• Sun, Jan 20 2008

Yes, No, Brown Noodles!

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Jim had to attend a work-related function Saturday night, so I took Charlie swimming at the YMCA, where there’s a special Saturday program that reserves one of the pools for autistic children only. I asked Charlie if he’d like to see a movie and he said “yes”—-and when I brought up the subject back at home, he said “yes” and then “no” and then “yes.” “How about Alvin and the Chipmunks?” I asked. “Yes,” said Charlie. And then, “No.”

By this time, it was getting too late to see the computer animated version of Dave Seville and three squeaky-voiced creatures, so I asked Charlie about dinner. “Dinner, yes,” said Charlie. As he has been saying, with a pleased smile, “Chinese food!” for the past few days, I suggest that. “Yes,” said Charlie. “How about noodles? With shrimp? Or with chicken?” “Noodles with shrimp. Eat chicken.”

We drove to a Chinese restaurant that we used to go to a lot last year but have not been going to—because every time I would drive into the parking lot, Charlie would say “No. No. No.” This evening, we drove into the parking lot and I saw that the place right in front of the restaurant was free and I started to pull in.

“No. No. No,” said Charlie. I asked him if he were sure; he said “yes.” I backed out and around (it’s a very narrow parking lot and, this being suburban New Jersey, everyone seems to have at least a mid-size SUV, with a Hummer or two thrown in). “Noodles!” said Charlie. “Do you want noodles?” I asked. “Yes,” said Charlie. At this point we were at the exit facing a red light and so I asked Charlie once again, if he wanted to get the noodles. “No,” said Charlie. “You’re sure?” “No. No.” I said okay and then Charlie said, “Yes, brown noodles!”

I craned my neck around and backed the car up, pulled into the still-free parking place, and told Charlie I would get the noodles, and if he didn’t want to eat them, I would. “Shrimp or chicken?” I asked. “Shrimp,” said Charlie.

As I waited for our order, I thought about the past week and in particular about Wednesday evening. It was Charlie’s second time at Special Olympics basketball and we got there when the practice was well underway: Charlie stood on the sidelines and, at being urged too strongly to go and play, hollered/yelled/cried/would not be moved/etc. in a big way. Jim waited it out and Charlie ended up staying until the end, and kind of got into throwing and catching. On Friday, in talking to Charlie’s home coordinator, I realized that what Charlie had needed to say at the practice was “I don’t want to [play basketball].” But while we have spent a lot of time teaching Charlie to ask for things and tell us what things are, we have not yet taught him to say that he does not want something—-that he can say “I don’t want it.”

And, I think, Charlie’s tangled-up no’s and yes’s in the parking lot of the Chinese restaurant are his attempt to communicate something ambivalent and complex—that he really wants the noodles, really likes them, but there’s some odd memory about this particular restaurant that irks him, that he doesn’t know if he’ll still like the noodles—-something like that. But being a boy of few words, it’s not so easy to talk about something that is not “black and white” and that he “kind of but maybe not” wants, and to say “I don’t want it.” And these are all things we’re thinking about as we try to teach Charlie to communicate as much as he can to us.

I can say, though, that—based on how quickly Charlie cleaned his bowl when we got home with the food—he indeed meant yes about chow fun with shrimp: Sometimes all a mother can do is to say it with brown noodles.


Photo courtesy of mochzr via Flickr

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  • http://www.marlabaltes.blogspot.com Marla

    Your trip to the Chinese place sounds familiar. We are always going through things like this with Maizie. And when I say, “Are you sure she always says, “No!” when in fact she is meaning to say , “Yes!” Glad he enjoyed the noodles.

    What a great Y to have a pool like that. That would help us a great deal since the crowds in the pools cause much anxiety for Maizie.

  • KimJ

    Since you admit that Charlie hasn’t been taught to decline or refuse things, it may be that he’s testing out the difference between answering, “yes”, “no”. He is being a scientist, recording your reactions to his words. My son somewhere early on would say, “me not want it”. We would mirror it back to him when we “didn’t want it”.

    He also had times where he wanted something so badly that he’d get too anxious and “ruin” the event. Like hit someone or scream or overload, so he’d have to be removed from the area and he’d miss that beloved event. This developed into a vicious cycle of anxiety over something he liked very much.

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    @KimJ, we did try to teach Charlie to say “no, I don’t want it” when he was around 6 years old but I don’t think he was ready at that time. What you describe about your son wanting something so much that he’d go into “overload”—-that’s definitely been the case many a time for Charlie.

