Wait For It...

Do you know someone who is Autistic? Do you know that many people like my son either need extra time to process input, or work best processing one thing at a time -- like sound or visual input but not both simultaneously? This can be a challenge for outside-autism people to comprehend; it's also not one of the things we all talk about enough when we talk about autism, in my opinion.

Leo is a textbook kid when it comes to needing an extra beat or two. As he lives in the middle of a never-ending activity vortex, we have to be careful to make sure he gets the beats he needs.

Leo's processing needs combined with his not speaking much means folks frequently underestimate our boy, so please remember this if nothing else: he's not much of a talker, but he is absolutely a hearer and an understander

When I talk to Leo, especially when I ask him a question, I don't always use the short crisp loud phrases he needed when he was little. Not unless he really doesn't hear me, or really doesn't understand me. Most of the time, I speak to him no differently than to his sisters, in asking things like "Leo, did you want to go with me to the store? Then you need to put on your shoes." Pause, process -- then he walks to the door and the shoes go on.

Sometimes, if there's an eye lock when we're talking, I can watch his cogs turn. (Probably because it takes longer to process when he's also actively looking at me.) But then: one moment, two -- he responds, and appropriately. He uses the detachable shower head to rinse his own hair, he goes upstairs and turns off the light he accidentally left on in his room.

And sometimes, processing isn't what's happening at all. He's been refusing to sit in his seat when gets on his bus, insisting on standing for about ten seconds first. After a few days of me and the driver both being slightly exasperated, Leo turned to the side while standing and I saw why he was balking -- he'd discovered the joy of using his breath to fog up a cold glass window, and then drawing patterns with his fingers. He discovered this all on his own. It was fun. And new. And once he was buckled in his seat, he couldn't reach the window. If he didn't fog up the window right when he got on the bus, he wouldn't get to do it at all.

I can wait a beat for that.


  1. It's funny how often posts in the special needs world align. I just posted something about needing to remember this with my little one yesterday.

    I get really used to saying, "Lily, Lily, Lily" without pause, and feeling my frustration ratchet up, forgetting to build that extra processing time in. Your post and mine reallllllly match up.


  2. Anonymous7:48 AM

    "If he didn't fog up the window right when he got on the bus, he wouldn't get to do it at all."

    Amazing isn't it, these "aha" moments *we* experience. I also love watching the "cogs" turn in kids. The kids I deal with are neurotypical, but these ahas happen to me, too, when you realize that some action that was completely frustrating and flabergasting me had a motivation I didn't understand. One I remember right now was being exasperated that my daughter was digging chunks of soap out of a bar of soap in the bathroom (in someone else's house). It turned out that she only knew about liquid soap dispensers, and didn't know how you were supposed to wash your hands with bars of soap (she was trying to carve out a chunk to use). I had thought she was engaging in destructive behavior, but there was a clear motivation that I just didn't understand.

    When discussing this kind of issue with another child, the child told us that adults often just didn't understand children. Subsequent discussion made us all realize that the remembering that tidbit actually applied to anyone who thinks differently from you, children, both typical and atypical, and other adults who may have motivations, backgrounds, skills different from your own.

    I'm glad that everyone caught on to Leelo's joy of fogging (one I remember sharing as a child). And, I'm guessing the opportunity is less frequent in your neck of the woods.


  3. Anonymous7:50 AM

    In other words, the lesson to take home is to remember that when there's a behavior that you don't understand, the first step should be to try to understand it.


  4. This is especially poignant for me today as I just put Nik on the bus for the first time. I can vividly imagine him doing something similar. I love how your stories about Leo connect straight to my heart.

    And, yes, the waiting a beat...so hard to remember but so valuable. The payoff is often bigger than I anticipate.

  5. I'm often so quick to just assume Lily isn't listening to me - is ignoring me. Maybe it's the side effects of raising 2 teenagers alongside my 5 year old! :) But when I take the time (like I've been told over and over to do!) to pause and not expect that immediate response, she often does exactly what I asked of her. Thanks for the reminder - maybe one of these days, my pause will become natural....

  6. I love every example I see about how when people stop projecting their own motives for behavior onto others behavior they can actually begin to understand the true motives behind the other persons behavior=true empathy . (hope that didn't come out as gibberish, I have a headache)

  7. Wesley is like this too. Sometimes the processing even takes many hours. At speech this morning, we were working on sounds like "aaah" and "eee". Couldn't get him to do it. But this afternoon I got an email from school saying Wesley was making lots of sounds during their group activities, including "aah" and "eee." So there you go :)

    I also remember clearly trying to get him to sign "all done." He just wouldn't and I was so frustrated. Then eventually he got up, and helped himself to more of whatever it was. Oops - he didn't want to say all done because he wasn't actually all done. Good for him!


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