Parenting a Literal Child
Sarah's Mom, Parent
It's not just a matter of symantics - for some kids, everything is literal. In parenting several kids with FAS/FAE, I've found that you have to be very careful with your instructions - because they'll be followed!
It usually starts as a simple enough conversation at dinner. I say "Sarah, make sure that you have your soccer bag ready to go for practice tomorrow." With a nod my message is heard. The bag gets packed, placed by the door, and stepped right over as she heads over the grandma's for the day. Something a lot of kids would do, but for a literally thinking child - a scenario that might happen again and again. I can't fault her, after all she did exactly what I asked.
Sarah's taking a bath. She forgot to close the shower door before turning the shower head on and sprays water all over the floor - a common enough occurence in any household with children. So as I look around, my socks squishy and wet, I don't get angry, but say "Sarah, when you get out, please clean up in here - you can use this towel. " Okay Mom, no problem and the singing continues from the shower. Later that evening, after a sweet-smelling Sarah has gone to bed, I find the wet towel dripping on the sink, clothes scattered everywhere, but the floor is pretty dry (more or less).
Her teacher tells her to put this note in her backpack. In it goes, and two weeks later when the lunch lady calls to tell me Sarah has been charging lunches...didn't I get the note?
All kids will do these things - but for a literal child they happen over and over...much to the child's (and everyone else's) dismay. After all, they did exactly what you asked, didn't they - so why are people exasperated with them?
For kids with special needs, it's very important that they understand that some rules are very important. Things regarding personal safety are steadfast and not negotiable - you must wear a helmet, you have to buckle up, you cannot lean out the window, you must stay on one side of the street when waiting for the bus. These are rules that must be instill early on and never, never deviated from.
So it's the small things that can make life just plain exasperating. Having to go home from work to deliver lunches, soccer bags, or being called for permission to attend a field trip. I've found that I have to modify my communication with my daughter several ways: Omit metaphors or generalities "we'll just run in and grab a few thing" or "mind your own business"; ). Provide clear instruction, not once, but maybe several times. Find opportunities to praise. Be very, very thorough.
So now it's, "Sarah, soccer practice tomorrow. Have all the stuff you need in your bag and write yourself a note to take it with you to Grandma's." Oh okay, mom, no problem. But then I have to follow up a little later - "Sarah, practice tomorrow - is your stuff ready to take to Grandma's?" Yep, all done mom. "Great, it's important to take it with you because we won't be leaving from our house to practice, I'm just picking you up from Grandma's and going straight to practice. How about you write a note and stick it on the seat of the car - that way it'll remind." Oh, good idea mom.
I also counsel other's in Sarah's life about being very clear - her teacher nows says"Put this in your backpack, show it to Mom tonight, and bring it back tomorrow with her signature." If I task her with something, I'm careful to spell out all the steps - clean up the bathroom but wiping off the counters, putting things away, picking up clothes, and make everything look neat and tidy.