What I Learned From a Sweater

Sometimes I get it all wrong when I’m parenting my daughter with special needs.
When Jaycee is refusing to leave the van because I have parked somewhere different at church, I don’t always know what to do. When she drops to the floor and won’t move because she’s done shopping, I feel myself getting red with embarrassment as I unsuccessfully convince her to stand up. When she runs off from me in public, what can I do but chase after her?
As a speech-language pathologist, I know that all behavior is communication. This is especially true for Jaycee as her verbal speech is extremely limited due to her Down Syndrome and severe childhood apraxia of speech. At 10 years old, her spoken vocabulary is roughly 20 words. I know what some of her behaviors are saying, but other times, I am at a loss. Sometimes, I think I know what her behaviors are saying only to find out that I’m wrong.
Recently, I took a short professional developmental course for my job on analyzing behaviors for their communicative intent. The next day, I had a chance to practice my skills -not at work, but in my home.
Jaycee is not a morning person much like her mother. She has one goal in the morning: Stay in bed for as long as possible.
I have one goal in the morning: Get Jaycee dressed as fast as I can to get her 50-minute medicine regime done before the school bus arrives.
We have conflicting goals. See one of the problems?
Some mornings are worse than others. This particular day was one of them. As I tried to help her pull her polka dot sweater on, she kept fighting against me. I just wanted her to get up and get dressed. For whatever reason, she did not want the same. Usually, I just try to wrestle the sweater on her when we are having these rough mornings.
“Just put this sweater on!” I plead.
Sweater PinBut on this day, I think about her behavior as communication after my pleading did no good. I walk to the closet and select another sweater. I then hold the two sweaters up and say, “It’s cold. You have to wear a sweater. Which one do you want to wear?”
She points to the unicorn sweater and proceeds to promptly put it on. That was easy!
Hooray! I got something right!! She wasn’t being combative or a grouchy morning person. She just didn’t want that sweater.
That led me to think about my conversations with my 6 year old son. He and I negotiate all the time. I don’t think about how often it happens. I tell him to do something and he asks why before complying. I tell him to get dressed; he says he will in a minute. I give him applesauce and he asks for oranges. There’s a give and take happening all the time. He can ask for things or for more information if he doesn’t like what I say or do.
Jaycee doesn’t quite have this ability. She has behaviors. I tell her to get dressed. She could shake her head “no” but instead fights my efforts to tell me no. She can’t ask for a different sweater because that spoken vocabulary isn’t there.
I learned something from the sweater incident. Instead of getting frustrated with behaviors, I need to look harder for their intent. We’ll both be happier for it!

2 thoughts on “What I Learned From a Sweater

  1. My daughter Ella is six – I have learned there is really no use to picking out clothes for her. She knows what she wants. Her tutu with the holes in it and a blue over sized t-shirt with Snap Crackle and Pop on it ( you know, off of the Rice Krispies box) sigh. Great post.

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