Autism and communication misfires.

by Jennifer Dyer

This morning Rachel and I got off to a rough start. Traveling this past weekend and having Monday off from school meant our routine was shot, our lives out of order.

I couldn’t find her backpack. Though I cleaned out her water bottle, I left it sitting on the counter. I never even looked for her iPad, and it is the details that matter to Rach. But I knew none of this on the way to school. My mind was still focused on everything left undone at home. Plus, some of the scar tissue from my cancer surgery decided this was a good morning to light on fire. I could not think straight.

On the way to school, Rach kept trying to tell me something. Her language is getting better. She has the receptive language/understanding of a child about three years old, which is encouraging. Expressively, she struggles because her apraxia on top of the autism makes her communication garbled and unintelligible, even her sign language. But she is trying and that is HUGE!

She was making a sign from the backseat, though, that I couldn’t understand. I kept guessing. Both of us had pinched, flushed faces and tense muscles by the time we got to school. I steered Rachel toward her classroom while she gestured and made verbal approximations of “Buh” and “Shuh,” but those mean so many things!

My jumbled mind clawed through everything that might possibly be wrong or that she wanted. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t understand my own child? I’m a speech-language pathologist! If anything, I should be able to do this! But I can’t. I just. Keep. Failing.

When we entered the class, her teacher asked me what Rachel was trying to say.

I wanted to scream, to pull out my hair, to hide under my bed. I don’t know!

Rach looked at me and understanding dawned. Mommy failed, again, to get it. Her eyes teared up. She put her hands over them, pressing away her tears.

My gut twisted. Above all else, her pain and frustration rips and shreds at my soul. It’s not fair. I HATE that communication is so hard for her. I can’t stand that look of disappointment because it breaks me inside. I feel like a failure when I see it, but worse, I feel like I failed HER.

Autism is just. Plain. Mean.

I found her missing items and took them up to school, but I still don’t know what she was trying to tell me. And that, above all else, makes me press my hands against my own eyes to hold in the tears.

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6 thoughts on “Autism and communication misfires.

  1. Oh. So sad. She wants to speak and tries to speak–so huge. And you want to listen and try to listen–also huge. I am so sorry you went through this this morning.
    I read that each of you experienced disappointment this morning. But I also read patience.

  2. Jennifer: As a fellow SLP who works with children with autism every day, I feel that frustration when I am so excited that they WANT to communicate with me, but I can’t seem to hold up my end of the bargain. Fortunately, these children live in the moment so they forgive and forget quite seamlessly. Keep up the great work you do with your children and the messages of hope you send so often.

  3. My heart is so heavy for you. Rachel did so well on the trip and had a great time. So sorry things get so jumbled in comprehension and translations. You both are so special to us. Try to rest and see if tomorrow is better. How about I come over tomorrow and help you? We love you both so much.

  4. Don’t underestimate the resilience of your girl. She bounced back and was in a good mood all day. She was laughing hysterically by the end because she and another student decided mutual belly patting was the activity to engage in at dismissal.

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