I can be hard living with someone with social communication difficulties. I wouldn’t change my child for the world but there are times when it can be absolutely exhausting. I have to be careful with everything I say – ambiguity can never enter into the conversation. Words must be clear and exact. I need to make sure we have a clear routine with any changes to our usual schedule planned weeks in advance.
Even doing this doesn’t guarantee a melt-down free day. My child will invent routines based upon previous experience – will insist that we always do certain things and that I am a liar for saying otherwise.
Language is a minefield in our house. We find ourselves stressing the words ‘maybe’, ‘sometimes’, ‘possibly’. It feels like we go round and round in a constant battle of interpretation with little progress and no change. Some days I wonder where improvement could come from and on these days things feel hopeless and overwhelming.
Then my son will completely surprise me with a massive leap of understanding – A breakthrough that we hadn’t thought possible. We had one of these the other day. I was sitting on the sofa with the kids watching a film. One of the main adult characters was being really horrible about the hero of the film. My son turned to me and sarcastically said ‘well he’s nice!’ I was astounded. I spun him around and said ‘did….did you just use sarcasm?!’. ‘Yes’ was the happy answer I received. ‘He’s not nice, he’s mean’. My son looked so proud and I gave him a massive hug while we finished watching the rest of the film.
We had never thought our son would be able to understand this type of complex use of language. We have been very concerned about the problems this could cause in the future. There was an incident in the park during the school holidays where a friend intervened and brought him back to the group of parents I was sitting with. The friend explained that they were climbing on rocks but that my son hadn’t been able to. A group of older children were laughing at him and started calling to him and shouting that he was no good at climbing. They then told him to come over to them where there was a small rock that was so tiny even he’d be able to clamber up in. My son had started to go over to them when his friend brought him back and told the parents what had happened.
I asked my son what had happened and he said that he couldn’t climb the rocks but that the older children were helping him. I asked if he thought they were being mean and he said that they weren’t, they were helping him because they were showing him the rock he could get up. My heart sank. This was a near miss that unfortunately happened on one of the first times I’ve let my son run off and play in the park without direct supervision. He was seven at the time, nearly eight, desperate for little pieces of freedom.
I asked my son if people always mean what they say and he answered yes. So I put on a really exaggerated sarcastic voice and said ‘You’re clever’. He laughed. He said ’you don’t mean he’s clever, you mean he’s stupid’. We talked about how people can actually mean the opposite of what they’re saying and how you can work this out from the tone of voice. My son agreed this was true saying that he can sometimes tell when his friends mean the opposite of the words they use but that this is impossible with girls and women as they only have one tone of voice.
This was an interesting insight into his world and a glimpse of some of the difficulties we would have to help him to overcome as he moves towards his teens. We’ve been playing around with tone of voice since. My son finds it funny and it’s quite entertaining to be silly while we’re cooking our evening meal.
After my son’s sudden use of sarcasm I asked him how he’d learnt this. He said he’s been watching his friends at school and noticing when they do it. He said he understands enough to do it himself now. I am so happy with this breakthrough (and I told him how proud I was of him). This is a major step in his understanding of language and social communication. The more confident he is with using sarcasm, the likely it is that he’ll recognise it next time he is confronted with it from others. This will make life more comfortable for him. This may even keep him safe.
It’s such a small thing for other parents. I’m guessing parents of neuro-typical children don’t celebrate the beginning of sarcasm from their children. Maybe check in with me again in five years time and I may have different views this again. It may be that I’m a lot less enthused with the whole idea once the teen years kick in. For the time being though I’ll take this success – this breakthrough. I’ll hug my sarcastic son and remember that even though progress can seem unobtainable, that an improvement that I hadn’t imagined possible could be just around the corner.
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