As I wrote a few weeks ago, MJ has been participating on a panel of adolescents, teens, and young adults speaking in public about their experiences on the autism spectrum. MJ spoke as part of another panel last week. As I wrote about last time, someone who appeared to have very good intentions in mind, asked another “wrong question”. A couple told of a nephew with autism and their sadness that he couldn’t communicate with them and asked something along the lines of “how can I help him speak so he can communicate with us?”
The moderator occasionally tosses some of the questions to one of the parents of the younger panelists. I happened to be sitting next to the couple and could hardly contain myself from jumping up and answering. Instead, I waited patiently (ok, not very) while the moderator passed the question to other parent to answer. The mother talked about getting to know the child better and being supportive, gently working her way up to the real answer:
“You need to change your view of communication. It’s not just speaking. There are many ways to communicate and while you are waiting for nephew to speak, you’re missing the ways that he is communicating with you. Find out the ways that he communicates and learn to understand what he is saying, even if he doesn’t speak.”
I could tell the couple was disappointed in the answer. I leaned over and spoke a few words of encouragement. They obviously cared about their nephew and wanted to learn (or they wouldn’t have even been there), but their expectations were off. Hopefully they will continue to learn and grow and adapt to their nephew rather than expecting him to change for them.