I’m impatient. I know this about myself. Impatience serves me to do a great many things. It propels me to take action rather than not. It makes me push harder, try harder. My impatience, which usually begins with tremendous optimism can descend rapidly into disappointment and discouragement. Fortunately I am also fiercely determined and dogged in my reluctance to give up which helps mitigate some of my impatience or maybe it just makes me confused. 😕
However, there are a great many things that are not helped by impatience, things like learning a language, learning to type or learning almost any new skill. These are things that take time, practice and patience. So I have to recognize this and continue despite my impatience. This comes up over and over as I work with my daughter. But in working with her, I’ve also come to recognize something else and that is my expectations. Huge expectations, coupled with impatience can do harm. I see that. I’ve been very aware of how it affects me, but how does it affect Em?
I am learning how to support Em in her communication. For example we will read a story together, such as a book Emma chose recently entitled, Who Pooped in the Park? The story details a family outing where the two kids are upset when they don’t see a great many wild animals on their hike, but learn to identify what animals live in the area by the markings they leave. During our session together I asked Em, “What were some of the animals the family identified? One animal starts with the letter b.” Emma then typed, “There was a bear and ciyoty and a deer.” Other than misspelling coyote, this was a terrific answer and correct. We went on to discuss another name for animal poop, which is scat and that all living things produce “waste” of some kind. After our session was over, Richard asked, “So how did it go?”
“It was fine,” I answered.
“It sounded great!” Richard said with enthusiasm.
“Yeah, I guess,” I replied. And then I had a tiny flicker of realization. I was feeling disappointed in our session. I was hoping for some brilliant, philosophical insight. I was hoping that we would have a conversation that blew my mind and when I realized that, I also realized that my desire, my expectations, my impatience had caused me to not fully take in how terrific our session had been. It also made me see how my response may have felt to Emma. Here she was working hard, doing something that does not come easily and doing it really, really well, yet I had not responded with the kind of unbridled enthusiasm I would have hoped for had our roles been reversed.
During our next session we talked about her birthday, which she is very excited about, and the party and various events we’ve planned for her. I tried hard to be aware of my response to what she was typing. I became increasingly aware of my expectations as they arose and did my best to silently acknowledge them before responding with genuine enthusiasm and appreciation for Em’s work. As a result our session was more fun for both of us. Later when I spoke to a friend about all of this he pointed out that most communication is not wildly brilliant, philosophical or even necessarily enlightening. And of course, he’s right. The majority of our communication with one another is about pretty basic stuff. Learning how to communicate basic things is relevant and important. But my impatience and expectations make me forget that.
I have learned over the years that if I want to change a behavior I need to have awareness that I’m doing whatever it is, I then need to have some degree of acceptance that I’m doing it before I can begin to make little changes to it. Those little changes repeated and added up can, over time, create bigger changes. Admitting aloud I am doing whatever it is can be very helpful as well. Without taking these steps however, I have no hope of changing the way I do something.
There’s a great deal of talk about autism and how our children and autistic adults need to work on a whole range of things, but there isn’t a great deal of conversation in the general population about our own neurological deficiencies. It seems to me that if we are going to continue to have this ongoing discussion of deficits, it’s only fair that we begin to detail our own as well. Now that’s a conversation I look forward to having. And while we’re at it, let’s include the positive aspects of Autistic neurology as well, because a little balance is a good thing!