Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Problem with Pragmatics

Pragmatic, or social, speech is a problem for Gus, and this is pretty typical of individuals on the autism spectrum. No big news there. Because of his difficulty in grasping the different connotations of words and because of his very literal mind, I now have a child who is terrified of Tootsie Rolls. Honestly I don't know how we got there, but there we are.

It all started two days ago. We have a prize box where the kids can pick prizes from when they received enough stars on their charts for good behavior. Any manner of thing can end up in that box, such as the Tootsie Roll push light that someone had given Gus at the end of last school year that had ended up in a cabinet. So Gus chose the light for his prize and I thought all was well.

That night, he asked, "What's a Tootsie Roll?"

"It's a candy."

"Is it good for you?"

"Well, no. Candy isn't really good for you."

I should have seen the slope getting slippery, but it was late and I just wanted to get his brushing and compressions done. When he asked what would happen, I should have thought longer before I spoke.

"Well, too much candy can make you sick and it can give you cavities."

Isn't this a typical response about the evils of candy? Ah, but I'm not dealing with a typical child, am I?

"If I eat a Tootsie Roll, I'll get sick." The bottom lip started to quiver, the eyes started to water, the breath started to hitch. Within a second, he was full out crying. Stupid mommy. "I'm gonna diiiiiie!"

Of course all my attempts at damage control were pointless because once he latches onto something with that wonderful perseveration of his, it's all over. But I had to try.

"You won't die from eating a Tootsie Roll. I said that if you eat too many you might get a tummy ache or cavities. You won't die from those."

"I'm gonna get sick and die!"

I tried everything - even making funny faces to snap him out of it. Finally, the faces somewhat worked. He told, through sniffles, that he didn't want to be copied. We were saved from a major meltdown because of my extraordinary facial control.

I thought the drama was done, and obviously I'm still a stupid mommy.

We went through almost an identical scenario tonight, except this time I didn't let it go on so long. For one thing, my patience was much shorter tonight. Finally, I asked, "Do you want a Tootsie Roll? Is that it?"

"No! I'll get sick!"

"You won't get sick. Do you want a Tootsie Roll?"

"If someone gives me a Tootsie Roll, I'll get sick!"

"Did someone give you a Tootsie Roll?"


Now I was wondering if there was some talk of stranger danger or something going on at school to bring this up.

"No one's going to give you a Tootsie Roll."

"But if they put it in my mouth I have to spit it out or I'll get sick."

"Okay." I didn't have the energy to debate it any more. It was bad of me, I'm sure. But thankfully, he let it drop and he went to bed. No tears tonight over the candy.

Then I just had to console him over the Pirate story he asked me to read that set him to tears. I can do nothing right this week, apparently.

1 comment:

  1. I imagine any and all 'advice' I might have as regards Gus' struggle is sure to be old news to his parents, but I wonder if in situations like that it would be appropriate to say something like: "It tastes good, but you shouldn't eat too much of it." I don't really know where that would lead, it's just what pops to mind. That's not intended to be a 'canned' response, just a factual statement limited only to the thing itself.

    If nothing else, knowing whether that just doesn't work would help me to be more careful.

    I mean this in a supportive way; I do not intend to countermand or condescend toward parental (particularly maternal) instinct and authority. It's just the only thing I can think of. I really do feel the frustration - you represent it very clearly.



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