Do you remember “Mr. Hollands Opus”? Back in 1995 the movie came out in the theaters.
It tells a story about a musician (Mr. Holland) who reacts bitterly to the news that son (Cole) can’t hear. To Mr. Holland, music was the most important thing in his life. His wife willing takes on learning American Sign Language, so she can teach her son and communicate with him. But Mr. Holland doesn’t put much, if any, effort into learning his son’s language.
As the son grows up, and as Mr. Holland goes through many different trials of life, he does eventually learn sign language and there is a happy ending to the story when he sings and signs, “Beautiful Boy to his son.
As I watched the story unfold on the big screen (20 years ago! How can this be?) I was very put off that Mr. Holland would not learn sign language in order to speak to his deaf son.
As a matter of fact, when I think of that movie now (which I often do) the synopsis in my memory goes something like this, “Mr. Holland refused to learn how to talk to his own son. That is so rude. He loved his music more than his son! He was a jerk.”
It’s interesting that my boys with autism seamed deaf at first. How one can have above average hearing and yet appear deaf, is a hallmark of autism in the early years.
It seemed like they didn’t know how to process sound so they disregarded all of it, unable to distinguish between meaningful language, and background noise. In a way, they were deaf. At least functionally. They had to learn how to make sense of the sound-world around them and so rely heavily on visual cues.
Learning to speak the language of our kids is not always an easy task. In ASL and in other foreign languages, the language has already been created. You just need to learn it, which is easier for some than others.
But with autism? The language the kids speak is an original creation. There are no classes in it, there is no text book to go to to reference. You just have to learn the language of your child.
In the past few months, Stevie found a YouTube series called Diesel Ducy is is all about elevators and road trips (an ASD kids dream come true). He has been watching these movies over and over again. So I started watching them with him through the Apple TV. By watching it with him I was learning the script and style of the videos, and I remembered Mr. Holland.
And I realized that part of the way I communicate to Stevie with his language, is by learning about his special interests. Being able to insert scripts he knows from favorite shows communicates a lot to him. It shows I am listening, that I understand, and that I care. It says I think his interests are important. And, they are important to me because they are important to him. It is a way that I can engage with him in a fun and playful way.
Or, not so playful but very functionally like in this example:
A couple weeks ago, knowing his scripts came in very handy. We had in-home supports here, and Stevie did not want them here. He threw a big fit outside and refused to come in. As the scene grew more intense, so did his scripting (which isn’t *just* scripting, but full acting out of the scenes!). In that particular script (Honey I Blew Up The Kid), the scenario always ends destructively.
After a couple failed attempts to lure him to the house, I decided to see if using his script would lead him inside. I said, “Remember at the end of the show, Adam (the 50 foot destructive toddler) comes inside with his mom and dad?” He thought for a minute, and then I said, “So come on, lets go inside!” And he stood up on his own two feet and started to walk to the house. I had found a way to enter his script, speak his language and get him to agree to come inside!
What ways do you communicate with your kids on the spectrum?
How did you learn to speak your child’s language?
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