Saturday, September 19, 2015

Learning to teach him how he learns, not how I know things to be.

   Raising a child on the Autism Spectrum is a challenge. Mac and I remind each other frequently that, although Nixon has autism, he does have a high-functioning form of it and we consider ourselves to be "lucky" in that aspect. But we still have struggles to help Nixon navigate in social settings and to help prepare him for the future and what it may hold for him.
    I thank the stars above for Nixon's affectionate nature, his overly verbal ways and even the way he tattles on himself. He makes me pause and look at the world from different angles and forces me to answer questions I'd rather he didn't ask. For every challenge our family faces because of Nixon's diagnosis, we grow and expand our world twice by overcoming those challenges together.
   Last week Nixon and I had a mommy-and-me date. We have one-on-one dates with Nixon on Mac's weekends off. Nixon gets to choose who he goes out with and the chosen parent tries to plan a fun date, not always easy given Nixon's got a pretty limited number of places he feels comfortable in on a normal day but add a weekend crowd and it's a tightrope act. I thought this would be a good way for Mac and I to each work on our relationship with Nixon and learning who he is while he learns who we are, outside of being just "Mom" and "Dad".
    We went to Target, to look at all the new Star Wars products, clothes and toys. Nixon was having a blast, until we walked by the game section. I know why stores always have demonstration games set up, but I hate that stores always have demo games set up! Nixon loves this lately, and if he were with Mac they'd probably have more fun together, but he was with me and I am not a video game person. Instead of forcing him to walk away, and knowing it had the potential to result in a full-on meltdown, I decided to explain the point of a date. I took Nixon to a quiet corner of the store, so I'd have his attention, and explained that even though he was only on a date with me this could be an experience he'd remember when he was older and ready to start dating someone he liked. (Of course, he says "I like you, Mommy") I go on to say, "dating is about sharing what you like with the person you like and also the person you like sharing what they like with you. It's a about compromise. If you pick dinner, maybe your date chooses the movie you see. And sometimes it means NOT doing what you like because maybe the person you're dating doesn't like that thing, like video games, and that's okay. You'll just learn to do those things you like when you're not on a date."
     After our talk, Nixon agreed to 3 minutes at the game demo station and then we'd leave the game area for good. I was expecting a little argument when his time was up, but instead, he put the controller down, grabbed my hand and told me it's time for our date.
      Nixon's been working very hard at earning Dojo points in his classroom, which he gets for different positive classroom behaviors. It's a classroom tool the teacher uses to track the children's behaviors throughout the day and on Friday they can earn rewards based on the total number of points earned for the week. 
      Nixon's magic number this week was 50 points, if he earned 50 points, he'd be able to change his Dojo avatar. Last week he earned 47, and wasn't upset or disappointed, instead he decided he was "going to work super hard and get ALL 50 POINTS this week!". On Thursday he went to school with 24 points for the week. He came home and told us "I need 4 points tomorrow! I have 46 Dojo points!". Friday comes, and of course on the day I want to check the app the most the whole server has a giant technical fart and I can't even sign in. I was able to see Nixon got his 4 points! 
      Turns out, Nixon earned his 4 points and then spent the rest of the day whining to avoid earning more points. In his very literal-thinking mind, he thought if he earned more than 50 points he'd lose his reward. I tried explaining to him that wasn't the case, but he insisted it was. I asked if he'd feel better if I messaged his teacher and double-checked what he was told about the Dojo rewards. He said that was okay and went to bed. I messaged his teacher, who replied this morning, and it was exactly as I thought. I thanked his teacher and reassured her I'd help Nixon understand the rewards (honestly, no one gets paid enough to spend an afternoon listening to Nixon whine on purpose!) in hopes to avoid the confusion in the future.
     Tonight I tried to explain it to Nixon. I tried explaining the word "minimum" but with no luck. So I changed my tactic. Nixon's understands things better when he has a point of reference. Instead of saying "minimum" I tried "at least", and related it to the rides at the fair he went on once. "In order to ride the ride, you had to be at least as tall as the arrow (and I held my hand out and point down to the top of my hand) on the sign. Did that mean if you were taller than the arrow you couldn't ride the ride?". Nixon thought about it and said "No! Because you went on the rides with me and you were above the sign!". I continued that "at least" simply meant he needed that number or more, in order to earn his reward, no exactly that number and only that number. 

     It's hard sometimes to help explain things to Nixon, especially because I can't always understand why he doesn't understand something. I've learned that if I ask simple questions, Nixon will guide me to what is bothering him and then I can help him solve the problem in a way he understands. He's forcing me to change the way I explain things because the way I know and understand things doesn't work for him. 
     The simple fact that I can help him understand a difficult concept using how he thinks, makes it easier for me to advocate for him and explain his behaviors to his teachers/doctors and other people who come into contact with him. I can also help explain methods that might both help Nixon and the other party reach a mutually beneficial way of accomplishing a task.