If you haven’t read (or need a refresher) Day #43 – Tape Recorder, you may want to do so now or after this post. Part of having autism – and a significant Auditory Language delays is that Tucker struggles to initiate his own language/ideas in conversation. Although he has this challenge he has managed to figure out how to memorize bits and parts and pieces of other people’s conversation. Then, in any given situation he puts the pieces together and sort of ‘re-plays’ the pieces he has gathered over the years.
It’s one of the reasons that we’ve always been very careful to manage who he spends time with – we never know what he might pick up from others. Yes, I know this is for all parents – but this is different because Tucker lacks the necessary implicit filters that most of us use for civil and productive conversation. It’s impossible for him to just ‘pick-up’ when something is or is not appropriate.
I knew that as he (and his friends) matured it would become a challenge. Unfortunately, as our children grow into adolescence they don’t only ‘experiment’ with first kisses and first slow dances, they also experiment with using the F word and other hurtful phrases. We’ve done a pretty good job managing this so far…and then last night happened.
He made a ‘that’s so gay’ reference.
Just so we’re all clear here, that type of language use is NOT okay in my house. Why?
When a person uses that phrase they are using the word ‘gay’ in place of say…stupid, idiotic, dumb, etc.
Yeah, none of those equalizations are okay. None of them. None.
I teach language both in spoken and written form – so I am quite sensitive to this issue.
I’m also a human being who doesn’t want to cause hurt or harm to others – so I am quite sensitive to this issue.
Here is the real kicker though. Since language does not come naturally he often speaks with trepidation. He’s tentative.
Here was the situation….
So, I was talking about a television show that is a bit ridiculous. Some other students in his class were talking about Party Down South. He asked me if he could watch the show. I said no. I will let him watch things that are not always appropriate for his age – but allowing him to watch a show that is ONLY about being intoxicated, having ‘feeling-free’ sex, and conflict? No.
I explained to him why I didn’t think the show was appropriate for him, or for me for that matter. He agreed. He was sitting beside me. He looked at me, sort of cross ways and said, “That’s so gay” in a quiet voice. He continued to maintain marginal eye contact. It’s how I knew he wasn’t sure if he should say it or not – he was attempting to make eye contact.
He needed my reaction. He knew he had never heard me say those words. He knew he wasn’t sure if they were offensive or not.
I did not yell. I did not scream. I did not berate him or make him feel guilty.
I simply looked at him and said, “Tucker, those words are not acceptable.”
He responded, “I didn’t mean to. I didn’t know.”
I said, “I know. Let’s talk about why.”
Then I showed him this…
He giggled a bit. Then I showed him this.
He didn’t think that was quite so funny. He loves to game. Then, I showed him this.
He didn’t think that was funny at all. “I play sports and I’m not dumb.”
Exactly, Tucker. Equating the word ‘gay’ to something that seems ridiculous is just as…well, ridiculous.
That made sense to him – talking it through, showing him examples (as pictures).
So, what’s the point of this? Intentionality. We have to be intentional when talking about appropriate and inappropriate words and phrases. Autism gives us the ‘excuse’ to have great conversations about words and the use of words.
I know, it seems all parents should do this. To be completely honest – if I hadn’t been living with autism over the past 12 years, I’m not sure I would have stopped what I was doing to provide an explanation. Autism requires an explanation of just about everything. I’m sure I would have responded with, “Don’t ever say that again” and I would have expected him to comply.
I would have told him what was wrong, without an explanation of why it was wrong.
That may have worked…and it may not have.
I do know that with a high level of certainty that he knows using that phrase is wrong AND he knows WHY it is wrong.
Will this guarantee he will never utter that phrase again? Nope.
Will this guarantee that he will feel a twinge of guilt if he does utter that phrase again? Sure hope so.