When my youngest daughter gets sick, it is obvious and really easy to spot. She will let you know her ankle hurts. She will tell you her head hurts. She would come to us holding her stomach complaining that it hurts. You can literally see it on her face when she doesn’t feel well. My wife and I know what to do. We hop into action. We give her an ice pack for her ankle. BAM! Ibuprofen is ready for her head. BLAM! We get the pepto for the stomachache. BOOM! We grab the super easy mac daddy of digital thermometers. Temperature checked. BOOYAH! We are pros at this by now. It’s different when the other two kids with autism are sick or hurt. Children with autism,who are nonverbal, will find different ways to communicate their wants and needs to you. You have to really pay attention to their behaviors, mannerisms, sounds, even how they walk or you might miss what they are trying to say.
Years ago when the kids were really young. We were shopping in the Walmart, my son, McKade was riding in the cart. We were having a pretty nice shopping trip. I would take them to the toys. Then we would visit the movies and books. Everything was going great until I looked down and my son’s mouth was covered in blood. There was no screams. There was no accident. He was sitting there fine and the next minute somehow covered in blood. When this happened he barely had any words that he could use. The best we can tell he hit his lip on the cart and his tooth went through his lip. It was terrible. We didn’t know it happened! We felt like the worst parents in the world. He didn’t make a sound and wasn’t even crying. We learned early on that we would have to pay extra close attention to them just in case. If we weren’t paying attention we would miss something. We also learned that the lady at the checkout so squeamish about all the blood we soaked up with the roll of paper towels, she almost vomited.
Last year Addison, our oldest daughter, kept asking for, “Blues Clues Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” She had a pretty good day, so we downloaded it on her iPad. We ate dinner. She watched the video. We got ready for bed. She played the same part of the video over and over. Not a big deal. We do that a lot! A few minutes later she came up to me and said, “You see the feet?” Showing me Steve and Blue’s feet. I told her, “I see the feet sweetheart about ten or eleven times.” I am not unintelligent, but that night the point of that video went flying over my head. Later that evening, after Addison has watched that foot video a million more times she went to bed. I helped her get into bed. I put about 20 different and specific stuffed animals on the bed, like we do most nights. I tuck her in by throwing the blanket over her. She normally laughs the whole time. Tonight when I threw the blanket over her she didn’t laugh. She lifted up her foot while she laid in her bed. “You see the feet?” she asked. That’s when it dawned on me. She wasn’t talking about the feet in the video. She wanted me to see her feet. I pulled her sock off and BAM, her ankle was as big as a softball. It was also black and blue.
You are probably sitting there saying, “The winner for Worst Parent of The Year… is Toby Price.” Ron Howard’s voiceover says, “This is Toby Price’s 10th nomination and 6th win.”
I felt terrible. Just looking at her ankle, you can tell something is very wrong. We took her to the ER that night and she had a broken ankle. How did it happen? We have NO idea how it happened. I am just grateful we were paying attention at the right time. That’s the thing with Addison and many like her. Their pain tolerance is huge and they can’t come right out and tell you when something is wrong. You have to watch everything. You are constantly on the lookout for changes in behavior, different facial expressions, different sounds you aren’t used to hearing. You have got run through hundreds of questions too.Are they stimming differently? Are they walking differently? Are they following their normal routine? Have they isolated themselves in their room? It can be overwhelming at times.
That night, and so many like it taught me that we have to stop, take a breath, put our phones down and really pay attention. We have to pay attention to our students. Kids are really good at hiding how they are really feeling. Take a few extra minutes each day and put up your lesson plans. Have a morning meeting instead. Get the kids talking to you and to each other. Learn their names. Help them learn each other names. Building relationships in your class will make it easier for you to tell when they need your help. Kids can sound confident, but still have anxiety. Kids can look healthy and feel terrible. They can look happy but be miserable. We need to listen to our students with more than just our ears.
Thank you for reading and sharing,