Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"No" Means "Yes"

I remember reading an article by another mom of another Ethan who coincidentally has autism. "One of his refreshing quirks," she wrote, "is the way he never asks for things" (i.e. toys in the store).

For the longest time, our Ethan was like that too. We are just now getting into the phase where he will start whining in the grocery store for us to "go to the macaroni and cheese aisle," or announce "I need peanut butter!" And in toy stores, every once in awhile I will hear, "I want that." Normally, though, I am still the one wooing him with toys.

"Ethan, would you like this car?"
"Ooo, look at this game?!"
"Should we take this toy computer home?"

About six months ago we were in Barnes & Noble perusing books. Anna is a voracious reader and of course begged us to buy some. If she'd had her way she would have walked out of there with a stack piled to the ceiling, the way she does at the library. We agreed to purchase two small books for her. Then I realized Ethan needed a book, too.

"How about this book about trucks?"
"A letter book?"
"No book!"
I grabbed a Dora the Explorer book about going to the doctor. "This one?"
"Noooo! I don't want it!!"

Ethan was practically crying. In that moment something told me to buy the book anyway. It sat in Ethan's room for about two months, crisp and untouched. One day I spotted it before nap time and asked if we should read it. You can guess what the response was. But then I spotted one of his favorites (Chicka Chicka Boom Boom? Goodnight Moon? I don't remember) and decided to strike a deal.

"If you read Dora, then we can read THIS." I pointed to the desired book. Bingo! The funny thing is, within a few weeks, the Dora doctor book became one of Ethan's favorites. Soon he was begging to read it. The next visit to his pediatrician, he was pointing out all of the different instruments in the exam room. And through the one familiar book/one new book reading deal, we've introduced Ethan to numerous other new books he's ended up enjoying.

This is how I learned that with Ethan, "no" does not always mean "no."

Lately on our way-too-often trips to Target I'll suggest toys and will be met with a rather tepid response. Every once in awhile I toss something into the cart (like Matchbox cars). I let them lie around for a few hours or a day before quietly opening them and beginning to play with them myself. And usually, if I'm very quiet and casual and nonchalant about the whole thing, I can then look up and see him watching me from across the room and ask, "Do you want to play?" He'll then come running over and join me with his new toy.

With autism, new is overwhelming. Different can be stressful. Pressure and undue expectations make the situation worse. Throwing in the towel can't always be the answer, either. Knowing when to do which can be a frustrating process filled with trial and error.

Sometimes we push too far. I tried to make Ethan do a class at the library because I thought he could handle it and could get through that initial fear and trepidation about something completely new and different. He was pretty miserable. Other times I've gone against common sense and tried to force him through something, like the roller coaster I knew he'd love if he could just get over the fear and sit down, and met with wonderfully awesome results.

Ethan always tells me he doesn't want to go to the special music class he attends -- but ends up loving it every week.
The first eight days of school, he told me he didn't want to go and that it was too scary -- but came out every day with a smile.
He constantly tells me "no" when I offer new foods, but every once in awhile he finds one he actually enjoys.

Whenever I send him off with the grandparents or even to school, I feel as if I have to tell them they shouldn't always take his "no's" as "no's." Really they are often more like "yes's" hidden under a layer of trepidation and discomfort with newness and change.

And when I think about that, that's not so different than the way most of us react to many things in life. At least I do. Dan suggests a new restaurant but I had my heart set on an old favorite. Or he wants to see a movie I've never heard of and haven't checked the reviews for, and I protest. Someone asks me to do something I haven't done before...speak to people I don't know...take a different approach to a familiar freelance project...and I freeze.

God asks me to take a step out of my comfort zone. God asks me to do something difficult and scary. And right away, my knee-jerk reaction is "No!" Sometimes He'll wait. Sometimes He'll gently prod me. Sometimes He just makes me take the leap and DO IT. The method changes. But the goal is to move ever-closer to the "yes" that, in the long run, will reap more benefits than I can imagine while locked in my fears.

1 comment:

truthinlove said...

Very good. You are right. We are not unlike Ethan at all.