What Manners? I’m Just Glad He Spoke!

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Social graces do not come naturally to Angel. Not because he is a rude child but because like some children on the autism spectrum he doesn’t quite grasp the concept of manners.

I remember the day he asked me for some juice. His way of asking was by saying the word juice, then looking to see if I was headed toward the kitchen to get it.

A few minutes later, I made him a cup and he promptly grabbed it from me and went about his business. As Angel drank his juice, I wondered how he could just grab the cup without any form of gratitude. So, I took the cup from him and told him to say thank you. He reached for the cup and I said, “No! You have to say thank you first.”

5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – MELTDOWN!

Angel began to scream and cry and toss all over the floor. I stood there and looked at him and said, “You have to say thank you when someone gives you something.”

He went from 0 to 10 in a matter of minutes and his meltdown escalated with every passing second. As he screamed, I put his juice on top of the fridge and told him again, “Say thank you, Angel.” My words barely registered as his screaming continued.

When Angel realized that his behavior was not getting the desired result, he got a chair and put it next to the fridge. I couldn’t help but think: My son, the problem solver! I looked at him as he climbed on the chair to reach for the cup. Being a little over three feet tall at the time, his attempts were futile. A few minutes later, he went and sat down in the living room with his little chest heaving as tears ran down his face.

It soon dawned on me that no one had really won this battle. He did not get his juice and I did not get my thank you. Then, my mom said “Give him the juice. You have to pick your battles.” At that point, I was emotionally spent. I walked over to Angel and gave him the cup. He grabbed it just like before and quickly swallowed the juice in less than a minute. That was last year.

Now, Angel has a *SEIT who comes to our home after school for his *ABA sessions. Since he started ABA, he says thank you—mostly when prompted.

However, I still wonder if Angel really understands the concept behind the phrase thank you. How do we as parents of children with autism help them understand the social graces that will help them integrate into the “neurotypical” world?

One thing I have realized is not to get caught up on social graces anymore. Of course, I want Angel to be polite but him acquiring the expressive language needed to communicate effectively is more important right now.

Looking back at this experience, I realize that the issue was not Angel but me. I also realize that full acceptance comes not just from writing and talking about it but from letting it reflect in my actions. In order to fully accept Angel’s autism diagnosis, I have to accept every aspect of it. This includes the communication difficulties and the social impairments as well.

We are approaching Angel’s speech development as if we are building a house— brick by brick.

First, he says want.
Then, he says what he wants.
Next, we prompt him with I.
Last, he says, I want [add object here].

Before I close, I have to leave you with one more story. The other morning as we were getting Angel ready for school, he said “cuh corn.” His word for “popcorn.” I pretended that I did not hear him because the school bus was due in ten minutes and he had already eaten breakfast.

He looked right at me and said it again, “cuh corn!” Again, I pretended that I did not hear him. Then, he said, “Want cuh corn.” I looked at him pondering if we really had the time to make popcorn and the fact that popcorn is hardly a healthful breakfast meal.

All of a sudden he said, “I want cuh corn.” I exclaimed with a big smile, “You used a full sentence! Good job!” I was exhilarated. I forgot all about the school bus or the fact that he had not said please.

I put a pack of popcorn in the microwave. In 1:30 seconds, it was ready and Angel got his popcorn. Michelle Obama would’ve been so proud. *wink wink

Have you had a similar experience with your autistic child requesting items at home?

Share your story. I look forward to hearing from you.

Miz Kp

* SEIT: Special Education Itinerant Teacher
*ABA: Applied Behavioral Analysis