When the Internet Told Me the Way I Talk With My Daughter Isn’t Considered Communication


helicopter5 My daughter, Mae, is still little, and while she’s had what feels like a language explosion lately, she doesn’t have a large vocabulary compared to your average 4-year-old. If you go her therapist’s word count, Mae’s used her little voice to say somewhere around 200 different words over the course of the last 14 months. Sometimes that’s nearly 50 spontaneous words in a therapy session.

Outside of therapy, it’s different. Outside of therapy, she might only say one word all day long. It might be “mermaid.” She might say it 50 times or hardly at all.

Sometimes now she says, “Help me!” She learned the phrase from her 2-year-old brother. He walked around for a week saying it dramatically. He didn’t want to climb up onto the couch, even though he easily can, so he threw himself on the floor and screamed “Help me!”

She doesn’t say it like he does though. When she uses words, it’s for something serious. It’s for something that she wants so much that she needs to catch my attention. “Help me!” is reserved for important things like trying to convince me she desperately needs to eat a cookie, or 12, before dinner.

mermaidgirl More and more, though, we’ve had other moments, like when she and I “paint” on her bedroom window with water and paintbrushes before she goes to bed, and she begins to say word after word, glancing over at me and smiling widely when I say the right things back.

You see, there are “right” responses and “wrong” responses in these interactions. I need to know the words to play the part that’s expected of me. It’s not a lot. I don’t have to recite Shakespeare.  C is for Corn. W is for Waffle. And M, of course, is for Mermaid. Sometimes it’s just “grape, grape, grape, grape.” She says it; I say it. We revel in the awesomeness of the word. I didn’t know that it was an awesome word until she showed me, but it is. At least it is when she says it.

Some days she brings me a little, worn, wooden caterpillar toy her brother got for Christmas when he was barely a year old. She points to the colors one by one and I say them. Or I look at her and raise my eyebrows and she says them. Sometimes we both say them.

Some days she’s patient with me when I can’t figure out exactly what she wants me to say. Other times she gives me a look that lets me know she can’t believe I still have figured out what it is I’m supposed to be saying. It took me an entire week to get C is for Corn and she had to bring me over the little C letter piece from her therapy session and press it into the palm of my hand before I understood and finally got it right and her entire face lit up with joy.

Last week, after all the kids were tucked into bed, I Googled “scripting.” I’d heard the word before but knew basically nothing about it. I wondered if it was something like what we were doing, since there were clearly phrases I was supposed to be saying. She says something and waits for me to respond back in a certain way. When I get it wrong she repeats it in the same tone and waits again. When I get it right she beams with happiness.

I found an article. And then another. I began to read. And then I closed the browser and set aside my computer. There was a lot of advice there. All of it was devoted to shutting down scripting.  Scripting is not communication, I read. Stop it. Redirect.

I turned the idea over and over in my head. I didn’t believe it.

I don’t believe it. Scripting may not be the type of response or communication that’s being looked for in a given moment, but it absolutely is a form of communication. It might be related to the situation at hand, or it might be a response to stress, an attempt to cope with something that’s hard to process, but you can’t tell me it’s not communication.

When Mae was first diagnosed, I looked around in a panic, desperate to find some way to help her. Therapies and appointments were swirling around us, but I wanted to learn what I could do, how I could help her learn and grow, how I could reach out and bridge the distance between our different ways of processing the world around us. The month after her diagnosis, we were accepted into a study at the local university. It was designed to teach me to learn how to teach her.

In the first session I was instructed to imitate her. Everything she did, every move she made. I copied her singsong little chirps and picked up the same toys she picked up. She watched me out of the corner of her eye at first. And then suddenly she turned and faced me and stared into my eyes and laughed and hugged me and then laughed some more. She was delighted by the exercise, and while the way we were communicating didn’t look like a typical mother’s conversation with her 3-year-old, we were communicating all the same.

skipping That moment changed the way I viewed communicating with my daughter. I could have insisted she communicate on my terms and only my terms. But we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. She’d been trying to communicate on the world’s terms her entire life and the signals were getting garbled and mangled in the process.  As we progressed in the program there were times when she would use words to make requests, but that initial imitation practice was a safe place we could always go back to if she was feeling overwhelmed.

