Here’s Johnny…

When I first married my husband, many moons ago, I had my fair share of sister-in-law  interaction with his younger brother.  My brother-in-law is a really, nice person.  He’s the youngest of four kids in my husband’s family.  He’s very quiet and always appears genuinely interested in whatever topic is brought up in conversation.  He’s very sneaky that way.

No matter the topic you bring up, my brother-in-law will ask pointed and detailed questions, express seeming interest, add his own take on the subject matter, and bits of trivia, and leave you feeling how genuine and nice he is.  And really, he is.  He’s Tootles’ godfather and we would not have it any other way.

The "godfather"...

But, my husband has a different take on all that “niceness”.  He says Uncle M “Johnny’s” everyone.  When I first heard this term, I had no idea what my husband was talking about.  I came to learn, that what he meant, is that Uncle M will act like he is interested in what you are talking about, but he projects this “image” just to be nice.

He “Johnny’s” everyone.

What do I mean?  Well, before you know it, in a conversation, he will turn your topic of choice into an “interview”.  He will listen, sometimes repeat, express some comment that is complimentary, leans in, nods knowingly, even if you are telling him what a grueling experience it was to clean the toilet.  He leaves you feeling like a celebrity.  Thus, “Johnny”, “Larry” “Dave”, “Conan”, what-have-you…

This is a great skill.  The person who is the “interviewee” (including me for the longest time) does not know he or she is being interviewed.  You just leave the conversation feeling good about both of you.  Uncle M might forget the conversation you had the last time you saw him, but he’s so good, you forgive him and get on to the next one.

So, why am I bringing this up?

It comes back to social skills.  In California, Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is funded, in part, by the State Department of Developmental Services, in addition to the funding provided through the IEP.   These meetings occur on a quarterly basis and involve reports.

The requirements of reporting by the ABA staff to the state funder have just changed.  In addition to discussing the goals, the reports now list the expected developmental age at which neurotypical children have mastered the goals to be taught to my son. Look at couple of these:


Transition with a peer between three play activities in 70% of 20 second time sample intervals during 1:1 play sessions with typically-developing peers. 

Age at which this is mastered by NTs:  24-36 months.

Be able to initiate greetings to one peer per day in an academic placement.

Age at which this is mastered by NTs: 36-48 months.

Be able to ask 3 questions across 10 statements a tutor makes (e.g., in response to being told, “I went to the park” he will respond, “Did you go with your mom?”  “Did you play on the slide?”  “Did you have a snack?”)

Age at which this is mastered by NTs:  3.1 to 3.6 years.

My son will be six years old two months from now.  He’s about half a NT child’s lifetime behind the NT kids in the area of social development.  I don’t say this for pity or because I’m sad.  It’s just a simple fact.  He’s making progress and I’m very happy about how much progress he has made.  But the reality is pretty sharp, isn’t it?

This is autism.  You cannot see autism.  It isn’t in the pictures that are snapped at his school or out in public.   This is part of the “core” of his disability.

That last one about being able to ask questions of his peers in response to hearing something someone else did, just reminds me of Uncle M.  Even if Uncle M is not interested, he’s a great “Johnny”.  He asks the right questions.  He repeats and expands on the highlights and throws in a bit of trivia.  Tootles just needs just a bit of Uncle M’s “Johnny” skill to rub off on him.

Someday, when he’s a little older, maybe we will pretend play “Johnny”, “Oprah” or “Ellen”.  After all, he doesn’t have to actually be interested in the person or the topic.  It’s just pretend…  oh wait, I forgot this goal:

Engage in three age-appropriate pretend play activities with tutors for a minimum of two minutes.  

Age at which this is mastered by NTs:  12+ months…

Someday, we’ll get there.  It’s just going to take a little longer.  And a lot more visits with Uncle M…

Who could forget when Kramer found the Merv Griffin set in the trash?  I couldn’t help myself…

About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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18 Responses to Here’s Johnny…

  1. Mom2MissK says:

    BEGIN RANT: I think those age ranges are there just to make moms feel bad. Seriously… who do they really help? What benefit is it to anyone knowing when my child *should* have developed one skill or another? My child does not have the skill. She needs help. That’s all there is to it. :END RANT

    *skulks off crankily to find more coffee*

    • solodialogue says:

      Coffee is good… tea is fantastic!

      I do not like reading those comments about when it should be mastered either. It hurts. But, much as I hate to admit it, it does give me a gauge for how much help needs to be done. Sometimes, it can make me work harder too.

