Monday, January 26, 2009

Loudness and Social Behavioral Differences

Funny to put a picture of a clown on this blog post, being that most often Asperger's might affect a person into being more quiet, more hidden, or reserved than another, but sometimes an Aspie might appear totally opposite. It's rather someone with Asperger's just doesn't fit into the normal socially accepted patterns or rules during every day happenings.

With MJ, it was often that he was robotic in the way he reacted socially. Yes, he would talk to people, or respond, or give hugs when instructed or what not, but we noticed that it was different than that of the other kids.

I think I first started to really notice it when he was in Kindergarten. I watched when all the kids would leave for the day that they would all high five the teacher or hug her and say bye, but MJ was like a drone. He would walk like in a trance right through the door and the teacher would be putting her hand out or waiting for a hug and he wouldn't even realize it. I would tell him, "hey, your teacher is saying bye, or say bye, MJ," and then he might make a movement to respond, but it was very unnatural.

I noticed again when at a house of another boy his same age watching the way this boy and his mom talked with each other. It was a shocking experience to see such a difference in the way they communicated and how reserved MJ was and how little I could get from him. MJ's communcation came out in spurts and jumbles and it was tough to follow a conversation with him. He would often start a subject then change subjects so fast that I usually had no idea what he was talking about and it was very hard to follow. Plus, he was too quiet or mumbled a lot, and it was difficult to understand.

When talking back and forth with another person, I would usually have to verbally instruct MJ to repond or that he needed to go say goodbye or hello or thank you to this person. He would always do things, but it was only by instruction. He didn't seem to know how to respond back and forth as if he didn't understand the social norms.

Then again, and why I have put the picture of the clown up there, often times MJ would be totally opposite. He is the loud one, a little too loud in social groups sometimes. Like during a game or movie, he'll be the one laughing with this bellowing loud laugh, or if someone is telling a joke he is laughing a little too loud, a little too long, or often it is as if at the wrong moment.

I actually get a kick out of it. I think it makes him one of those funny good going guys that his friends will remember always had a good laugh at things, or they could always remember him laughing. Then again, it does kind of disrupt things sometimes and cause problems especially when it is at the wrong moments.

My husband does often the same thing as far as the loud laughing. Well, maybe it's just that he will start hysterically laughing at any random commercial. I guess I have never really been around people that just laugh out loud to commercials, but he sure does. It makes me smile though.

Anyway, we have been working with MJ as to when or what he is supposed to do or say when in different situations. I guess it also takes into affect the problems he has misunderstanding sarcasm or phrases people say that have different meaning. I'm always sure to teach him what things mean when it is something new, and I'm trying to help him be polite and socially knowledgeable, and hopefully be able to respond and react as any other person later in life.

I must add that just because he is being instructed to say hello, goodbye, hug, talk, show thanks, etc, does not mean that he doesn't appreciate these things himself or not want to. It is just that he doesn't realize the appropriate times or when to do them.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Being Literal--Say What You Really Mean

From the time MJ was little, he was always so literal about everything. I'd say, "Put on your shoes." And he'd say, "They're not shoes, Mommy, they're sandals." Or I'd say, "Get your coat on." And he'd say, "It's not a coat, it's a jacket."

Sometimes it would drive me crazy because I would shout at him, "You know what I mean, just do it!" But really, as it came to be, he didn't know what I meant, and as the years went by and I learned more about Asperger's, I realized that he didn't understand all sorts of things unless I spoke in exact literal terms.

As a person with Asperger's, they don't understand the hidden meaning behind things said, or they don't understand sarcasm or even funny phrases than seem understandable to others.

For instance, I once told MJ that his aunt "lost her voice" and he was horrified. I had to explain what I meant. Another time someone said "that girl was smokin' hot" and I had to explain that she wasn't on fire, but that they thought she was cute.

As far as understanding the hidden meaning, this is the toughest one. When in first grade, I met with the teacher for the first parent/teacher conference and she showed me how MJ was failing excellerated reading because he hadn't taken any tests. She said every time they finished a book they were supposed to take a test on the computer, but MJ wasn't doing this, he was just reading another book one right after another. She said when she asked him why he hadn't taken any tests that he said he was just excited to read the next book. And so he continued to not take tests.

