The world is passing me by at a frenetic pace. And I admit I feel, like a lot of people, that I’m constantly trying to catch up. There is a lot to do every day. I cannot imagine how all the supermoms out there handle more than one child. My son’s schedule alone is exhausting. I say this, not as a justification or excuse, but to provide context for the fact that I don’t always listen. Or perhaps, to couch it in terms that reflect more favorably upon me, I selectively filter what I listen to.
I filter out my husband’s blah, blah rant of the day against opposing counsel. I filter out the small talk of grocery clerks, and secretaries making appointments. I tune out my dad’s description of sumo wrestling or boxing matches. I filter out a stranger’s chit chat in the coffee shop line.
And, I filter out my son’s self-talk about four-wheelers and buses, shapes and television shows.
I must admit that the selectivity switch on my filter, sometimes, malfunctions. I tune out too much in my quest to multi-task four things at once. This results in my saying, “What?” more than some people would willingly forgive. I realized this malfunctioning, finally, yesterday. And, I feel a bit guilty about it.
In my own personal experience, in the ASD parenting club, I hear a lot of the same phrases and sentences on an endless loop during my son’s waking hours. Sometimes, it’s at a reasonable volume. Sometimes, not.
For you parents of neurotypical (“regular”) kids, it’s like the same portion of one song being played all day long until you go to sleep. Try that for one day. Just one. At a loud volume. And not necessarily a song you like. How long before you have to turn it off? In my case, I don’t get to turn it off.
One of the most prevalent of those loops, currently is, “Do you want to be a four-wheeler? Do you want to be a bus?” My son asks this, not a blaring, but definitely a loud volume, usually in connection with frustration over not conquering some task, whether it is a video game, or putting his pants on.
When I ask the behavioral therapists what I should do, the advice, in a lot of cases is ignore it. Do not buy into whatever playback loop is going on. It simply feeds the obsession. So, I try to ignore it. Try.
And in the process, I discovered, just yesterday, that I was losing something. I lost the ability to listen. Not to hear. To listen. I found myself treating my son like the guy in the coffee shop line who makes chit-chat, nodding and saying um-hmm, when I’m not listening at all. When I do this with my own son, I miss special and important things he is trying to tell me.
Here’s how I came to this realization. Last week, we were unable to attend speech, social skills class, occupational therapy and circle time at preschool. This is because the behavioral therapists were working intensively with my son on a potty training refresher course. But that’s another story.
Because my son could not attend social skills class, he missed time with his friend, who will call Eli for this story. Because he could not attend circle time, he missed all his friends at pre-school. Now, mind you, he just started back to pre-school after a six month hiatus for behavioral therapy, but he knew a good number of the students there from his old class.
Over the weekend, he asked to “Play circle time with Mommy,” I heard him and, thinking this was quite adorable, we sat down on a rug and read a book and talked about the pictures together. We sang out of tune and we smiled. It was fun.
Next, over the weekend, he asked me, “Are you going to see Eli and [a child we will call] Andy?” Now, Andy was no longer in social skills class but my son was used to the two boys attending with him. This was his way of telling me that he wanted to go to social skills class, or at least, see Eli and Andy. I heard him. I explained that we would not have social skills class that week but we would see Eli next week. That ended the discussion.
Only yesterday, after the Superbowl had ended and we were getting ready for bed did I realize what he had been telling me all along. Yes, I had heard him. I had responded. But I hadn’t listened. What I realized he was telling me was, “I miss my friends. I want to play with kids my own age, Mommy.”
You see, my son can’t use these words to tell me his meaning. He does not yet have the ability to communicate with me in that way. So, I have to really listen. With the filter on for everybody else, I was missing the meaning my son was sharing.
I took him back to circle time today. He did ok. Today, he did not ask for more circle time. He did not speak of Eli and Andy. I guess his quota of peer interaction for the day was achieved.
So, I’ve re-set the filter, now. I’m not just hearing my son’s voice and words anymore. I’m listening now, baby. I’m listening.