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Saturday, October 15, 2016

The season titles and other communication breakdowns

I'm lucky that in many ways, I'm able to communicate with Janey.  Her understanding of what we say is far better than her speech.  I can tell her something like "go in your room and get a shirt, then get your shoes, and we'll put them on to go for a walk" and she will understand and, if motivated, do what I've asked.  She can ask us for food she wants, for rides, for the bathroom.  She uses gestures to tell us things like "get out of this room so I can watch my show!" or "move your legs so they are in a position that's acceptable to my OCD!"  But sometimes, some concepts and ideas just don't seem possible to explain to her.

A big one that has been a problem for years now happens when Janey wants to watch a video on Amazon Prime TV.  The way their interface is set up, if they have multiple seasons of a TV show, there's a season title block at the start of each season.  This block is the same size as the TV show blocks, and you can highlight it like you do a show.  However, clicking on it doesn't do anything.  It's just something saying "The following episodes are from season two" or whatever.  

Janey is bound and determined to watch the non-existent shows that she thinks are associated with the season titles.  She'll gesture wildly to show me she wants to watch "Season Two".  I've been working hard on teaching her to use the remote to get the shows she wants, and although she's not very into it, she'll try in this case, moving the cursor to the season title and clicking the "A" button.  Of course, nothing happens.  And she starts screaming.

I have explained every way that I can possibly think of to tell her that these aren't show, that they will never be clickable, that they just tell what season we are in.  Frankly, I don't think she'll ever get it.  She doesn't know TV shows come in seasons.  She doesn't get why some blocks would lead to a show and others wouldn't.  She simply thinks for some reason of our own, we aren't letting her watch those shows, and she wants to see them.

This might seem like a little thing, but it's an example of one of the very hardest parts of raising a child like Janey, for her and for us.  We can "assume understanding" as much as we want, we can explain with words and pictures and social stories and charts and examples and all kinds of things, but if it's a concept that is simply beyond her, it doesn't matter.  It's like if understanding string theory somehow came up in daily life for me.  I've tried very hard to read about it, I've watched shows about it and thought about it, but I don't get it and I never will, I daresay.  Thankfully, I don't need to, for regular daily life, but the things Janey doesn't understand do come up all the time.  She asks for chocolate milk when there's none in the house.  She wants to go for a car ride at 3 in the morning or during a snowstorm.  She wants to watch "Hercules" when it's no longer available for streaming or even to buy on Amazon.  She wants to wear her Crocs in the winter.  She wants to not get her hair brushed.  And with all the issues like that, I've done absolutely everything I can to help her understand why she can't, but I truly don't think she is able, cognitively, to grasp the concepts needed.

It's not really autism that is the problem here.  It's Janey's intellectual disability.  Not all kids with autism have an intellectual disability, and sometimes, it seems like it's fashionable to think none do, that it's simply we as parents or teachers or caregivers aren't understanding how to communicate.  I'm sure that's sometimes the case, and maybe often, but sometimes, it isn't.  I feel strongly that to respect Janey is to be realistic. It is not respectful of who she is to deny parts of her disability.  Being intellectually disabled in no way makes her less.  I won't get political, but anyone who uses the old term "retarded" as an insult is not someone I want to deal with, ever.  It's not an insult.  It's not something unspeakable that we have to pretend isn't the case.  It's reality, just like it's reality that there are things I don't have the capacity to understand or do that other people can do.  It's not respectful of me to deny that, and it's not respectful of those who might try to teach me to say they just aren't teaching right.  It's reality.  And it's hard, sometimes, but it's the truth.

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