  2. C... says:

    You brother-in-law knows the ins and outs of networking. 🙂 Social skill or not listening skills are always a plus even if you’re faking it LOL

  3. Kelly Hafer says:

    Hey Karen – as always, you have the perfect mix of information and (I don’t want to say entertainment, but I can’t think of the right word: let’s go with personal) personal story. The guidelines made me sad. Ted is a bit younger than Tootles. But, yeah. He’s not there. The issue is he doesn’t even see the point in *pretending* to care. He doesn’t care and that’s all there is to it in his mind. ‘Cuz, you know, that whole autism thing! 🙂

    I’d love to get to the place where he can even script questions, but we are a long way off yet I think. I’m okay with that. I am just so happy about our success behaviorally (thank GOD for Depakote!) that I’m going to rest on Ted’s laurels. For just a couple minutes. *happy sigh*

    We’ll get to that other stuff soon. 🙂

    • solodialogue says:

      That is soo cool, Kell. Ted is going places. With that Depakote, this stuff is going to eventually float to the top. But just relax for a while. There are not many people I know that deserve it more! 🙂

  4. blogginglily says:

    I won’t lie. . . I read the comments, but I skimmed over the “age at which skill should be mastered”. I know, without looking, that Lily has not mastered them.

    Johnnying. . . magnificent skill. I have a buddy who does it (but I never thought of it that way). He can turn a two minute story (told by me) into a 20 minute story because he asks all sorts of questions about it as it’s being told. . . It conveys genuine interest and makes him very likeable. . . unless you’re on a schedule.

  5. Flannery says:

    Maybe Uncle “Johnny” needs to move in for a while and so some intensive therapy with Tootles?? It’s sure to rub off. I might have to steal a couple of these goals and try to sneak them into the next IEP.

    And I loved that Seinfeld episode, hysterical!

    • solodialogue says:

      As I read this and write this comment, KVIE our local PBS station is here taping me write a comment to you! I think Uncle “Johnny” moving in might make you feel better about your own situation… Would that be kinda on the right track? 😉 I think between my brother in law and hubs – there’d be no food in the fridge! (I could not stop laughing at the music from the Merv Griffin Show!)

  6. Lisa says:

    Like Tootles, Tate is “not there yet”. He is also making progress with his ABA therapy…so we wait. It does really yank at my core, though, when so much of what Tate can do is equivalent to that of someone just slightly older than his younger brother. *sigh*

    Our boys will get “there” and when they do, we can celebrate…

    And a “Johnny” or not, Tootles is lucky to have such a devoted godfather!

    • solodialogue says:

      Aww, thanks Lisa! We do have a good Uncle M.

      I know that feeling in your gut when you read the comparisons. I recently read how younger children on the spectrum make a lot of progress during these years, even though it’s slower. That gives me hope. 🙂

  7. Lana Rush says:

    I HATE those developmental charts, milestone charts, whatever you want to call them. I know my kid is behind and I know she’s falling farther behind. Just help me help her right where she is!

    BTW – “Johnnying” is a great skill to have when you’re a pastor, too! 🙂

    • solodialogue says:

      In my heart, I know the Bird is making progress. I could see it in the video you posted. She may not be able to “show” that progress in the way all of us on the outside need her to but I know she’s doing it. I just do.

      I can imagine that “johnnying” is a great skill for him. He’s a fabulous writer when he guest posts! It’s great for Lily to have that role model (and I imagine her mama’s no slouch in that regard as well!) 🙂

  8. Those comparisons really do sucker punch. You know, I like ABA for the teaching of certain skills, but it does get a bit problematic with certain social interactions. It seems to me like it teaches kids to fake it rather than develop meaningful interactions. And that might be fine, but it must be exhausting too, especially if you’re mind is on other things. I think with our kids they need to see the end reward before they bother trying with a skill. I’ll bet “johnnying” becomes a lot more popular when Tootles learns the benefits of making another person feel like the centre of the universe- that godfather will come in very handy then!

    • solodialogue says:

      You know you have a point that is not lost on me. I know a lot of what is taught in ABA is to “fake” it and, yes, I’ve thought that’s okay because it can potentially lead to later acquired understanding of the “real deal”. But I didn’t think of how exhausting it could be until you said that. It’s just as exhausting to me, when I have to fake the niceities of the business world or trial or just host a party.

      And I would completely agree that our kids want to see the tangible “what’s in it for me” to bother doing something – I think our kids are simply more honest that way, really. And it would be nice for the godfather to be coming in handy… (haha!)

  9. eof737 says:

    And there is no rush… each day we learn more. 😉

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