Every moment is a learning moment

People learn all the time. 

Think about it. We are all always learning.

Drink the last of the juice, it is gone. Lesson learned.

Throw a ball inside, things get knocked over. Lesson learned.

Give a compliment, get a smile. Lesson learned.

Don’t study, get a poor mark. Lesson learned.

Forget to wash your clothes, nothing clean to wear. Lesson learned.

Plant a seed, grow a plant. Lesson learned.

On and on.

Every day.

Communication is a skill we must learn.

My typically developing two year old is currently having a language explosion. Multiple new words every day. He’s been watching us since he was born. He is good at reading non-verbal cues and at mimicking verbal communication. This week alone he has acquired the all important skills of using the phrases “but, Muumuum…”, “not fair!” (complete with foot stamp), and “that’s mine!”. He has six older siblings to learn from. He has also learned “yes, please”, “bless you”, thanks Mum”, “I love it”, “what happened?”, “Are you OK?” and “Go Swannies!”, among other things. We support his developing language as best we can by encouraging, modelling and interacting with him.

My Autistic son at the same age was still pretty much non verbal. He said Mum and Dad and babbled a few other phrases, but that was about it. He did communicate though. He had been watching us since he was born. He used a complex system of hand gestures (some his approximations of the sign language we had taught him, some his own), verbal utterances, and sound effects. He was communicating, and we understood him fine. We had to interpret for him to be understood by people outside the immediate family, but he was communicating. By the time he was six he was talking, but still difficult to understand. He now uses spoken language, but feels like it is very hard work and it costs him a lot of energy. We support him as best we can by encouraging, modelling and interacting with him.

My Autistic daughter ‘spoke well’ from a young age. She had been watching us since she was born. The words came, but she had a lot of trouble communicating her needs. The slightest stress and she did, and still does, find speech very difficult. She will stop speaking, or say things she doesn’t mean to, or just yell and scream. She finds this incredibly embarrassing. Her meltdowns are a way she communicates with us that she is not coping. There are signs before the meltdown too, hints in her posture, her tone of voice, the words she uses. We support her as best we can by encouraging, modelling and interacting with her.

Every time my kids interact with me, communicating in their own ways, they learn something. When I respond to 2 year old R’s approximations at verbal communication with respect and encouragement, he learns that I value him and his communication attempts. When I respond to 16 year old L’s efforts at verbal communication with respect and encouragement, he learns that I value him and his communication attempts. When I respond to 8 year old G’s meltdowns with respect and encouragement, she learns that I value her and her communication attempts.

Every time we respond and react to our children’s communications they learn something.

So, it bears thinking about what we want them to learn.

When our children are working hard to learn, but finding it frustrating, do we want them to learn that their behaviour makes us uncomfortable enough that we will punish them for trying to communicate their feelings and frustrations?

When our children are overwhelmed, do we want them to learn that we are not interested in helping them unless they express their overwhelm in a way we find acceptable?

When our children are doing their best, but their best doesn’t look like what we expected, do we want to tell them that their best is not good enough for us?

Because those things are what happen when we expect Autistic children to communicate in the same way as non-Autistic children. Those things are what happen when we expect Autistic children to respond the same way to a classroom environment as a non-Autistic child. Those things are what Autistic children learn when we respond to their communications with admonitions, rebukes and corrections.

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image: a toddler climbing a set of concrete stairs text reads: every moment is a learning moment michellesuttonwrites.com

Every moment is a learning moment.  

With every reaction, every response, we give the child information about what we think of them, and how much we value them. 

Is having things done the way we expect, the way we prefer, the way we are most comfortable with, worth telling our children they are not good enough? 

Every moment is a learning moment. 

What are you teaching your children? 

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