Along with learning how to recognize and identify emotions, facial expressions, voice tone, and body language within himself and others, Liam is working on understanding figurative language. It’s something I’ve been more casual about, caring more about expressive and receptive language, self and social awareness. (A huge reason why I love homeschool). A few months ago, I decided to work figurative language more deliberately into lessons. We were able to use the Inside Out Emotions Sensory Bin and Emoji Sensory Bin to learn about most of these struggles but this is how I take advantage of figurative language and autism teaching moments.
A Misunderstood Compliment
Although Liam’s receptive to some things and absolutely gets my sarcasm (and is sarcastic just like me), he’s still having issues with understanding other people and new scenarios. Sometimes, people (mostly old people and ignorant people) will jokingly tease him and of course that doesn’t go over well and honestly pisses me off. Other times, it’s well-meaning strangers trying to be nice.
Just the other day, Liam and I were at a busy Starbucks on MSU campus. Liam was wearing his super cute Rudolph fargo hat. (This detail is important). I had to wait for my order but Liam got his immediately. Although it was busy, I had a clear line of site to where he was wanting to sit so I gave a go ahead nod.
A few minutes later, I was still waiting but we made eye contact and I signed, “you okay?” My name was called but I waited for his thumbs up. I grabbed my drink and as I was preparing my straw, I saw a lady make verbal contact with Liam and I could see he was upset. I forcfully excused myself past about a dozen people in line, making my way toward Liam. The lady had left by the time I got there but I asked Liam to give me the play by play. “SHE CALLED MY HAT A ROCK, MOM! IT’S NOT A ROCK! IT’S A HAT!”
A Teaching Moment
This hat is really fucking cute. Every time he where’s it, he gets a slew of compliments. I knew she didn’t call it a rock. She, undoubtedly, gave a compliment that he didn’t understand. I asked if she said “your hat is a rock” OR “your hat rocks.”
We sat and I explained the difference between the two statements and what the saying means. I asked him to think about some awesome things he could see while looking around Starbucks and use “rocks” in a sentence. He pointed out a Sparty (MSU mascot) logo on the wall. “Sparty rocks!” “This cozy chair rocks!”
We have these situations with strangers often. Mostly because Liam is incredibly social and finds himself in constant interaction with someone. When I intervene, I never announce that he has autism. It’s irrelevant and not a moment for autism awareness. I’m always more focused on Liam than I am others.
I try to intervene before the person walks away because I want this to be a teaching moment for them too. Typically, I walk up and say “Who did you meet?” A while ago, I taught Liam how to appropriately greet people so I know he’s already exchanged names. I do this to pull his mind out of being confused and upset. He introduces me and then I’d repeat what unfolded in a way that he could understand. We all make small talk for an easy transition. Then, I announce our departure, we say goodbye to the stranger and Liam thanks them for the conversation. If I feel like the issue needs more attention, we’ll talk more about it privately but a situation, such as walking away from u-scan check out while people are waiting, may call for an accelerated chat.
I don’t filter what I say or how I talk to Liam. In fact, most times, I’ll purposely use figurative language as an opportunity to chat about it more naturally. It’s been feeling like spring here, in Michigan. I turned down the radio to tell Liam, “crack the window, son.” I could see his confused face in the rearview mirror and I asked, “what’s the holdup?” I’m proud (and thankful) to say he hesitated to smash the window and instead admitted, “I don’t understand.” THAT! That kind of self-awareness and self-advocacy is more important than understanding figurative language. It’s the first time he said it without prompting and the ultimate goal is he’ll be able to say this to someone else. Although we’ll continue to learn figurative language, we’re goin’ balls to the wall with self and social awareness. (See what I did there)?