Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Highest Functioning 'Nonverbal' Kid I've Met

I'm working in a new volunteering program. It's very similar to the last program, except that the kids are a lot higher functioning. Most are kids with ADHD, or else with specific delays in certain areas. Several are not officially diagnosed but suspected to have a disability.

The highest functioning kids in the other program would be in the middle for this program. And the lowest functioning kid in this program, a 10 year old autistic boy, would be average for the other program.

This autistic boy was described to me as 'nonverbal'. I've seen plenty of people refer to kids as nonverbal when they actually have a few communicative words, but this kid is the most verbal 'nonverbal' kid I've ever met. His speech seems to be at a 2 year old level - plenty of communicative words and phrases, but no sentences, and poor pronunciation. He doesn't seem to have any echolalia or receptive language issues.

Every other kid I've met who was called 'low functioning autistic' either had a very small vocabulary, or used considerable echolalia such that every statement made me guess what he/she meant to say. And most it was a puzzle to figure out how much they understood of what I said, and whether they were ignoring me or just not understanding me.

Not this kid. He's actually pretty obediant for an autistic kid, and it's very clear that he understands all the commands people have given him. And when he asks to do something, like 'go to church' (we meet at a church, go out to whatever place, then return there) he listens to your explanation of why it won't happen right away. And telling him 'in a bit' doesn't trigger a meltdown like it does with many kids I've met.

But to hear the program coordinators talk, he's badly off and getting worse. They base this mainly on how he acts at the end of the program, once he's tired and overloaded. He slams doors, slaps people, and flicks the lights on and off. Which isn't so bad, really. I've worked with a kid who, at the slightest delay in the action, would scream like a peacock and hit herself repeatedly in the head. I worked with a boy who, though he was a sweet boy most of the time, would scream and sit down and refuse to move, and pull your hair if you crowded him at all. Not that I found either of those kids particularly difficult, and both had their good moments as well. One big difference between those kids and this boy - when those kids were having meltdowns, there was no reasoning with them at all. This boy readily goes to time out if told (he actually seems to like time out, because it reduces stimulation).

They also seem to have a poor opinion of his parents. His sister is also in the program, and I've worked with her twice. She's diagnosed as high functioning autistic, but the program leaders think she's not really autistic, just reacting to her brother (I'm not sure myself, but she is a quirky kid). And I've heard them talk about how badly-behaved both children are at home, where they claim there is no discipline at all. I have no idea if this is true, but judging from the track record, I'm skeptical about anything the program coordinators say about this family.

I'm worried about this kid. I'm worried they'll decide this program isn't working for him, even though he's really doing just fine. I'm worried that poor expectations will bring worse behavior from him. I'm also worried because none of the volunteers seem to like working with him, and I'm worried he'll become the 'hot potato' kid.


Blogger Adelaide Dupont said...

With the two kids you described working with before, it's [relatively] easy to see their (apparent) triggers: lack of activity for one and crowds and being crowded for another.

Either circumstance would probably reduce learning and recreation. (Or sometimes emotional stuff can be very heightened and scrambly/confusing).

And seeing what was going on for them, reason and sense left the building before the meltdown. So you watch out for events/antecedents.

Being tired/emotional/overloaded can tell you a lot.

Does he hold in? Is he affable?

What sort of body language and demeanour does he associate with waiting?

"More questions than answers!"

6:09 PM  
Blogger Ettina said...

This kid has trouble with the noise from the other kids (many of whom are 6 year olds with ADHD tendencies). He seems to be trying to cope, but hitting his limit by the end of the day.

There's a big difference between knowing someone's triggers and being able to avoid them. The girl who couldn't stand waiting was especially difficult, because we had to travel together as a group and I couldn't control whether another kid took long to get ready. In retrospect I should've carried around paper for her to write on (she was hyperlexic, in the 'generally disabled with minimal noncommunicative writing' sense, and really enjoyed writing her name).

12:05 PM  

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