Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy F'ing Father's Day

I recently read a good post about trying to find a good Father's Day card for a father of a child with special needs.  Here is the link:  It's a great post, although it's a little nicer than I am as you can see by my title.  You would think that Father's Day for a father of children with special needs would be a massive celebration because it should be.  My husband deserves a fantabulous Father's Day.  He deserves a day dictated only by his desires, his needs, his wants.  Instead, he will be subject to the daily difficulties and upsets.  Complicating things, his work is hounding him (he has to work at midnight tonight - lucky him), and I have been made temporarily useless after a seemingly minor back procedure.

I can relate to the anonymous author of the post above.  When I was looking for a Father's Day card, I found myself laughing out loud at how different typical father's lives must be.  Since the cards are for the majority of the population instead of us deviants, it's a bit of a slap in the face to be reminded that my husband could have an easier life.  I realized that I needed to reinterpret what Father's Day means to our family.  Instead of a manly day of rest and play, it's should be a day for me to honor him for not giving up, for loving his sons even when they don't appreciate him - which is too often, for loving me even when I'm stressed out and unable to just be his wife instead of a mom of special needs children.  This Father's Day, he may not smile as much as I'd like or he may not be as relaxed as I would want him to be but I will show him my appreciation as he and I as a team meet the challenges of autism head on together.

Although I was tempted to buy an "encouragement" card which seemed more fitting, I finally found a Father's Day card which I took the liberty of editing by adding some things to the pictures and including my own conversation bubbles to make it fit us and him better.  I hope it at least makes him smile and the he is aware that he is incredibly special to me and the children and that, although it can be very difficult, we appreciate him for rising above it all despite its difficulties.

With love to my husband of nearly 10 years.  Smooch.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Nothing to shrug off

I'm curious what my body language is telling everyone as I lay around the house while recovering from a minor back procedure.  Do I look like I'm feeling sorry for myself?  Do I look happy as my boys bring me flowers, bring me water and blankets?  I definitely hope the latter.  Although the procedure was minor, the recovery had an unexpected twist involving the possibility that I could lose feeling in my legs without a moments notice and I could fall flat on my face.  Of course, this risk is only for the next few days but it would have been nice to know prior to my scheduling it!  Anyway, perhaps I'm odd because, instead of eating Bon Bons and watching chic flicks, I have spent the last two days reading a very interesting (to me) book about nonverbal behavior.

The book is titled, Helping the Child Who Doesn't Fit In by Stephen Nowicki, Jr., Ph.D. and Marshall P. Duke, Ph.D.  I personally find the title to be seriously lacking because, until I began to read it, I had no clue that the entire book was about nonverbal behavior and how it impacts one's success in social settings.  I probably would not have picked up the book had it not been cited in another book I had read which I can't seem to recall at the moment. 

So often when I read books that in any way might relate to autism, I find myself rarely surprised by new information.  I may gain a better understanding of something of which I am aware but I've read enough now that my notes for each book seem to get smaller and smaller.  This book, however, was a refreshing eye opener and offered more insight into deficiencies people with autism may have in regard to interpreting the non-verbal signals of others and/or expressing their feelings non-verbally.  Also, it is important to note that I never saw the term "autism" used throughout the book, although I do admit that I did just skim the last two chapters regarding assessment since I felt that we have had sufficient assessment thus far and also that, since it was published in 1992, things have likely improved or changed since then.

The authors opened my eyes to the important role that non-verbal communication (NVC) plays in our ability to interpret the feelings of others and our ability to express our own.  According to Nowicki and Duke, only 7% of emotional meaning in communication is expressed via words.  In other words, 93% of our emotional meanings are expressed via NVC.  That's quite significant.

What I also found fascinating is that when NVC and VC are discordant (in other words, when they don't match each other), NVC is more often interpreted as being the true feelings of the speaker.  A great example of this is the use of voice tone (NVC).  By manipulating our tone, which is considered paralanguage since tone in itself is not words, we can say to someone, "I hate you," while actually conveying via tone, "I love you" or vice verse.  The power of NVC to affect communication is much stronger than I had originally realized.

The authors list 6 main types of NVC which impact communication.  They are 1) Rhythm and use of time, 2) interpersonal distance, 3) gestures and postures, 4) eye contact and facial expressions, 5) paralanguage (sounds without words), and 6) style of dress and hygiene.  Deficits in NVC can occur in our ability to interpret how we receive NVC from others (receptive) as well as in our ability to express our feelings non-verbally (expressive).  As I read through each chapter detailing each of these types of NVC, it became clear how often many, if not all, of these areas are often a difficulty for persons with autism.

In addition to describing NVC and the impacts of deficiencies in any of the types of NVC, the authors provide specific steps which parents and teachers may use to assist children who have difficulties in any of these areas.  An example of a suggested activity one can do to assist these children is playing charades that involve interpreting or expressing gestures, tones of voice, facial expressions and so forth.  Also, creating "dictionaries" of facial expressions, gestures, etc.  The ideas they provided are helpful and have inspired me to begin creating a NVC program for my boys.

Finally, another point that I found particularly profound, although seemingly obvious, is how people with NVC deficiencies are viewed by others and how this differs from how a person with verbal deficiencies is judged.  The authors give the example of a person speaking with poor grammar.  People listening to this person are likely to view them as unintelligent or uneducated.  When a person uses inappropriate NVC, such as sitting right next to a person in an empty movie theater instead of sitting somewhere else, the person is likely to be viewed as odd, crazy, weird and even dangerous.  The difference in how these deficiencies are judged helped me realize how important it is that NVC be a factor in assisting persons with autism to learn to interpret and use NVC better in order to improve their social acceptance.

So, I'm now reclining like a queen on my throne feeling like I didn't waste away the day watching silly movies.  My facial expression probably shows some fatigue, my hygiene is definitely questionable since I'm not allowed to bathe until tomorrow (yuck!) but I think that I probably show a bit of pride for having found some more useful tools which may help my little monkeys with this wild and wacky world they've been thrown into.  Now for my paralanguage, "ZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz."  Good night.
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