The advice I’d read about ways to shut down scripting made me feel extremely uncomfortable. I couldn’t follow it.

Here is a child with certain tools, and the only advice I could find was to take those tools away and shut the communication down. If I were to take them away and say “No, you can only use these tools, and you may not be comfortable with them or really be able to handle them at all, but they’re what you’ll use because I say they’re better,” I would likely get nothing.

When we meet in the middle in a place where the language is not solely mine or solely hers, when it’s an amalgam that can only be described as “ours,” that’s where I’ve found the progress truly begins. A look, a gesture, a sign, a squeal, a script, a word. We fit these bits and pieces together, piece them into a language we’re both trying to understand, making sure that neither of us is left behind.

And those moments, the ones when I’m listening hard to what she’s saying without words, also tend to be the moments when she’s happy and relaxed and actual words begin to fill the room.

Slowly but surely my daughter is teaching me that communicating isn’t nearly as cut and dry as I imagined it was before she was born, and that ideas of there being right and wrong ways of getting the point across are incredibly subjective.  And as we slowly make our way along this winding and sometimes confusing path, I find myself less eager to label any behavior as “uncommunicative” and find myself more likely to search for the explanation just beyond my understanding. It’s worth the effort when I finally realize what she’s been trying to tell me and her entire face lights up with the very real joy of finally being understood.

Follow this journey on A Woman’s Place

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Train’s Music Video Gave Me a Mommy Memory I’ll Never Forget


My 4-year-old and almost 6-year-old came out of the playroom dressed up in matching Princess Tori outfits, little fake high heels, matching Barbie guitars and crowns (that were on crooked). They were, as my 4-year-told me, “ready to rock out!”

She strums the Barbie electric guitar, and the doll’s voice rings out and agrees with her: “Let’s rock out!” Suddenly every mom’s favorite (not) song comes on: “I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world. Life in plastic, it’s fantastic…” My 4-year-old’s service dog is present for the act, too. He’s like the back-up singer; the girls a pink boa comfortably on him. This doesn’t faze him, as he wears his service dog vest every day at school. He watches “his girl” as he always does and wears the boa and every once in a while glances at me — I swear this dog is super-human; it was like we both were thinking, “Yes, the kids are adorable, but, dear God make this song end.” Then again, it’s hard to take seriously a dog wearing a pink boa.

As the song was drawing near: “Imagination, life is your creation,” I saw the concert quickly turn south. My 4-year-old lifted her guitar above her head, alla The Who’s Pete Townsend. My right hand went up as I saw a flash of a pink boa fly by me. “Woof!” Then I heard my oldest daughter say, “Ouch!” Too. Late. Pink boa and I were about five seconds too late. Tommy-can-you-hear-me had planted her guitar flat on her sister’s head. Let the tears and fights begin. This is a normal day in the household of a 4-year-old on the spectrum, a 1-year-old service dog, a just-about-6-year-old (going on 25) and a single 40-year-old mom. This is how we rock out.

After the band broke up, my eldest’s ankle decided to break up. She was bouncing in a bouncy house and her ankle broke… two weeks before her 6th birthday. My daughter had broken this same ankle on the playground one year prior while at school. I couldn’t believe it. She couldn’t believe it. Last time, it wasn’t what they called “severe,” and the cast was off in four and a half weeks. She was brave. I was hoping for the same turn out this time. We went off to Urgent Care, where the people there confirmed the break but also confirmed it was a “for real break.”

The next morning, on my way to work, the orthopedist called and said to bring my daughter to them. So I turned my car around with Audrey and off we went to get a cast at the big hospital. The two toughest parts of the hospital trip were worrying if there would be any shots/needles (there were none) and worrying what color cast to get. Audrey settled with “hot lava pink,” as they couldn’t accommodate her request of “sunburst yellow.” I was nervous and full of worry; she was wearing doctor gloves and goofing off with the hospital staff. She was their “assistant.” She was rocking it. She’d already moved past the broken ankle and was enjoying the thought of showing her cast to classmates for the next six weeks. How Mommy brains and little kid brains operate so differently! She shifted gears immediately on the car ride home to, “I want to stop and get Sharpies so everyone can sign my cast. I want everyone’s autographs.” Of course. What rock star wouldn’t? 

