'A Tongue In Cheek Humor Column For Parents of ADD and/or LD Children'
By Roberta Mann, Pseudoanalyst Extraordinaire
Today's Topic: The Benefit of Direct Communication
The importance of effective communication cannot be stressed enough in any relationship. When you factor in the perceptual difficulties and often misread social cues that ADD/LD children are so often affected by, this importance is greatly compounded. Communication is the buzz word of the 90's. Countless books, movies, and television documentaries have been focused specifically on this topic, further magnifying its social significance. You can take courses in understanding body language. You can also get a degree in communications in college, further punctuating my point. While it would be very simple for me to fill this column with the most common of communication strategies for ADD/LD children, such as the benefit and impact of first achieving eye contact, and then speaking in low, even tones to your, I believe it would be much more effective to offer the following example of what can happen when communication goes awry.
First, allow me to set the stage by introducing you to my son and myself. I am a 36 year old woman with acquired short-term memory deficits. Dan, my 13 1/2 year old son, has 'quiet' ADD and multiple LDs, with an adjusted IQ in the superior range. Now for the meaty part. Dan and I were preparing to go out for dinner one evening. I threw Dan the car keys, as I wanted him to warm up the car while I finished taking care of a few small household chores. It was only 17 degrees outside and I wanted to save the time that I would have spent sitting and waiting for the car to defrost.
The last thing I had to do was put the garbage out. In order to not forget, I left the laundry room door in the kitchen open, the door between that room and the garage open, and both of those lights on.
Finally done with all other evening preparations, I rushed out the door, hopped in the car, looked up, and saw the light on in the garage...I had forgotten all about the garbage! At least I had set up a clever reminder. I took the house keys out of the ignition, got out, and unlocked the garage. By now Dan was warm and comfortable in the passenger seat, the outside light bathing him in its glow, and his favorite alternative rock station blaring on the radio.
I ran into the garage, reached my hand into the laundry room turning off both lights with one swipe, locked the door leading from the house into the garage, and slammed it shut hard. I made a motion to go towards the garbage bags, and was surprised by a sudden and painfully hard yank of my hair that forcefully pulled me back against the locked door, causing me to whack my head. I was startled, then assessed my dilemma...I had just slammed and locked 2 1/2 of my 3 feet of hair in the door! There I stood, in the pitch black below freezing garage, immobilized save for 6 inches of maneuverability.
I could clearly see Dan as he enjoyed his music, the bright outside house light shining in on him. I was aware that he, however, could not see me. I started to yell.
"DAN!" I cried, "DAN, HELP ME!"
Dan sat still, happily oblivious to my predicament.
"DAN! DANIEL! HELP ME, HELP ME, HELP ME!"
At this point I was freezing cold and becoming outright frantic. A look of pleasure spread over Dan's face as a beloved song came on the radio. He turned up the volume. I screamed for him to help me until my voice was gone, then accepted the fact that he was never going to hear me. How long I was in the garage getting the garbage was not something that would occur to him as strange. Part of Dan's LD is his misperception of the passage of time. If not for verbal prodding, he would not eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, or bathe on any kind of a normal schedule. I was sure that all was lost, as I stood shivering in the dark, watching his happy face, listening to Metallica playing too loudly on my radio...maybe he would get hungry soon, I hoped.
I leaned as far to the right as I could, towards a shelf that I knew was there, and blindly flailed around with my right hand, praying for there to be a flashlight within my reach. What's that I felt? YES! A FLASHLIGHT! I turned it on. Rats! The battery was almost dead. I whacked it silly for the best possible results, and managed to raise a faint glow.
Freezing and desperate, I aimed the light at Dan's face and swirled it around in an alluring pattern. He looked, then looked away. I began to shake it and he looked again! I quickly trained the light on my lips and deliberately mouthed, "Help me."
Dan very deliberately mouthed back, "Hi, Mom."
I mouthed back, "NO, NO, NO! Help me!"
Dan smiled and made a series of goofy, meaningless motions with his mouth.
Seeing that this was getting me nowhere fast, I decided that perhaps turning the light off and on in rapid succession would make my point realized. I did. Dan returned the 'signal' back to me, flash for flash, with the car's headlights. I needed a better plan.
I opted for charades. I trained the light on my right hand and motioned 'come here now' in my best pigeon sign language. He waved 'hi' back. I tried doing it rapidly and emphatically, Dan waved back with BOTH hands.
With tears welling up in my eyes and all sense of feeling waning in my extremities, I faced the reality that I might die in that garage that night, only feet away from my warm, running car and loving son. Then a miracle happened. Perhaps he realized that he had heard too many songs that 'sucked,' or maybe he was actually hungry and impatient, I'll never quite know the reason why, but Dan got out of the car!
"Will you please help me?" I hoarsely called out to him. "I'm stuck. I locked my hair in the door."
He wasn't very reactive to this. I expected that he would at least laugh at me, but he just stood there 1/4 of the way into the garage. I explained to him that he would have to get the keys out of the car's ignition and how, go unlock the front door, go through the kitchen and laundry room, and unlock the door I was trapped in. As he disappeared around the corner fumbling with the keys (small motor deficits), I called after him to ignore a strict house rule, "You don't have to take your shoes off!" I think he did anyway. It felt like it took that long.
So...what is the moral of this story? As I sat in the aftermath of my near catastrophe, I tried to think of one, shivering in the warm car and chattering out my only question to Dan.
"W-w-what t-the h-h-HELL d-did y-y-you th-th-think I w-was d-doing in th-there a-a-all th-that t-t-time?"
"I thought you were screwing around."
"I-in the p-pitch d-dark, in s-sub-f-freezing t-temperatures in the GARAGE!?!?!??!??!"
"You're always screwing around!"
I couldn't argue his point or get angry. Dan was right, I AM always goofing around in one way or another, attempting to lighten the moment. I sighed deeply and we left for dinner.
Now that all is said and done, I have come to the conclusion that there are two morals to this story. The secondary moral is that I should always braid my hair and stick the braid INSIDE my jacket before I leave the house with Dan in ice cold weather. The primary moral is that the power and importance of effective, direct communication with our children can NEVER be underestimated! Be patient, take as much time as needed to ensure that your child understands what you expect from him or her. Speak in easy to understand terminology, be direct and specific, using a calm tone of voice, trying to leave no question of the meaning of what you have said. If necessary, give directions for a task that requires multiple steps in no more than two to three step increments. Ask for instructions to be repeated back to you just to be sure. And it wouldn't be a bad idea for you to familiarize your child with the game 'Charades,' either. The life you save may be your own!