimes ignorantly choose the wrong actions or words. The best response is to teach them a better way, not shut them up (or out).
LESSON LEARNED: Often when we think we are the one teaching and they are the one learning, we later find it was just the opposite.
LESSON LEARNED: Sometimes a problem is best addressed by walking away, not diving in. Bathroom reading and nap time both worked well for me.
LESSON LEARNED: All kids (young and old) have behavioral issues — some learned, some instinctive — that can cause problems. Don’t break the child, change the behavior.
Games and YouTube Videos
Here are the links to my signing and cueing YouTube “Word Of The Day” channels. I post a new word every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Check it out and I would love to know what you think of them!
Also, Check out my Adventure Games in the App Stores
Please join me for my new blog posts each Friday. Have fun with your ASL and/or Cued Speech Adventures!