A weird thing happens to you when you become used to rocking out. You actually rock out so much that you stop sharing the news of your world tours. No phone calls, no on-the-road selfies, no live updates. Suddenly it’s you and the team rocking out and doing what you do. 

When my 4-year-old got home, she saw the cast and was flat-faced about it. This is not unusual for her. She ran over to her sister and grabbed the cast and touched it and began to say, “Oh! does it hurt? Did it hurt? You can’t wear high heels! But you can wear a sock. Let me get a sock. A big sock.”.She asked me for a big sock. I a green striped one and we put it on Audrey’s cast. Somehow this is making it “all better.” 

My youngest is singing throughout the whole thing: ” Hey, soul sista! Hey soul sista! Mista mista!” She loves this song by the group Train. She sings it constantly. I thought she would get sick of it. For a while she sang Katy Perry’s “Firework” and then moved on to Train. But she has yet to move on from Train. She totally rocks out to Train. She watches this music video on her Kindle Fire, and she sings at the top of lungs. She loves the dog in the video. The video is harmless and cool to watch, and song is cool (and Mommy likes it, so that is cool, too). Her favorite part is (as she sings it): “lipstick stain… corner of my left side brain… Hey! Soul sista… mista mista! Radio… Stereo… Hey soul sista!” Sometimes she starts the video over before it’s over, sometimes she watches it over and over and over. Other times she just sings it to herself. She just rocks out to it. But when big sis came home with a cast – little sis gave her some soul sista rockin out love by singing to her: : “soul sista! Hey da mista mista… radio! stereo!” That was her version of a Get Well card to her big sister. The best way she knew how.

It got better. “Wait! Wait!” my 4-year-old yelled, ran to get her Kindle and told her big sis to sit down.

Right there on the kitchen floor, the two of them sat. My little one used her little fingers to manipulate that Kindle faster than a speeding bullet. Long behold, there came that dark haired handsome Patrick Monahan (Train’s lead singer). “Hey… hey .. hey…. hey… hey… hey… Your lipstick stains, on the front part of my left side brain. I knew I wouldn’t forget you. And so I went and let you blow my mind. Your sweet moonbeam. The smell of you in every single dream I dream. I knew when we collided. You’re the one I have decided, who’s the one of my kind. Hey, soul sister…” It was awesome.

They sat arm and arm on the floor watching Train and didn’t move a muscle. They’ve seen the video 100 times. My little one rarely sits still. My older one likes other songs much better. But in that moment of arrival home, the older usually well child, who suddenly was not well, sat with the younger special needs child, and they were soul sisters rocking out and loving it out.

And I couldn’t have loved them (or Train) any more.


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I Finally Figured Out What My Son’s Favorite Saying Means


He’s 5 and running at me.

“I just got home,” I think.

“Touch me, Mommy!” he screams. He wants a hug — at least I think that’s what he wants. I open my arms and bend down to his level. Aw man, that hurts, I think. My sore back reminds me I’ve been on my feet for 10 hours. He stops just short of me and grabs my hand.

“No, Mommy, no hug. Touch me,” he says with that you-should-have-known-this look on his face. I slowly stand, and he puts my hand on his head and presses down. I know I have to stand like this until he says he’s ready, but ready for what? To let me walk into the house? To let my hand go? To feel better? What does this make him ready for? I wonder as I stand there in my driveway with my hand on his head.

Soon he turns his head and looks at me, “OK, Mom, I’m ready!”

He runs for the house, and I call out behind him, “You’re welcome, Gav!” and I lower my voice and mumble to myself, “Thanks for the help, son,” as I grab the four grocery bags full of this week’s safe foods.

