I can remember the frustration of not being able to talk. I knew what I wanted to say but I could not get the words out, so I would just scream.
I can imagine how Temple Grandin must have felt when she could not verbally express what she needed to say. I can see that my son often does the same when he cannot get the words out and is frustrated. I’ve read more on the internet about the frustration encountered by the parent of a child with autism than about the child’s frustration. As a parent, I experience my child’s frustration every day, in many ways, but most evidently, when we sit down to do his homework.
I hate to be a critic of someone I like, much less love. No one wants to be the person who puts the Debbie Downer on someone else’s enthusiasm over their work. Despite feeling bad about it, I am the one who does it.
Around the office, I’m known for slashing to death any legal pleadings (written work) or letters that go out of my office with my signature. Truly. I was once told by a staff member that his papers looked like road kill when I returned them for revision. Everyone in the office, literally, hides red pens from me when they bring me something for review. Either that, or they, dejectedly, bring me a red pen know what is to come. It isn’t pretty.
So, pairing my little, adorable, peppy and bright-eyed son, freshly learning his letters with a hardened slasher, with permanent red ink stains on her fingers, is not a match made in heaven. It’s like the pairing of Marcus the Bulldog from the old Looney Tunes cartoon with the adorably oblivious and completely trusting kitten, you know?
What I can see is that in such a young and malleable child, frustration can suck the self-confidence level right out of him and leave him with loads of self-doubt. He’s such a delicate, little thing that it is with great finesse that I must correct and require repeated do-overs to get it right.
I have to instruct him on the way to make his letters. He has to keep them in the lined paper, just so. How important is it? It’s not in the task itself but in the ability that he has to take direction and follow instructions. That is the true exercise. He must learn those skills to use over and over throughout his life.
We’ve had to write some letters each night (in addition to some other homework). That’s been difficult enough. Luckily, my son is a lover and not a fighter so the worst of his behavior is when he gets frustrated enough he will give me some of his cuss words, like “Screwdriver! Hammer!!” (his latest favorites) with a little passive-aggressive thrown in for good measure.
His greatest frustration comes, generally, in trying to write between the two solid lines or the dotted and the solid line. Now, I’ve learned that he cannot make the dot above the letter “i”. It was either invisible or, after I brought it to his attention, it became a large circle connecting the line so it was like a stick figure. There was no in-between for my kid. He simply could not move the pencil with the tiny coordinated motor skill to make a dot visible to the eye.
I wrote a bunch of dots on a separate page. As I tried to explain to him how to make a dot, I asked him to look at the paper. He simply would not look. He looked up at the ceiling instead. I almost believe that he cannot look. It’s as though he thinks he may turn to stone if he looks down at that paper. Giving up on that, I try to hold my hand over his hand on the pencil so he can feel how to make the dot. Instead, his hand goes completely limp and he drops the pencil.
Next, we start over. I tell him to basically dive the pencil into the paper and lift it off. First, I get a streak. We practice more. Eventually, we get something resembling a dot. Yay! Next, we have to put it in the right spot about the line for the little “i”. His new frustration tool? He “mmwah”s me. He makes kissing noises. This is his “kiss-my-rear-end-mom” swear, I’m pretty sure. There was a lot of “mmwah!” in this exercise, with a rapid left to right, right to left, shake of the head for emphasis.
When I tell him something is not right, he loses confidence in the rest of it, no matter how much I praise the rest. He can’t dot the i? What about the line? He looks at me and asks loudly, “DOWN?” as though he now doesn’t even know if he is supposed to draw the line downward for the letter. I reinforce that, yes, we draw the line down.
We both finished a task. He learned to make a better lowercase “i”. I learned that while he must try to control his frustration with a task on which he receives criticism, I must exercise patience and praise with him for every step. With positive criticism, I can reinforce his belief in himself and assure he maintains it.
Thank goodness, “j” is the last of the dotted lowercase letters! It is the last one, right?