Monday, November 2, 2015

You Don't Need to Speak To Communicate ( a personal tale)

So I've bragged lately about my improvisational skills especially when at work with the different adults, teenagers and children I work with, all with mental health issues. Improv is an important skill to have, especially since half of them are nonverbal and so there's a fair amount of guessing what they're wanting or thinking or doing and then joining them in some manner.  

So tonite was a bit humbling.  
There's a couple I work with on a weekend night. I watch their 15 year old son who has autism and is nonverbal while they have date night. Often this means reading - novels and  reading their copy of the New York Times (with permission) - and seeing if he needs anything.  

They leave out all types of food for him so sometimes he will eat something. And sometime he likes to watch Thomas the Train. But mostly he lays in bed. If I can get him to smile at me and let me shake or touch his hand that's a big deal. The first few times I saw him he was indifferent to me, not even looking my way. The time when I said his name and he smiled and waved at me.. that was a great feeling.  
Tonight something was different.  

He smiled at me and shook my hand not once but twice. And then he came out of his bedroom and looked directly at me and smiled and made a few verbalizations that I could not understand or interpret. I was excited - he's trying to have a conversation with me!  
I shook his hand again and he smiled and I reminded him the food was in one direction and the tv with his dvds of Thomas were in another. But he didn't go in either direction.  
Instead he went to a bathroom he doesnt usually use... then he returned to look at me as if waiting for me to understand.  

I asked again, knowing that he and the boy who is nonverbal who I took trick or treating last night by carrying him around in a wagon, that both understand most of what we said even if you couldn't always tell that... that both are smart though folks less knowledgeable will assume otherwise.  

So I said, "if you want food or help with food, go this way", pointing to the left, "and if you want help with the tv and dvds go that way," pointing to my right.  

He looks at me and smile and goes to the kitchen and I'm thinking, "ah, it was food," and he returns with a bike helmet.  

Now i'm flummoxed. I say, sorry, I don't understand. He goes and lays down on the bed while I try to understand.  

He looks at me again in a meaningful way and then goes to the bathroom then comes out and looks at me and waits on the bed. 

I hate to interrupt date night but finally I text the mom and say, essentially, I wish i understand. Does him grabbing a bike helmet mean something?  
"We used to take him biking. We haven't gone in a while. I guess he's hoping you will take him," she replies.  

"Oh! You want to go on a bike ride!" I tell him. He comes over and smiles and there's a nice moment when we understand each other. Then I look outside - its 7 pm - and I know he can some times hurt others and or himself when out in the community.  

So I tell him I'm sorry we can't go biking tonight but maybe some other time. He shrugs as if to say "it was worth a shot," and returns to his bedroom. 

His parents come home and explain they use a tandem bike and as he's gotten older and bigger it's getting harder to ride with him.  

But one thing still bugged me: Why was he making a show of going to the bathroom?
"Because that's the bathroom we use before we leave."  
Ah, ha.  

Suddenly it all makes sense, all these actions tonight, and I feel like I'm the one who can't speak or understand things... because it was so obvious on reflection.  

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