"Mom, you really get me."
Updated: Sep 13, 2023
Mom Knows Best
The impact of learning to type with Calder cannot be stressed enough. As you can probably guess, his options for communicating outside of typing are very limited. Talking and making conversation are out of the picture. We tried sign language, but Calder struggles a lot with fine motor skills, so we were unable to get very far. He can sign "please," "thank you," and "more." And outside of those, there aren't too many methods of communication, at least at a high level. One method we use, which isn't 100% perfect, is having Calder press YES or NO via an app called, aptly enough, YES/NO. And for a lot of situations, it works perfectly. If Calder seems to be searching for something, we can ask Calder if he wants something to eat, or his iPad, or a toy and he'll reply NO until we hit on the thing he wants. Luckily, we know him pretty well, so we can usually get to his objective within a few questions.
But conversation isn't a game of 20 questions. And there are times when Calder is in so much pain or feeling so sick, the more questions we ask, the more upset he becomes. And it's frustrating for all of us that we are unable to help him.
For example, my mom once left for a business trip. At this point in time, my mom was the only person in the family who had trained to type with Calder in sentences. We relied heavily on the YES/NO app. Soon after, Calder began screaming uncontrollably nonstop. Aside from a few milliseconds of sleep, Calder was squirming, holding his stomach, rubbing his ears, and crying. My brother and I would go out in the morning after being woken up by an extremely upset Calder and when we came home from school hours later, he was still inconsolable. Our dad spent almost all of his time trying to find out what was wrong, but he was limited to just asking Calder yes or no questions. And it felt like we were getting nowhere. My dad asked him every question he could think of. Does your stomach hurt? Do you have a headache? Are you sick? Did a bee sting you? Did you burn yourself?
Calder responded "NO" to every single one of these questions. This quickly became one of the most stressful periods of our lives as we spent countless hours worried about Calder. On top of this, we were absolutely petrified that our mom was going to go ballistic after she came from an intense work trip to a sleep-deprived household and a miserable Calder. But to our complete shock, the opposite happened. Within minutes of her arrival, she hugged Calder, felt his stomach, and asked if he was constipated. He hit the YES button half a dozen times. My mom grabbed some medicine and within a mere half an hour, the frantic nightmare was over. Calder went to bed and woke up as happy as a clam. He seemed to have completely forgotten he'd been a screaming mess for three days.
The point of the story isn't that my mom is awesome (though she is). It's that while we're grateful for the amazing technology and apps that help Calder in so many ways, being a non-speaking autistic kid is a daily struggle. We try to find the best solutions. We try to anticipate Calder's needs. And we really, really try to understand when he's upset. Sometimes the YES/NO app is a huge help. And sometimes, it takes good old motherly instincts to make everything better.