He’s 6 and running off the school bus screaming, “Bad day, Mom! Bad, bad day! Touch me!” I brace myself; this may hurt. He runs into me hard. Yup, I think. That hurt. He grabs my hands and says, “Hug tight, Mom!” I hug him, and he squeals in my ear, “No, Mom, not a love hug! Hug hard, Mom, now please!” I squeeze him until I feel him relax. I wait for him to say he’s ready, and I think Ready for what? To talk about his bad day? To give mom a love hug? What does this make him ready for? Soon he says, ” OK, Mom, I’m ready! “

He’s 7 and I’m awakened by his screams “Mommy, help me! Mommy, I need you now! Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, come fast!” I run to him, scared to death, my husband’s right on my heels. “Mommy, Daddy, someone help!” he screams. I open his door thinking something bad is happening to my baby. He looks at me, tears running down his face. “Mommy, I’m scared and it hurts! Daddy, can I sleep with you? It hurts!” We gather him up and head for our room, asking, “What hurts, baby? Are you sick? Tell Mommy what hurts so I can make it go away, sweetie.” He rubs his face on my T-shirt, leaving his tears behind. “I need you to touch my feet, Mommy, they hurt. I need you to touch my back, Daddy, it hurts.” I tell him he needs a drink so he can calm down, and Daddy gets him soon juice. We’re in my bed, Dad’s rubbing his back, I’m rubbing his foot. He smiles at us and says, “OK, Mom, OK, Dad, I’m ready! ” Then he drifts of to sleep. I wonder, Ready for what? Ready to sleep? Ready to let us sleep? Ready for what?

He’s 8, and he’s crying. I go in the living room. “What’s wrong, baby boy? ” I ask. He says, “Mom where is Dad? I need him now! “I go back in the kitchen and tell my husband, “He needs you.” I go back to cooking. I hear them taking; he wants his back rubbed. My husband comes back to the kitchen, “OK, baby, he’s ready now,” he says as he grabs a potato to peel. I wonder, Ready for what? Ready to play? Ready to eat? Ready to take a nap? Ready for what?

He’s 9, and I’m doing laundry. I hear him say, “OK, Daddy, I’m ready! ” I see him dart past the laundry room and into the bathroom. I ask, “Are you and Dad going outside?” He looks at me funny and says, “No, Mommy, why?” “Oh, I just heard you say you’re ready, so I thought you were going to play in the yard.” His answer stops me in my tracks.

“Oh, Mom, you’re so silly.” He laughs. “I told dad I’m ready because I need him to squeeze me and he did.” He smiles. “I said I’m ready because the pain goes away and now I’m ready to be in the world, Mom.” He’s still smiling. “Can I go play cars now,” Mom?” I just nod because I couldn’t find my words at all.

“Ready, Mom.” I hear it a million times a day. “Ready, Mom,” but now I know what it means to him.

It means, “Thanks, Mom, the pain is gone.”

It means, “Thanks, Dad, I can face the world now.”

It means, “I can do this now.”

It means,”You helped me, and now I got this.”

It means… a lot more than I thought.

I’ll never get tired of hearing it. OK, I’m ready, too.


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This Groundbreaking Moment Only Happened Because of My Nana


We’ve had a lot of ups and downs, and I’m not too ashamed to admit, we’ve had a lot more downs than ups. It doesn’t help that I hate asking for help. It makes me uncomfortable. Especially with money.

With my Nana, I never had to ask. She always offered. I tried to turn her down, but she never let me. She helped us out. So we tried to help her out when we could to try to make up for it — fixing a lawn mower here, helping with her truck there. Someday I hope to pay her back for all she’d done for us.

One of the biggest things she ever did was get the kids a Kindle.

“You know I saw one of those Kindles on TV! Do you think one of those would help the boys?” she asked me.

“I don’t know, Nana, they wouldn’t know how to work one if you did. And I don’t want you to spend the extra money if they don’t end up liking it.”

“Well, if they don’t like it, you guys could use it!”

“Yeah… but…”

“We’ll call it an early Christmas present.”

She always did that — claimed she wouldn’t get us things for Christmas or a birthday since she was getting us something else right now. But then she did anyway.

