Thursday, February 21, 2013

prank phone calls and teaching Tate

I have so many stories to share, but they are not all related to one topic (unless it is just autism, in general) so this is going to be a pretty random post. 

Tate has tried his hand this week at practical jokes. He will tell me in a whisper that he is going to prank someone, usually Levi, and then do something really silly. A few nights ago, Tate dropped a clothes hamper over Levi’s head. Of course, Levi saw it coming and cooperated so Tate could have his fun. 

We found out last night that we would be staying home today for a snow day. Tate became so excited he began to chatter and he became very animated and active. He isn’t usually much of a talker so when it happens we love it. He gets really talkative sometimes when he is happy. A day I will always remember is from a trip to pick out an Xmas tree, in 2011. It was one of the first times he had EVER become a chatter-box for a day. Most days he is pretty quiet. 

Tate’s favorite prank right now is to go find a sibling and tell them that Mom has been calling. Then he follows them into the room and when they ask what I wanted and I look confused, Tate runs and they chase. Last night he did it to everyone, at least once. They are great to play along. Tate has started making up jokes that are usually not funny too. Last night he told one he made up: “Why did the pen not write on the paper? Because the paper fell on the floor!” We usually laugh much longer and louder than is worthy of such a joke because of the kick we get out of Tate telling a joke. Most kids make up their own jokes around age four. I know because I had five kids before Tate that told me hundreds of jokes. I have heard “knock knock” many, many times in the past twenty years!

Last night Tate told me he was going to call his older brothers who live in Tennessee and prank them on the phone. I could hear his end of the conversation with both boys. When they answered, Tate yelled into the phone, in a voice that is cracking due to his age, “Hellooooooo, How can I help you?” Then he said, “I don’t have the wrong number, YOOOOOUUUUU have the wrong number.” He did a lot of giggling. He told one of the boys “Congratulations, you have just won a new foot.” We were laughing pretty hard on this end but I haven’t talked to my boys yet to find out if they understood much of what he was saying. Knowing them, they loved the call. I couldn’t ask for better kids than I have. Tate has a whole family of therapists. For more on Tate's siblings and all that they do, read here: He's My Brother

Totally unrelated to the above: This past weekend we skipped an afternoon of school and went to the movie theater. That is not the real story I want to tell here, but it is a story in itself. When Tate hears the release date of an animated movie or a movie that strikes his interest, he immediately begins to make plans to attend the opening day of said movie. If you are not involved in the life of a child with autism, you probably will not understand the importance of these kinds of things to us here in the Smith family. When Tate makes a plan, if it is not altered or shot down, IMMEDIATELY, then it is set in stone. The mind of a child with autism is much like stone. Plans made are not easily changed. Usually, I am fine with taking Tate to a movie on a Friday after school. He doesn’t ask (demand) that often, maybe every-other month. So, last Friday was one of those times and I had agreed to take him. After about three days of listening to him talk about the movie, my senior in high school, told me that my presence was required at one of her school events. She told me IN FRONT OF TATE, so there was no time for me to prepare myself for his anxiety attack. His face turned blotchy, he began to choke, and he started pacing the floor on his tiptoes. He actually said some pretty hilarious things in his misery. He was trying to talk us out of our alternate plans and saying things to his sister like, “I’m sorry, but we won’t be able to attend that game. You’ll be on your own.” The funniest thing he said was, “If your wedding is on a Friday night, we won’t be able to make it.” Tate’s oldest sister came up with the perfect solution. She would take Tate out of school early on Friday and take him to the movie. 

