« Parenting

CSI: Alexander or A Forensic Scientist's Approach to Raising a Non-Verbal Autistic Child

by Brad Ludwig

How do you stop the tears of your child when they can't tell you what is wrong?

This is something we've wrestled with. One minute, Alex is smiling and laughing away and the next he's almost inconsolably crying. I start the conversation, "What's wrong, buddy?" He struggles to say, "I want more happy, please." Yikes. How did we get here?

I've mentioned that Alex has some verbal skills and we encourage his practice of speaking. The more he does it, the more comfortable he gets with it.
His auditory processing issues, together with echolalia, can make getting to the bottom of something very difficult. Echolalia is a good sign that your child is hearing what you say but doesn't have an answer or doesn't understand. It can be frustrating or hilarious, depending on the situation.
Alex's echolalia works like this. "Daddy doesn't understand what you want." He'll reply, "Want." He repeats the last word he's heard, if he's not understanding what you are saying. It can be like the old Who's on First  routine by Abbott and Costello.

This image is in the public domain.  

I've had to really open up my senses and put myself in Alex shoes to figure out what is bothering him. It can be as simple as closing my eyes so I can better focus on the sounds around me. (Loud fans or 'unexpected air-conditioning' can throw him off.) Look at the area around him and really take in the view. Did he see an dog nearby? (Animals larger than a cat scare him. Dogs really freak him out. I'll have to write about our trip to the fair, where he saw his first horse.) It may sound New Age-y but I really need to focus on my surrounding to anticipate if something might trigger Alex to have a melt-down. Then energy spent doing that is far less than the energy it takes to get him re-regulated.

I recently did some work in my basement. I had to turn the power off to the lights as I was replacing a fixture. I heard Alex come down the stairs. He's not a fan of the dark but can manage. I shined the light to give him a clear view of where to walk to come over to me. He stood and watched what I was doing. I continued to work. (He's fascinated with watching me work on projects and how I use tools.) I worked for about 15 minutes and then I heard him cry, quietly. I looked up and he was wiping tears from his eyes. I asked him what was wrong. He shook his head No. Hmmmm. It took a bit but I reasoned that he was bored but was afraid to leave because he couldn't walk through the dark to get back to the stairs. I apologized profusely and took him by the hand and walked upstairs with him. Then he was fine.

This past weekend, he asked me, "I want more happy please." and he held out his hand. It's times like this that are truly wonderful. He invites me in to help me understand what he is looking for. He led me to the couch and sat down. I paused and thought about this scene. He wasn't upset, he just sat down... hmmm. I asked him "Do you want to hang out with your Daddy?" He nodded. All he wanted was to sit on the couch, watch TV and cuddle with Dad.

I treasure these moments because they won't last forever.