The book I read yesterday sent me off on a bit of a thinkfest, which is a good reason to read books you don't totally agree with, or books that give you a new perspective on old problems. The author was talking about a statistic on how many people with autism are non-verbal, and giving a reaction to that from some autistic bloggers who don't talk verbally. They said the definition of what is "verbal" is too narrow, and that even if people don't talk, they are verbal if they communicate in other ways, the way that sign language is certainly a form of being verbal. They mentioned sounds, body movements, typing, drawing and the one that got me thinking, crying.
I realized I don't see Janey's crying as communication by itself. My typical reaction to her crying is to say "What's wrong? Tell me why you are crying" I often add "tell me in WORDS" I have never really seen the crying as talking in itself. But I guess it could be seen as thus. It's saying "I am sad" or "I am angry" or "I am overwhelmed" or even just "I don't know how to react here". Of course, I think after a while the crying feeds on itself, and the 2nd or 3rd or 10th hour of crying is not quite the communication that the first bit of crying is, although I suppose some might argue with that. But that first bout of crying---what if I treated that as a spoken utterance, and reacted to it like that?
I tried it this morning. Janey has gotten into watching "Angelina Ballerina" again, but a different version of it, one that has 3-D looking graphics instead of cartoon ones, and in which Angelina seems a little older. She's watched two sets of these on Netflix, but prefers one of them. As I often do when she asks for a show, I put on the less preferred on, just to try to stretch her horizons a little (if she specifically asks for a certain episode, I put that one, but if she just asks in general, I don't) She watched until it got past the intro part that was the same, and then started to crying hysterically. I was about to say my typical "What's wrong, sweetie? Tell me what's wrong!" but then stopped and thought "I know perfectly well what's wrong. Why not accept her crying as that?" and said instead "You are very sad I put on the Angelina Ballerina you didn't want. You are so sad you are crying! Let's fix that right away!" Janey gave me a look that stopped me cold, a look like "wow. I can't believe it!" She stopped crying, and started watching the new show. I then said "if you don't like this show either, you can tell me. Or you can cry to tell me" She looked stunned, truly stunned.
I didn't make the connection until just now, but this morning, walking to her school from where we parked, twice Janey stopped and looked up at me, right in my eyes, and smiled a huge smile. When we got to her classroom, instead of turning away and acting like she had forgotten already I exist, as she usually does, she stopped, held me hand and said "I want to take a little walk". And so I took her for a little walk around the school before taking her back in the room. This behavior might be unconnected, but it was very unusual behavior for Janey. Maybe I did hit on something.
Of course, as I've said here over and over, I don't always have any idea what has caused the crying. But I could just say "You are sad! You are telling me you are sad!" and comfort her, without having to know. Or I could guess, and hopefully hit it right. But I think it's my attitude that I will try to change most. Crying is communicating---a very basic thought that I hadn't really grasped until now.