Saying goodbye

Frances has always struggled with pragmatic language (social language and skills in everyday interactions with others).

Partings for Frances have always been difficult in the sense that, at first, she didn’t know that speaking is necessary when people temporarily part ways. 

Then, after some time, she realized that something needs to be said, but didn’t know what to say. 

For us, for a while, it was good enough that she sensed a need to say something at all because we could slowly introduce her to some parting words. (We didn’t want to constantly correct her and risk damaging her self-confidence.)

But even when she was learning parting words, she still managed to surprise us with her responses.

In the above panel, I wanted to show that, as an ASD parent, there are times when we’ve temporarily accepted as “normal” something that would probably strike others as funny.

As an update: in the three years since the date of the panel when she was six years old, Frances went through a phase of using almost appropriate language. For example, when leaving for school, she would often say to me, “See you tomorrow”. Now, she will often say “goodbye” or “see you later”, if she acknowledges that I’ve said goodbye to her.

Saying hello

Recently, for the first time, Frances has tried a few times to say hello to different people — which is fantastic.

The difficulty that she encounters is that she is not reading the cues: the person is on the phone, the person is too far away to hear, the person is in the midst of noisy traffic. Consequently, her attempts have been unsuccessful.

I’m really hoping that she does not become discouraged and that she continues to try on her own (i.e., without being prompted or coached).

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.)

Rules

I don’t know what other ASD parents, or professionals, call the process or behaviour, but Frances almost constantly “verifies rules” or extracts them from both real and imagined scenarios — and this is undertaken very seriously.

She has been doing this since she started speaking, and her language is, as is her pattern, in the form of questions.

The rules usually pertain to danger, and always occur (to the listener) out of context.

One example, from a few days ago:

“Are cows dangerous? Well they are bigger than me, they have a strong kick. So stay away from cows, right?”

Or:

“Never eat anything bigger than you, right? It could be dangerous.”

Personally, I find it very cute, but I know that she has to learn other ways of starting and holding conversations. (She did some work on this difficulty over the summer.)

Lessons

 
Last Saturday, we drove to Frances’s ballet lesson, but we also tried to have a bit of a leisurely drive as well.

I’ve written about it before in a lighthearted manner, but I don’t mean to trivialize the fact that it is very difficult to drive with Frances. 

It is hard to admit that the constant chatter is, well, constant: the questions come at us so fast and furiously that I will not drive with her if I’m not also a passenger.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t endearing moments — such as the funny questions that I frequently record — but I would be lying if I said that I always feel patient.

I don’t know why it took me 1.5 hours to think of giving her my telephone. It helped to quieten her for that final half-hour.

At any rate, it was something of a relief as we pulled up to the grand, ancient building in which her lesson is held.

We waited together, Pink Cup Dad, Pink Cup Sister, and I, without talking in the tacit anticipation of one hour of absolute silence.

Goodnights 

The above panel illustrates a typical response from Frances at bedtime. Instead of saying goodnight in return, her unique use of language — posing an unrelated question — is the norm. (She is six years old here.)

The following response is one of the most memorable: 

At the age of eight, she now will occasionally say, “OK.”

Going to school

It’s always difficult dropping off Frances at school: she always says that she doesn’t want to go, that she hates school, that she wants to stay home with me.

These statements can be chalked up to anxiety of the mostly anticipatory kind. She worries. A lot.

But there is yet another reason because of which taking her to school is not easy: the absence of social language and social behaviour. For example, though we are accustomed to not hearing goodbyes or being greeted when we get home, it is altogether another story when you leave a young child of whom you’re uncertain actually knows that you’re leaving. 

On one day in January 2014, I stood in the doorway in my underwear blowing kisses for the first time. It was incredible — and Frances was already almost 7 years old.

Until this past September, in fact, Frances did not say or do anything if someone left or if she was walking out the door. At the start of the school year, Frances began to say, “See you tomorrow” as she left. It was enough for me! 

Most parents can count on even a little, half-hearted wave, hug, goodbye, or slight glance at dropoff, and this would be reassuring to me. I still say goodbye, tell her I love her, and hug her if she lets me. But, by the time that she is on a mat or at her desk, she has already shut down.

Yes, leaving her at school, at times, has been heartbreaking, because I know that, had she wanted me to stay longer, she would be devastated to discover that I’d already left. (Separation anxiety and extreme emotional sensitivity are very prominent in her.)

So, despite the fact that she is highly verbal (and holds discussions that one would expect of an adult), she has struggled very noticeably with social (pragmatic) language and gestures.

I could recount so many humorous or cute (or even awkward) moments in which pragmatic language has been the issue, but I’ll save that for another time.