    I enjoyed my noodles, too.

  • http://aoskoli.blogspot.com/ VAB

    With our guy, too, there has often been a love/hate relationship with some things and with things he loves so much he is afraid of being disappointed by. With our guy there are regulatory issues. He has a hard time regulating his emotions, which sometimes comes out as over regulation, so he does actually change his mind many times over things in a very short space of time. It’s tricky, because these are complex feelings that need an awful lot of linguistic sophistication to be properly explained.

    I think you made a good call. You accepted one of his answers but made it clear that he wasn’t going to be held to it if he didn’t like the outcome.

  • http://www.thismom.com kyra

    i am so with you on this, kristina. something i’ve discovered in talking with other mothers of kids across a wide span of the ‘spectrum’ is that our kids struggle greatly with expressing what they DON’T want. it’s an important part of self-expression is in overall communication. yes, this, no not that. then, add the confusion of the gray area, the times when it’s yes AND no! that’s hard enough even for those with many words and nuances at our disposal.

  • Tanya

    Yum. Chow Fun…I like it with beef and sauce/gravy. For some reason, my son has no problem with yes and no responses which he is currently mastering after acquiring the skill this past Fall -especially the “NO!” part! It’s both helpful and exasperating all at once. He quite often mixes up the two as others have mentioned and that can also lead to confusing moments. It can be so difficult decoding his wants and intentions.

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    Vegetables only for me………… I guess “maybe” might be a word to teach? (to help Charlie—maybe….)

  • http://compostermom.blogspot.com Daisy

    Amigo still has occasional meltdowns when he can’t express himself. It’s frustrating and scary for us, including himself, because he behaves like a normal teen so much of the time we get lulled into complacency.

  • http://www.tankeduptaco.blogspot.com neil

    Our daughter M doesn’t or didn’t like prawns. We got some from a Chinese restaurant, in batter, as well as an order for her. When we got home, we were surprised that she dove right into the prawns and told us how delicious they were! We never told her what they really were.

  • Lolasmom

    I had Lola’s IEP last week, and one of her goals was properly answering a “yes/no” question. Her teacher said that spectrum kids often have trouble grasping the concept. I had never thought about it, since Lola is known to holler “no!” quite readily, whenever she is displeased. But she really does have trouble responding to those true/false questions. (Not so with multiple choice – juice or milk? Cheerios or Life? apples or carrots? – are no trouble.)

  • Bink

    This is a great post. I remember realizing, at one point, that my child needed to be taught that it was okay to say “I don’t know” in answer to a question, and how to do it. We have also painstakingly slowly taught “I’m thinking.” It has helped.

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    @Bink, Those are really great responses to add to the list of things to teach Charlie, thank you!

    @Lolasmom, Charlie still struggles with multiple choice questions. He tends to say he wants the second item; I practice asking him different combinations in different orders.

    @neil, hmmmmm, a new food to add (unnamed) to M’s list….

    @Daisy, I think what you describe about Amigo behaving so much like a normal team that one overlooks some underlying needs applied to us with Charlie lately. He’s been so easy-going, willing to adjust himself to schedule changes, willing to try out new things; we’ll got for a period like this and then suddenly have some difficult days.

  • Regan

    Kristina,
    I would say, maybe, that *maybe* would be a good concept to teach.

    It’s hard to recall our lightbulb moment, which might be particular to our situation, but I think it had to do with realizing the percentage of times that we said, “No thanks”, “not now”, “maybe later”, “not yet”, “maybe”, “I’m not sure”, etc. that made me feel that not always being totally affirmative or certain was A-okay and probably more functional, reasonable and accurate.

    Knowing it and teaching it might be two different things, but I’m trying to help her understand how to use those statements of preference, along with “I don’t understand”, “What did you say?”, “I don’t know +/- what’s that?”, “What are my choices?”…etc, etc.
    It seems to have cut down on some frustration that Eleanor, not unreasonably, might have felt that she HAD to do this or take that regardless of druthers, simply because she didn’t know the right words or have the means to effectively express otherwise…sometimes having to do something, and maybe even right now, matters, but sometimes it doesn’t and choice is operative.
    Or at least it seems to me.

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    I think we’ll be working first on “I don’t want” before “maybe,” though (as you indicate), I think the very concept might be somewhat revolutionary for Charlie, to know that things don’t have to be “either/or” but in the “gray area.” Or so I posit.

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