This is when I really was awakened to how much I needed to be super exact with MJ. He didn't understand the teacher's "why haven't you taken any tests?" question to mean anything but "why", when the real meaning the teacher meant for him was "you need to take a test now, and after every book you finish reading".

I had to explain to the teacher that she had to tell him exactly what she wanted from him and not ask questions to mean something he needs to do.

It's like with most kids you could say something like "gee, I wish somebody would help me clean up" or "maybe if you wanted to be nice you would play with your sister" and they would understand to help you clean up or play with their sister, but for an Asperger kid, they don't see any hidden meaning, they just hear you talking to yourself or making a comment that doesn't really affect them personally.

We learned that if we wanted something done that we had to directly and specifically tell MJ what it was that we wanted. Never ask rhetorical questions, and never assume that he knows what is expected of him unless you have directly explained it to him. Telling an Aspie child something like "Now, remember we are in the library now, or remember we are at church now" will do nothing for them to understand the real meaning of "You need to be quiet now." You must just say what you really mean.

And really, wouldn't life be a lot easier if we all just said what we really meant without this beating around the bush thing? Let's just get to the point!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Need to be Cued

2nd Grade went by without hardly any struggles (probably because of the great works of his teacher who knew him well by now) except for a couple major things---not remembering things and having accidents at school.

Now, what do I mean by this? Well, one big part of MJ's Asperger's is the inability to do things on his own unless he has been cued. This affected almost everything in his life from getting dressed, eating, doing homework, remembering to take his work home, right down to the very basic in knowing when to go the bathroom.

We had a lot of problems in 1st grade where I would pick him up from school and he would be wet. I would worry first most that his classmates had noticed and that he would be made fun of, but luckily he always seemed to have accidents at the very end of the day when he was leaving the last class or getting coats and things ready to go. I felt bad that I'm sure the computer lab teacher was always having a wet chair to clean up, and well, it just wasn't good all around.

In first grade, I had met with the teacher and explained that she must tell MJ to go to the bathroom at least one time after lunch. I remember she was defensive at first like I was accusing her of not allowing MJ to go, but I had to explain the whole thing with him and how she couldn't "ask" him to go, or "give him the opportunity" to go, but she must literally say "go now". Don't give him an option. He must go. I figured as long as he always went the bathroom one time at school, he would be fine until time to come home.

MJ has always been potty trained, it is just that he gets so involved in things or superfocused that he won't even realize the need to go the bathroom until it's at the point of no return. He doesn't even think of going until it's too late. And usually, in a school setting, the bathroom isn't just in the next room like at home---it's down the hall and too far in an extreme emergency to make it.

So this is what it came to. It worked well for the rest of 1st grade. 2nd grade came and I think his teacher stopped telling him to go, and he had a few accidents, not terrible, but it was still a problem. We needed to figure out a way he could cue himself.

And this cuing thing applied to everything. In Kindergarten I used to put a large piece of duck tape across his shirt to remind him to turn assignments in. Yes, it must have looked pretty funny, but it was the only thing that worked. I told him he could take the tape off when he turned his work in. I remember his teacher saying she noticed it and wondering if he had a button missing on his shirt or something, but then it was too high, and it always disappeared later.

In first grade I'd wrap tape around his finger (even the tape on the shirt thing wasn't working anymore, and maybe it would bug him when he wrote) that he couldn't remove until he took a reading test.

Whatever we could do to have something, anything cue him to remind him to do something. It was hard. We knew he was almost exactly like his dad with the whole needing to be cued thing, but the difference was that his dad could have a PDA, emails, and a nagging wife calling him or reminding him when he needed to do things. With MJ we hadn't found a success yet, and the school's didn't allow electronic devices to remind him of stuff (well we hadn't pushed it yet) and so we just tried little things here and there.

With my husband, who had still not accepted the idea that he had Asperger's, it was a never ending battle. Thank goodness he had all these technical devices to help, and his job had him by project and deadlines, or I don't know where we'd be. Let me tell you his days off were incredibly difficult. Nothing was getting accomplished and we were trying everything. Calenders, to do lists, phone is a difficult task.

We just wished for MJ's sake that we could find a way to teach him how to take care of things himself. We needed for him to learn to be self manageable. So the battle went on, with new inventions day to day, some working, and some not. We realized the best things were more of a reward system, although the annoyance system didn't hurt too bad either.