I had reservations because I didn’t want to be that parent. The one who gets their kids things they didn’t really need, the one who raises zombies on their devices all day. The one who has a 6-year-old with a cell phone. I wanted my kids to be outside, not watching TV and playing video games.

Only, my kids didn’t know how to play outside. Our version of playing outside was taking walks. Once the walk was over, it was time to go inside. There was no, “We took our walk, now let’s play in the mud or with trucks.”

The boys loved their movies. I think it has something to do with the fact that movies are predictable. The kids could watch the same movie over and over and over, and they were happy with that because they knew what was going to happen. For someone who can’t understand what anyone is saying and rarely knows what’s going, something predictable for is comforting and calming.

They ended up loving the Kindle. It was a huge blessing. Eventually Nana got us another one so both boys could have their own (they fought like crazy over the first one).

Then I got an iPad mini for myself when we finally had the money to do things like that… which, of course, Tyler fell in love with, so eventually we got a shock-proof case, and it ended up being the kids’ tablet.

After all the devices and all the tablets we’ve tried out there, our favorite is the iPad. Now we’re using the First Nouns app with both of them on the iPad. Tyler can look at a word and recognize that it means the correct corresponding picture. Justin, for the first time ever, is using the app to match pictures. He never played with the games/apps on any of the devices.


For a long, long, long time, I thought that my kids might not ever talk — that I might not ever hear their voices. But after a year of Tyler using the iPad to watch his favorite (educational) TV shows more often, he can say and is now recognizing more words than I can even count.

He’s still nonverbal, but I’d consider him more “preverbal” now.

Neither of them can tell me what they want, they still can’t understand me if I ask them a question, when they’re in pain they can’t tell me why or what hurts, and I still have never heard them say, “I love you”.

But because of these devices and these apps, I have hope for my kids. They’ll be able to live to their full potential.

And all of that has happened because of my Nana.

This post originally appeared on The Driver and The Wife.

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To the Dad Who Thought a Diagnosis Meant He’d Never Get to Share His Love for Michigan Football


If I could go back to that day in 2002 when we received a diagnosis of autism for my son, I would have a lot to tell myself. Here it goes:

You’re on the first step of a path. So is your child. Your spouse and the people closest to you are also on one. But you’re not on the same paths, even though you’re all headed in the same direction.

The destination is uncertain, vague. Or rather, where you think you’re going will change over time. It will remain unclear, nebulous. You will learn to stop looking way down the road and start looking for the next mile marker because by the time you get to it, you may be looking for a different destination altogether.

You will learn that even though you and your spouse’s paths sometimes diverge, that’s OK. You will learn the pointlessness of arguing over this.

You will go through a process. Fear, anger, depression. Mourning, even. Your process will be different from your spouse. Again, this is OK and not worth arguing over. Just as no two people on the spectrum are exactly alike, neither are the life experiences we bring into the journey as autism parents. And your life experience will color how you perceive that journey. A lot.

You will learn that process is for you, not your child, and that it’s a prerequisite to the real work of parenting that sits ahead.

You will learn that there are no guarantees in parenting, whether your child has any sort of diagnosis or faces any particular challenges.

You will learn that autism is not something your child has, but a part of who your child is.

You will start by trying to teach your child to act like everyone else. You will uphold “normal” as the end-all-be-all goal.

You will learn the folly of both those things. In fact, your beliefs about autism will change so much over time that you will hardly recognize how you once felt. But you will realize that this process, too, is part of the journey.

At some point, you’ll find yourself apologizing for your child. You will hate how this makes you feel and resolve never to do it again.

You will realize that parenting a child on the spectrum involves a mix of teaching your child to bend to the expectations of the world and teaching the world to bend to your child.

As time goes on, you will do less of the former and more of the latter, and you won’t spend two seconds wondering if that’s the right thing to do.

You will learn to recognize — and celebrate — difference. In your child. In your other children, whether or not they carry a diagnosis. In the people around you. In yourself. That co-worker/friend/acquaintance who keeps to himself and who everyone whispers about? You’ll stop joining in and regret that you ever did. You’ll wonder instead what makes them the way they are. You’ll begin a search to discover what overdeveloped strengths they have to counterbalance their social awkwardness.

