Dinosaurs, literally

One aspect of autism spectrum disorder that affects Frances is difficulty with figurative language or words that are not intended to be interpreted literally. As she ages, the difficulty becomes more pronounced but it doesn’t always involve idioms or euphemisms.

We were recently at an event for children with autism, and Frances was describing her proposed birthday theme of dinosaurs. It seemed like a good time for me to join in the conversation.

Me: We can have lots of dinosaurs at your party…

Frances: What?!?

Me: Sorry, images of dinosaurs.

Even though Frances would know intellectually that I did not intend to have dinosaurs at her party, the fact that I omitted “images of” in that sentence immediately left her thinking that I had said something nonsensical to her.

At any rate, in order to help her, I frequently use idioms, euphemisms, similes and metaphors intentionally in order to build her repertoire of non-literal language. Fortunately, there are also social dictionaries that include figurative language entries which may be of use to her as time goes on.

Heh heh…

Me: (on phone) I’m so sorry! I slept in. I never sleep in!

Frances: (shouting in the background) Yes, you do. You sleep in ALL THE TIME!

All the while, she is jumping up and down trying to get my attention so that I can realize my mistake…

Sorry. You’re right…

Frances: I don’t want to hurt your feelings, Mum, but it isn’t ‘bath time’.

Me: Oh, why not?

Frances: If it were ‘bath time’, I’d actually be in the tub right now. I think you mean that it is almost bath time. No offence.

I love her logic!

(She was six years old at the time and had just learned how to tack on ‘no offence’ at the end of her very honest observations. She still does this.)

Parting ways…

I have been teaching Frances how to say good-bye to someone at the door when she leaves the house. 

This is not something that has come naturally to her.

From the time that she could speak, there were no greetings or goodbyes for anyone entering or leaving our home; there was no acknowledgement whatsoever. Even leaving her at school met with silence.

In January 2014, something wonderful happened: I stood partially clad at my cold front door blowing kisses back and forth with Frances as she left for school. 

My daughter, who was six-and-three-quarters, had never blown me kisses before! Not once, even though I would blow her kisses; now she was doing it, and I was at once lost in the moment and aware of how joyously elated I was.

(To most people, such a typical demonstration of affection between mother and child would not merit a blog post.)

After that, as she left for her school day, she would occasionally say, “See you tomorrow!” I didn’t correct her. I thought it was cute, but, more importantly, I thought it was enough for the time being that she was aware that something needed to be said. That was a huge success!

One day, she said, “I get the impression that I’m supposed to say something else, but I don’t know what that is.”

At this point, I explained that she could say, “see you later” or “see you this afternoon”. She started using these phrases once in a while. 

Within the past year or so, at eight years old, she started to say “bye” or “see you later” after I said it. 

(And she still blows kisses to me.)

Well, does she?

Frances asks me to read Amelia Bedelia (by Peggy Parish) to her this afternoon.

Amelia Bedelia is a domestic helper who interprets language rather literally much to the initial chagrin of her employers.

For example, “undust the furniture” makes more sense than the instructions to dust the furniture do, but she dusts the furniture at any rate.

At this point, Frances asks: “Does she have autism?”

She, then, proceeds to show me how each page of our vintage copy differs from the more modern version in her classroom, right down to the period and the colour differences of objects depicted in the story’s rooms.

In the end, the owners of the house decide that Amelia Bedelia should remain in their employ and they adapt to her language difficulty.

Does Amelia Bedelia have autism? I don’t know, but Frances, who does not laugh throughout the reading, believes she does.

My incredulous kid

Frances: You can’t drive a CAR!

Me: Yes, I can.

Frances: You can’t drive a car.

Me: Yes, I can. Please stop saying that 🙂

Frances: You can’t manoeuvre a vehicle… 🙂

(She is eight in this exchange. And I can drive. Really.)