Like any new paradigm, when raising a special needs child, you are thrust into a world that has its own vocabulary. It’s a fine mix between a psychological and educational vocabulary. As a prior teacher, one of these I was quite familiar with—but the other was new. And frankly a little annoying.
As I began this journey with myriad professionals and the piles of books sitting on my nightstand, I found myself simply immersed into this vocabulary. I had failed to get the “Autism for dummies” series, but luckily I had the gift of inference having received the first part of my education OUTSIDE of Calfornia. So with a little observation and thinking, I was able to decipher the true meaning of these new words coming at me.
Typical: a kid without any developmental or physical delays. Also called neurotypical.
Yeah—I know. We’ve all heard this one—maybe not this word, but we’ve been through the routine. When I was a kid, typical was “normal” and everything else had a label—usually retarded or handicapped. But those terms are passé now, and I think I’ve seen a millions different labels since. (I also have a special needs aunt, so I’m a bit more familiar with this particular dog & pony show) Like a lot of people, I always thought this was silly. I have to say, I get it now. If I sit and refer to my friend’s kid as “normal”, well where does that leave Ben? Yeah—it’s like hearing your neighbor’s meatloaf is restaurant quality, and you think, well, what the hell is wrong with mine? Nothing. They’re just words. But words don’t wipe the smirk of Rhonda McSupermom’s face when her kid does something yours doesn’t. Correction: I know one or two words that might, but that would hardly help my cause…
Receptive Vocabulary: the language we receive.
A problem in this arena is best explained with an analogy, it think. Imagine you were dropped into a foreign land, lets say, Utah on a Sunday. Being it is an arid state, you might wish to quench your parched throat with a tasty libation, and since you have no idea how or why you’ve been dropped in Utah, perhaps that libation should contain a certain percentage of alcohol. So, imagine your confusion when you find no open bars or liquor stores. You ask passersby where you might find such a libation, only to hear them say to you that liquor may not be sold on Sunday. These words make no sense in your brain. Beer cannot be purchased? How does one celebrate one’s favorite sporting event if it should happen to fall on the weekend? Where might one escape the drudgery of every-day life and tilt with complete strangers? You are confused and frightened. You decide that speaking to these people is not a good choice, and remove yourself. Next time your son, daughter or significant other look at you with quizzical horror, remember Utah.
Expressive Vocabulary: the language we express.
If you have a problem with receptive, you will no doubt have a problem with expressive. Example: If you don’t understand that the person honking their horn at you is trying to tell you that you have a coffee cup on the roof of your car, you might respond with the wrong expressive vocabulary—either verbal or non-verbal—such as a string of four letter words questioning the parentage or IQ of the honker in question, or a simple non-verbal finger gesture. A strong grasp of the surrounding receptive vocabulary can lead to more appropriate Expressive Vocabulary.
Transition: moving from one activity to another.
This has become a favorite, since it is one of Ben’s weaknesses. Once little man has a routine, or if he’s having a fabulous time doing something, he does NOT want to be told that we are going to do something else. I mean, if you were told, “no, you need to put down that margarita and come over here and eat some lima beans,” would you not object? Typical parents have to deal with this too—but the objections evolve into different forms. My son? Screamfest. Your son? *whine* “But WHYYYYYYYYYYYYY?” Which is more annoying? Who can say?
Meltdown: The Special Needs Tantrum
(not to be confused with the special needs boogie)
Toddlers have tantrums. We all know this. Kids with Autism also have tantrums. Managed in similar ways. Basic rule: ignore a tantrum and it stops—maybe not instantly, but it will stop. This is not what this word meltdown is about. Just google the words Austim and Meltdown: page upon page of descriptions, possible set-offs and desperate pleas from parents on how to deal with this phenomemon. Ok. Imagine a tantrum. Now multiply times 100. Add violence. And half a day. That, my friends is a meltdown. It’s like the Israeli/Palestinian conflict of tantrums. Every parent has their strategy—some work, some don’t. That’s because most of our strategies involve how to handle this occurrence at home. (i.e.—I put Ben in the bathtub. Calms his shit down immediately) But many of these meltdowns happen OUTSIDE the home. Which leads to the even more fun, “looks from strangers”. I really think I should start taking pictures and then make a coffee table book. Call it “Views From a High Horse”.
IEP: the school district’s educational plan for your child.
(Or, an hour of making you feel like an idiot.)
This meeting, following the joyous evaluations you’ve had, is set to discuss these evaluations and what they plan to do for your child. Now, my snarky comment aside, many school districts have lovely IEP meetings with caring teachers and therapists who work together to create an educational plan that best suits your child’s needs. Those meetings tend to occur in districts that do not have the words “first” or “second largest in the country”. For those of us in those districts, these meetings can be…well…shot worthy. They often start with READING TO YOU. Yes, it’s story time children. Let me read this report to you instead of giving you your own copy to read before the meeting so that we can “discuss” the findings. This is right up there with people who make power point presentations and then READ THEM TO YOU. Frankly, this whole thing could be handled better if they would just set up a bar with some snacks. You have a drink, eat a little crudite’ and then take 30 minutes to discuss the findings and the plan, make sure everyone is happy, or if not, how to discuss implementing alternate plans. I realize not everyone is college educated, and moreover, I recognize the sad state of education in the state of California—but if we continue to treat parents like they are idiots, that state of education isn’t going to get much better.
At this point, it’s probably safe to say I should start carrying around a notebook to start recording all these lovely words and phrases. Never know when you’re gonna be stuck in Utah (or a few choice states in the south) on a Sunday. Ok, a notebook and a flask. And a camera—to catch those “looks”.