I told that story to tell this one: At the theater, a young man in a wheel chair was taking tickets. Tate got right in front of him and even crowded him and said to me, “Hey, what’s wrong with him?” I was totally taken back. I had no idea what to do. I knew I needed to use the moment to teach but what was the proper way to handle the situation? I had no time to decide. I said to Tate, “You can ask him, why he needs to use a wheel chair.” Tate said to him, “What’s wrong with you?” The young man said, “I have a disease.” Tate said “Oh” and walked away. I hung back to explain to the young man that Tate was lacking in manners because he has autism and doesn’t have many social skills. The guy replied that he could tell and he was very gracious, although we were both embarrassed. As we got settled in our seats and waited for our movie to begin I talked to Tate about how impolite it is to ask someone what is wrong with them if they are sitting in a wheel chair. He seemed to understand. A few days later, Tate asked a person with a blemish on their face, what was wrong with their face and I had to repeat the lecture. If that person had been in a wheel chair, he wouldn’t have asked them perhaps but I hadn’t covered acne.  If you think about it, etiquette is very hard to teach. It is okay to ask a friend who shows up to school with a broken arm, what happened to their arm, but very rude to ask a stranger in a wheel chair what happened to their legs. Typically developing kids just learn these things from watching and absorbing the examples around them. Kids with autism have to be taught everything they know systematically. They have to file away each little lesson and each little variance to each rule so they can know how to act. When something new comes along that they have not seen before, they don’t know what the proper response should be. They don’t mean to be rude. They just have no idea what is acceptable and what is not. These kinds of unwritten rules are often referred to as “the hidden curriculum” in schools. Teachers don’t have to teach the hidden curriculum to the typically developing kids but the kids with autism do need to be taught all the unwritten rules. I feel so badly sometimes when I hand my special needs kids to their teachers. I’m asking them to give more and do more for my kids than their job descriptions ever called for. I don’t think that colleges give a lot of instruction to their teaching students on the hidden curriculum. Special needs students, fully included or not, require so much more work than the other students. They are also much more expensive to educate, due to the need for para support, other services, and modified materials and equipment. I cannot sing praises loud enough for my kids’ teachers. 

A little bit more about hidden rules that Tate cannot learn without systematic instruction: One day this week when I dropped Tate off at school, I watched him walk into the building as usual. A girl much smaller than him was holding the door, waiting for Tate to catch it. A boy much smaller than Tate was right behind him, waiting to enter. Tate pulled the door open, slipped through and dropped the door. The little boy behind had to reopen the door because Tate had not pushed it open wide enough for him or held it that extra second it would have taken for him to grab. These kinds of things come so natural for the rest of us. Tate is not mean. He just doesn’t think about others, their thoughts, their feelings, their plans, or their motives. That part of his brain isn’t working. He cannot help it. If we teach him the “rule” for holding the door for the kid behind him then he will hold the door next time…. But then there will be variances of that rule that come up. What do you do if you are in a crowd and there are a lot of people behind you? What do you do if the person is on crutches or pushing a stroller and you need to move out of the way a little while you hold the door? All these things would leave Tate confused about what to do. I asked Tate’s teachers to help me teach Tate about holding the doors. The teaching opportunities for social skills abound at the school. Tate’s classmates are often involved in teaching new skills. I appreciate them so much. 

If you liked this post, you might also like this one: What is Autism?

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  1. I absolutely love reading your blog. ,i check back almost daily to see if theres a new update :) many many years ago I came out to the house and worked with Tate. I learned many things and loved the opportunity. I ended up teaching for 3 years in a regular Ed classroom and then took a long term sub position in a communications room, working with 6 children with autism. It all started with Tate though. I'm not staying home with my 17 mo son, but someday, I will return to a special Ed classroom. I can't wait for the next post. You're an excellent writer and an amazing mom. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Mary! Congratulations on the birth of your son! Thanks so much for the kind words. You are not the first one to tell me that working with Tate was the beginning of a career in special education. Some of them had no intention of going into special education before. You just don't know how much these kinds of comments mean to me (or maybe you do since you made the effort)! It helps me to see that the blog may be helping more than just me, as I use it for my own therapy. I only have four followers but I usually have about forty or fifty people read each post. I cannot tell who they are so I love hearing from folks. How did you find the blog? My status on facebook is usually about Tate or Sydney so feel free to friend me and get your fill. haha Thanks again!

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