Monday, March 19, 2012

Mastering the Art of Listening

If only!

Maya's new catchphrase these days is awright baybay.

And before you start thinking that I dropped out of school in fourth grade, I spelled it phonetically because the way she pronounces it is so funny to me.  

Basically any time I ask Maya to do something I get that as a response.  All right baby seems to be the answer to my requests to brush her teeth, wash her face, go to the bathroom, clean up her room, carry dishes to the sink (yes, we are starting very slowly with chores).  

If I think of all the issues we have dealt with or deal with on a daily basis, by far the most constant issue and the one which has always been the most irksome to me as a mom is the whole listening thing.  When Maya was 3 or 4 the very second I asked her to do something, she seemed to do the opposite.  If I would ask her to come here, most of the time she would dart off for another frontier, it would get really super embarrassing at someone else's house when it was time to go, I had to chase her to all corners of the house in order just to get her coat and shoes back on.  Most of the time it was me, running like a banshee with one sock and a coat in my hand while Maya, with quite amazing skill darted in and out of rooms, in and around furnishings avoided being caught with Olympic precision.  

The worst was always when Maya's not listening became evident to our families.  One time about 4 years ago, when we were having our kitchen remodeled and new flooring put in in our house.  We had to move all our furniture out and the whole downstairs was gutted and we decided the best thing to do would be to stay at my inlaws while the work was being done.  While it was nice for Maya to stay at her grandparents and she had a ball, Leo and I were completely on edge the whole time.  Leo's parents had a front row seat to what we went through with Maya to do the simplest things and they saw first hand what a constant struggle everything was.  At this point in our lives, autism or any issue wasn't even on our radar, we were just two parents running around after our very active toddler.  Leo's folks were too nice to say anything to me about what they saw during that week we stayed there but Leo and I were constantly on edge and after a week under glass we decided just to go home and eat take out from our bedrooms until the work was done.  It was to hard to see reflected everything we were feeling - we were crappy parents who apparently didn't know how to set limits for our daughter.

And not to single Leo's family out, we had a similar situation with my family a year or two later during a vacation to the US.  My brother had just returned from a several year stint in Australia and while I still would see him once or twice a year during that time, it was always a whirlwind, a day here, a weekend there.  This trip was the first time we really had to spend any time together and the first time they had spent any significant amount of time with Maya since she was a baby.  We had always stayed with them when we visited the states before Maya was born and when she was a small baby and it was always great, very easy, everyone did their own thing, no conflicts.  But this time, my brother and sister in law were still settling in and they had just bought a puppy.  And Maya spent the entire time we stayed with them running around uncontrollably after this puppy.  All day and all night, Maya ran after the dog, trying to engage it in play and no matter how many times we told her to stop or tried to limit her, no avail.  After about a week of this I was so on edge because everyone was sick of telling Maya to stop chasing dog 8000 times per day.

I got so on edge about the whole thing I ended up having a meltdown and screaming at Maya one evening when she wouldn't go to bed (and bedtime is never an issue that I stress about).  The next evening my brother and I had dinner together and while he really took the whole visit in stride, I knew we had cramped their style.  I tried to talk about it and my brother, class act that he is, told me to forget about it, it was just that he and my sister in law were not used to the stress of having small kids around anymore.  We ended going to a hotel for the last few days, not because we weren't welcome, my brother tried to get us to stay, but just because I needed some peace and a break from the stress of Maya not listening without an audience.  

All other parents except us seemed to figure out the mysteries of getting their kids to listen.

Leo and I were just clueless losers. That's what we thought for a long time.

And when she started school at age 4, we only felt worse.  We were just not able to do what other parents so easily did.  After 6 weeks at school it became evident that there was a problem and so we, together with the guidance counselor and school psychologist pushed to have Maya evaluated for special needs.  Things eased up while we waited the 6 months on the waiting list, we took Maya out of school and put her back in daycare, the place where she had flourished for 4 years and Leo and I got a much needed break from our seeming parental failures.

When Maya first went to the school where she was evaluated and diagnosed, our social worker in our very first meeting asked us if we could change aspect of our life with Maya what would it be?  Leo and I didn't hesitate and we both said at the same time - listening.  We still didn't have a diagnosis but our social worker spent a lot of time with us, both at home and at school and really tried to understand how we parented Maya and what would work best as a family.  The school introduced us to pictographs to help make Maya's routines easier and she encouraged us to be consistent (which is a tough call as Leo and I have very different parenting styles) but then she told us we had to be consistent on the big stuff but then just find a way which suited our personal styles.  She worked with us a lot, we tried different things, some worked well, some not at all but things improved dramatically.  

Lots of stuff became easier.  Listening became easier for some things but it is still our number one source of frustration with Maya.  It's been a long hard road with listening as Maya dances to her own tunes and it is very hard to get the tunes out of her head.  It might not be the number one issue, but it is the one that tries Leo's and my patience the most and the issue which causes us to lose our patience with Maya.

But she is doing much better with listening.  We are slowly getting to a place where Maya understands what is expected of her and responds in kind.  Over the last school year we have tried to instill 2 general rules with her which all revolve around her ability to listen.  No stalling and when she is told it is time to stop something or to go, she needs to answer OK and move on.  That goes well most of the time.  And it has cut down on both her and our frustrations.

And of course, her autistic mind is a literal mind which sometimes causes funny things to happen.

One of her biggest stalling moments is in the period after she is done with her bath and gets her pajamas on.  Maya used to run around naked after her bath, so I started putting her in a bathrobe after her bath a couple of years ago because at least then when she ran around, she had something on.  This year we are really focused on trying to get Maya to get dressed and undressed by herself.  On school days we still dress her because the time pressure is too tight so we really try to let her get herself dressed after her bath.  I put out her pajamas and underwear and remind her ever-so-subtly (like the attack on Pearl Harbor) to get her pajamas on. Sometimes this takes a few minutes and sometimes longer.  The other night she was running around and to try and focus her I brought the pajamas into my room and told her to come in.  She said okay, when I called her but it took her a full five minutes to sashay herself over to my room.  So, after she got her pajamas on, I told her that when I say "come here" she needed to come right away and stand in front of me.

Her answer?  Awright baybay.  And off she went.  Gone like the wind.

An hour or so later I was talking to one of my friends on Skype and Maya was playing in her room.  Through my peripheral vision I saw her on the staircase and I figured she was going to say goodnight to Leo for the 17th time.  At the same time I was talking to my friend and we were talking about how long it was that we had seen one another.  I said to her, trying to coax her to coming to Amsterdam, "you should come here."

About a minute later, Maya was standing in front of me with an expectant look on her face.

"What's up?" I asked.

"You said that when you said come here, that meant that I needed to come right away and stand in front of you, so here I am."

All right baby!

No comments:

Post a Comment