“Independent Alexandru”: Childhood Weaknesses
In my last post I talked about Alexandru’s childhood strengths. (Blog Post # 48: Raising Alexandru, Part 4 ). But as you might expect, there were also weaknesses.
I was always trying to figure out ways to help him balance the two, using his strengths to develop his weak areas.
For example, areas that proved difficult for Alexandru included his reading, his perseveration, his coming out of his own zoned-in world to know what was going on around him, and appropriate socialization with others.
Reading: Mechanics without meaning
We spent hours reading with him, having reading tutors work with him, and also using Cued Speech. He learned to cue-read very well, and could even cue-read news articles. The problem was he had no idea what he just read. Same thing happened when he read using fingerspelling and/or the ASL sign for each word in the sentence — no comprehension. His strength was vocabulary words though … he did an awesome job reading and signing individual words, and gained an amazing vocabulary, which to this day still grows.
Perseverating: Conversation turned echo chamber.
As occasionally mentioned in my earlier blogs, Alexandru’s perseveration could be a strength — for example, when it came to building Lego Titanics. But when the same behavior entered our conversations, it could cause real problems.
For example, every parent has moments of frustration when a child constantly barrages them with questions. Imagine if the barrage entirely consisted of the SAME question! It would start simply enough when Alexandru would say something. I would acknowledge what he said, and if it was a question, answer him. He would then repeat the same sentence or question about 30 times. After the first couple of repetitions I would say “I already answered that.” Or I would say “Yes, you already told me that.” I could see his struggle trying NOT to say it again, but most times he didn’t seem to be able to stop himself blurting it out again and again. Eventually his medicine helped him curb this impulsive urge, but even today it is still a challenge for him.
Zoned in, tuned out equals oblivious.
Perhaps as a combination of his perseverating, autism and deafness, Alexandru was very comfortable tuning out his surroundings, focused on his own current interest or project. Getting him to come out of his “zoned in world” to be aware of his surroundings, including the social cues being given by those around him, was often difficult, if not at times impossible.
This is a key reason why, when the time came for driving lessons at school, we turned it down. His habit of going into his own world and focusing on one thing to the exclusion of everything else going on around him raised a red flag for us. Drivers need to be aware of their surroundings and need to be able to keep their attention on driving. So, today, he walks or takes the bus or asks a friend for a ride when he needs to go somewhere.
“Appropriate “ Socialization: Always a minefield, ever a mystery
Teaching any child how to navigate the often confusing waters of socializing with others is an ongoing challenge. While we search for absolutes, the reality is so many interactions lie in grey areas. Even the appropriateness of a simple hug can turn on multiple variables such as who, when, where and why!
Now try to imagine attempting to teach those often subtle decision points to a child whose multiple disabilities make is far more difficult to read the myriad of social cues that help guide us in our socialization decisions. Autistic children, for example, often find it extremely difficult if not impossible to read facial cues, such as anger, indifference, boredom or irritation. And hearing people often forget how much they rely upon vocal cues such as tone of voice or volume level to gauge another’s meaning or mood.
Alexandru has always been an excellent rule follower if the rules are concrete. So I tried to capitalize on this by trying to think of a concrete way of explaining socialization dos and don’ts. For example, remember from the last blog how much Alexandru liked giving hugs? Even though the shuttle driver loved his spontaneous hug, not everyone Alexandru approached agreed.
I remember one time when he was younger, about 6 years old, he had been playing outside and was kind of dirty, when we stopped to eat on the way home. As kids do, he got some food on his face. As our waitress walked up, our food-faced Alexandru decided she needed a hug and made a beeline for her, his arms outstretched. Her face got a horrified look on it and she backed away from him. Of course he didn’t notice, going full steam ahead. We were barely able to grab him before the waitress ran out of room.
Although we constantly worked on teaching him the basics of socializing, even as an adult it remains difficult for him when there are shades of grey. For example, he still struggles to separate loved ones (okay to hug on sight) from others he may see regularly, such as his doctors and nurses, or service people (always ask first).
Eventually, and with the help of other adults and school resource folks, he learned more appropriate greetings, such as giving a high-five or hand shake instead of hugging.
LESSON LEARNED: Properly leveraged, strengths don’t just balance weaknesses, they improve them. Alexandru’s memory skill worked in helped him learn vocabulary words. His understanding of concrete rules helped him learn appropriate greetings.
LESSON LEARNED: Never assume social skills are obvious. Those that come easy to some need to be taught, explained and practiced for others.
LESSON LEARNED: Understanding behavior doesn’t automatically mean you are okay with it. I know Alexandru’s perseveration isn’t intentional, but by the 30th repetition, even my patient nerves can be raw.
LESSON LEARNED: There is no contradiction between “I love you” and “I need a break.” There are times it is far better to temporarily walk away from a tough situation than explode in frustration. Difficulties are far easier to resolve when rested than exhausted.
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!