You will have conversations with your child about topics you never imagined. You’ll get over it and learn that these are things you probably should be discussing anyway and not letting them “figure it out for themselves.”

You’ll spend a lot of time looking for, celebrating, being ambivalent about, and finally reveling in, your child’s strengths.

Somewhere along that path, you’ll understand the need for your child to recognize his strengths and take pride in them. It will hit you. This is the right time to tell him about his diagnosis.

You will learn that you were wrong to forget about, or set aside, whatever dreams you had for your child the day you learned the diagnosis. You will do this because you learn that those dreams are no more accurate for your child on the spectrum as they are for your neuro-typical one. You will do this because different dreams take shape, and they get realized, one painstaking step at a time, and when they do they will mean more to you than you ever could have understood were it not for the journey to get there.

The journey will not be without difficult, frustrating moments and periods. You will wish for a manual and hate that there isn’t one. You will recognize the importance of advocating for your child and learn where to seek the proper support. The trial-and-error nature of some of the things you try will exacerbate you to no end, but from those trials you will discover go-to strategies that work over and over.

Routine will become your best friend and occasionally your mortal enemy. You will learn to safeguard your child’s routines the way a mother hen guards her chicks. And then one day, you’ll recognize that old routines have been discarded while you weren’t paying attention. And then you’ll recognize that you need to let go of some of those routines because your child already has.

You will learn to think as (you think your) child does. You will try to see the world from his perspective, and this, too, will change how you parent.

You will find an incredible, supportive online community. Otherwise strangers, who understand exactly what you’re going through in a way people who are closest to you in your real life cannot, no matter how well-meaning. You will find strength and encouragement in this community and a desire to share your own experience. It will help you become more comfortable with the journey you’re on. It will inspire you to create a written memoir of your journey that you hope to share with your children one day.

You will learn to celebrate tiny moments and small victories. At first you will wonder if these small things are really important. Then you will learn they are, no debate needed. You’ll learn that this makes you a better parent, and you will seek the same with your other children and in other aspects of your life. You will come to recognize that this is a gift, one you would not have experienced had your child never received that diagnosis.

Each time one of these moments occurs, it will be indelibly burned into your brain in a way that makes you both smile and cry at the same time.

Oh, and you, Mr. Obsessed Michigan Fan, you will not have to let go of your dream of sharing Michigan football with your son. It will take you a few years longer than you thought, but it will be incredible. And in the midst of one of the worst seasons in the worst period in the history of Michigan football, you will take your son to the Big House. You will watch Michigan lose in a way that used to send you into a funk for several days. And late in that game, with Michigan’s fate all but settled, you will turn to your right, and your son, the one who you wondered if you would ever get to share this experience with, the one who you wondered if he was really taking this all in, will be singing “The Victors” and throwing his arm up with every “hail.” You will snap a photo of it that will become one of the most cherished ones you will ever take. You will call your wife, unable to speak as the tears flow. She will understand anyway, as she always does.

You will be OK.


A version of this post first appeared on Pucks and Puzzle Pieces.

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These Wonderful Faces Are Changing the Way We Define Beauty


Katie Driscoll is a mom on a mission to get companies to include models with disabilities in advertisements. Driscoll, a photographer and mother of six, including a daughter with Down syndrome, founded the organization Changing The Face Of Beauty with fellow special needs parent, Steve English, to put the pressure on advertisers.

The campaign has had a lot of success, with 30 U.S. companies hopping on board so far. There’s been an outpouring of support via social media.

“The response to the campaign has been unreal. It gives me hope for the future,” Driscoll told The Mighty in an email. “I believe globally we’re changing the way people look at models as well as people with differences and that makes me so very happy.”

The organization created the hashtag #ChangingTheFaceOfBeauty and encouraged people everywhere to tweet photos of the beautiful children in their lives who are so underrepresented in the media.

These are some of the photos helping to change the face of beauty:


To participate, tweet photos of the beautiful people in your life using the hashtag #ChangingTheFaceOfBeauty.

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