Raise Your Hand

How difficult it must be to be 8th graders!  Among the lengthy list of problems that adolescents cope with, listening, or the inability to listen, isn't a slight deficit.  It's huge.  Eight years teaching middle school has shown me that this age group truly only focuses the first few minutes of class, then begins to tune out unless I entice them to learn by calling them out personally with a "Jaz!  Look at me!" Or, "Luis, stop talking and focus!"  "Jacob!  Head up!"  I refuse to allow them to run for a drink or visit the rest room or locker during those precious, teachable moments at the beginning of class.  Yes, they get mad at me because their own agenda is so important at that age, but unless I want to repeat myself throughout the class, I must grab their attention right away and teach.

Now, imagine that your child has the inability to focus for long periods of time combined with autism which often affects auditory processing.  Most adolescents have control over what they take in and can think of ways to pay attention in school if they are motivated to do so.  On the other hand, the autistic child, my son, for example, only hears one or two words from each sentence.  Greg has a double whammy; he is not wired to pay attention for extended periods of time, and he does not process language normally.  

Early on, Jay and I were told to simplify our messages to Greg by simplifying commands to two or three words.  "Come!"  "No singing.". "Eat slower."  We also discovered that writing or scripting our words helped Greg understand the world around him and cope with the many frustrations he found in his autistic condition. To fully appreciate how he hears, I try to figure out which words are the most important in each sentence I hear.  The futility of this lies in the importance of all words in a sentence: nouns, adjectives, verbs, prepositional phrases...they are ALL essential!  Greg's world is a mess.  In the simple question, "How old are you," he only hears, "How are you?"  He always answers, "Fine".  I wonder if he truly understands the concept of age.  

That is what the special education teacher, the parent and the siblings must know about someone with autism.  Every minute of every day the person with autism struggles to comprehend his world.  It must be exhausting.  And frustrating beyond belief.  My husband is slowly losing his hearing.  It drives me crazy as I am sure it does to all aging couples.  Then I look at Greg and I realize that he has had to cope for 29 years with hearing deficits, and I pull from within to be patient with Jay.  Not in my nature, for sure.

Like a teacher must find a variety of ways to communicate with distracted 8th graders, so must anyone who works with an autistic child find ways to communicate.  It is of paramount importance in life.  If the picture exchange method doesn't work as it did not work with Greg, go to an APP on your I Pad.  Sadly, the I Pad had not been invented when Greg grew up.  Another option might be to teach your child how to sign.  Sign Language 101 might be enough.  Give your child extensive instruction in "Yes" and "No".  Write these two words down, and if your child can read, work with him until he can point to the affirmative or negative.  Your lives will improve exponentially.  

Behavior modification worked for us.  Yes, we ruined Greg's teeth with gummy bear treats, but we achieved milestones with the reward system of instruction.  Get into your child's space.  Sit directly in front with rewards in one hand and simple objects in another.  Name the objects or simple commands over and over again.  If your child is nonverbal, he might have receptive abilities that will enable him to work, enjoy a variety of activities in which some kind of verbal instruction is involved and be safe. Appreciate your child for his visual ability and how special it must be for your child to learn any skills at all when the auditory sense is compromised.

When you take your child to Adventure Sport, you will witness that moment when, before the start of each and every ride, the worker says, "Raise your hand if you have any trouble with your go-kart."  Lo and behold, you look at your child and he has raised his hand. He never heard or comprehended the other words.  Every time you go, every ride he takes and every time he hears the words, "Raise your hand,"  Greg raises his hand.

We laugh.  What joy we've been able to find in autism.  And it hasn't been easy to get to these words.  

 Raise your hand! 

Raise your hand! 


The workers of Adventure Sport know Greg well or every time he raises his hand, they would run to help him!