Interpreting Behavior

Behavior is communication, but it’s incomplete communication.

Last last couple of years, when Ryan was regularly throwing fits almost every morning as I wrestled him to the school bus, I knew he was trying to communicate his dissatisfaction with something, but I didn’t know what. Was he telling me he didn’t like school? That he didn’t want to interrupt whatever game he was playing? That he would miss me? That someone was hurting him?

Crying and going boneless express unhappiness, but not reasons. 

I would twist my brain in knots trying to ask the Right Question that would prompt Ryan to reveal the Right Answer. But when a kid lacks the language to reliably answer yes/no questions, it’s all but impossible to tease out the information you need to ease his misery.

This year, Ryan gets on the bus happily, without resistance and without looking back. I can even announce “Ryan, the bus is here” when he’s not ready, and he’ll come running to get his shoes and get out the door.

Of course I’m thrilled that he clearly likes his new school more than his old school – that whatever had been making him so miserable has been resolved.

But all I can think about now is how upset he was about school the last two years, and how totally useless I was to him. He tried to tell me…something…in the only way he knew how, and I didn’t understand the message. I failed him. I tried my best to understand, and I failed. And I kept putting him on that bus, sending him to that school, not knowing if there was some monster he saw every day, not knowing what form that monster might take.

I don’t blame myself for lack of trying: I tried as hard as I could to decipher Ryan’s coded pleas for help. But I didn’t understand what Ryan was trying to tell me, so I didn’t know what to do for him.

And I fear that the next time Ryan hands me an indecipherable message, I’ll be just as useless to him.

All I can do is try to interpret the behavior. As some wise, faceless person on the internet said, “empathy is understanding; getting there is love.”

 
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Meredith Zolty
My kid is great! And he has PDD-NOS and ADHD (e-i-e-i-o). The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Watch us navigate the world of neurodiversity at http://notanaffliction.blogspot.com/
Meredith Zolty

TheRyanFiles

My kid is great! And he has PDD-NOS and ADHD (e-i-e-i-o). The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Watch us navigate the world of neurodiversity at http://notanaffliction.blogspot.com/

0 thoughts on “Interpreting Behavior

  • September 23, 2012 at 12:07 pm
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    I’m glad your son is enjoying school now. it’s a rare thing to find a place for your children to be very enthusiastic to be– and be glad that that place is school for your son. ha ha.

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  • September 22, 2012 at 8:09 pm
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    How frustrating for both of you! 🙁 Have you tried sign language or any other form of communication? I watched a documentary on a woman whose son absolutely did not respond to anything, until she started using pictures. He would point at them and finally they were able to communicate. 

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  • September 22, 2012 at 1:32 pm
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    School is a difficult thing. If it’s not his first day to go then it’s likely the other classmates saw him as different, saw him as someone to pick on, and registered this to him in no uncertain terms so he would remember.

    If he knows he’s going to get hurt and psychologically abused by his classmates going to school, he might act like this for that very reason.

    And yes, empathy in any situation is always paramount.

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  • September 22, 2012 at 8:00 am
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    I totally understand where you are, my son is nonverbal and communicates primarily through sign language. I am guessing that you are pretty good and deciphering his messages for things he likes or doesn’t like at home.  I have had to get good at asking questions of the school staff and at IEP meetings. I maybe preaching to choir here, you are probably already doing these things and I don’t know where you are from – if you are in the USA?  If so, IDEA and IEP meetings are there to help you.  I know that school districts can put up walls when things are not going well but very politely and calmly ask the questions that will help you understand what is happening with your child.  IDEA specifically states that parents have the right to “meaningfully participate” in the education of their child.  That includes every aspect of his education, including behavior problems.  For our kids, who can not tell us anything, that includes from the moment they leave our sight to the moment they get back home to us. The next time he seems to be telling you something is wrong about school, start by calmly asking questions of the staff.  If you get no where, then immediately ask for an IEP meeting. Try to have someone go with you that is more experienced in behavior and the IEP process.  Try to be educated on how the system is suppose to work and what your rights are, be ready to fully explain what you are seeing at home and why you think it is related to what is happening at school.  Give as many facts as you can and make requests for data, observation of your child, an autism specialist to observe at school/bus, what ever you think, based on the facts, would give you info that would allow you to “meaningfully participate” and allow your child to have a Fair and Appropriate Public Education guarenteed by law. Goodluck!

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