|In this picture, Ben was chosen to help open the Disney store at the beginning of the day. It's a great example of how his body expresses his feelings.|
It’s confession time.
Are you ready?
Here it goes...
I’m not always the best listener.
It’s something I’m working on.
I try to listen attentively when a person is talking to me and not think about what I want to say or the millions of things I need to get done.
I try to remind myself to stop what I’m doing and give the person talking my full attention.
Suffice it to say that I'm far from perfect, especially with the people who I love the most.
I’m also a selective listener.
My husband will tell you that if I’m working on a computer, he can have a full conversation with me, and I won’t remember any of it. I will have said the “uh-huhs” at the right time and everything, but I will literally have no recollection of anything he said.
I’m working on being a better listener not only for my husband, but also for my son..
Because- you see- listening to my son is especially important to me because it wasn’t too long ago that we couldn't have a conversation at all.
I still remember the moment when Ben asked his first conversation-starting question to another person. A question that wasn’t asked to have one of his basic needs being met, like, “Juice, please?”
The conversation happened on the beach. I was sitting with two of my friends, and we were talking about our dogs. Ben walked up to my friend and asked, “What your dog's name?” This was just a little over a year ago.
So you can see why I need to get better at listening.
You can see why I try to stop what I'm doing when he says, “Mom, look at this!” and holds up his latest Lego creation or drawing of a spooky monster. Because not too long ago he wasn’t able to draw at all. Not too long ago he wouldn’t even ask me to look his way.
Ben has a unique way of communicating.
You have to listen to more than just the words he says.
On Saturday I was dropping Ben off at theater practice. It was Ben’s second time in class. He walked right up to his teacher and said, “Onions are a grown-up food.”
Now, usually I can figure out the context of Ben’s statements, but this time I was completely stumped. Ben doesn't eat onions, and, quite frankly, neither do my husband nor I, so they are not a food that we talk about a lot. Plus, it was morning, and we'd just had breakfast. I looked at his teacher and said, “I’m sorry, but I’m really not sure what that means…”
She smiled knowingly at me, and turned to Ben and said, “Ben, great job! You remembered your line for the play.”
This is what I mean when I talk about presuming competence.
Presuming competence is about listening with respect for the human being. It’s knowing that, even if I don’t understand the context of the message, the message is there.
Being a good listener to Ben can be downright tiring at times.
It’s hard to answer the same questions over and over.
“How many minutes from our house to school?”
“Is it still morning?”
“What’s sand made out of?”
But I have to listen for the real question. I have to probe to find his underlying feeling- the true reason why he's asking the question.
I have to recognize that when he’s asking if it’s still morning, that he’s really anxious that his day is slipping away and his beloved weekend is coming to and end.
I've also learned to listen with more than just my ears.
I watch what his body is telling me.
I know he's happy when he hums and sings.
I know he's filled with excitement and joy when he flaps his hands.
I know he is overwhelmed when I read the signs on his face.
I owe it to Ben to be a good listener.
I listen to autistic adults when they describe what it felt like to be a child on the spectrum. I listen and reflect on how to be a better mom.
I listen to moms of children with disabilities, whether their child has autism, sensory processing disorders, or Down’s Syndrome. I especially seek out those moms with older children, who are a little farther down the road that I am. They give me much needed perspective and remind me that they’ve been where I am, and it’s going to be okay.
I listen to the adults who work closely with Ben, whether it be his classroom teacher, his speech therapist, his OTs, the paras at his school, and even the lady who is there when I drop him off in the morning. I listen when she tells me how well he ate his lunch and how patient he was in line yesterday.
I listen to them all and I am filled with such gratitude, because the more I listen, the more I realize that the common denominator in what I'm hearing is love.
Love for my boy.
And my boy's love for me.