Over the years I have found the most difficult thing about parenting a child with autism is teaching them to listen to you. Thankfully, as my son continues to grow and develop with time, the better he understand and listens to what I am telling him. Unfortunately, even now, I sometimes have a hard time keeping his attention.
As I described in Communicating with an Autistic Child, there are difficulties in connecting with your child that go far beyond improving their vocabulary. Not only is it difficult to understand where they are coming from, it is excruciatingly difficult to capture their attention long enough to convey what you so desperately need them to hear. If he is talking about a particular subject, it can be difficult to have him focus on what I am saying and have him listen to me.
Often, as a parent, I am concerned about all of the things that I need to teach my child: How can I teach him when he doesn’t listen to me? What do I do when he is so distracted by the book he is reading that he doesn’t hear what I am saying?
As the saying goes, communication is a two way street. As I tried to find ways to truly connect to my son, I have found that by taking the time and opening my mind to really listen to him, I find that we communicate much better. For the past few days, he has been refusing to where his jacket into school. He would only wear it in the car, and then take it off to run into the building. Since it is getting colder outside, and he has had the sniffles, I tried to insist that he wear it. He was giving me all of these reasons that it was not necessary to wear the jacket. How it isn’t that cold out yet, how the walk from the car to the school isn’t that far. Finally, I said that he could go into the school this morning, but that we would discuss this tonight and he was going to have to find a jacket he will wear. And, believe it or not, I finally found the real reason: he thought the jacket was a women’s jacket. I wore it once or twice, so therefore it must be for women, and he doesn’t want to wear women’s clothing.
A simple misunderstanding that is finally cleared away may sound normal, but for the parent of someone as unique as my son, the fact that we found the underlying reason, to me, is simply wonderful. How many times when he was younger did I flat out insist that he do something simply because I didn’t know what was going on? In my post Sensory Deprivation, I describe a particularly harrowing experience where I later discovered why he was fighting so hard not to go to school. At the next school he attended, when he was having difficulty riding the bus into school, I later found out it was because another special needs child on the bus was making noise. When I understood what was going on, I was able to fix his concern with noise reduction headphones, and he no longer has any problems riding the school bus. (For a list of other ideas about riding the school bus, please read my post 10 Ways to Help your Autistic Child Ride the Bus)
As time has passed and I look back at the strides that have been made in teaching my child to listen to me, I realize that the improvements he has made are tied to my own improvement in listening to him. I wish that I had simple advice to give to the parents of young autistic children, or parents of children who are on the more severe side of the spectrum, but all I have to offer you is hope. I wish that when he was younger, that I had known that eventually the two of us would figure out a way to understand each other. All of the frustration and angst would have been so much easier to handle – so please believe, things will be better J