There’s much to be said for this child’s wisdom…and learning from the animal kingdom…
Some weeks ago I started an ASL (American Sign Language) course online – I regularly volunteer with children with disabilities and had asked a mom (whose four year-old boy both has autism and is deaf) for some ASL resources. Her son additionally suffers from a little bit of separation anxiety, which isn’t horribly uncommon with autism – when he comes to our volunteer play sessions, there are times that he begins to cry and it’s terribly tricky to discern what will make him feel more comfortable. While I was already interested in learning ASL (up to 50% of autistic individuals are non-verbal), this little guy was enough to get me on the road to finding a class…as soon as possible.
The awesome news is that I also volunteer with Special Olympics-driven skating sessions once a week that includes a number of children who are either hard of hearing or completely deaf. There’s nothing quite like being able to communicate with them – being able to sign even a single word is exciting! (I definitely have a way to go!)
A couple of days ago, though, I came down with a cold of some kind – as a result of contagiously coughing, I lost my voice – and I mean completely. Talk about being in someone else’s shoes…
Horribly uncomfortable a “bug” is for any of us, it’s nothing compared to what some children and adults have to deal with on a regular, and life-long basis. In a strange way, I feel thankful that I can’t speak because it’s an exercise in understanding what it *might* be like – while I consider myself to be one of the most empathetic people I know, it is impossible to fully understand anyone’s experience without being in their skin.
I have lost my voice on one other occasion – remarkably, I was 16 spending a month in France, with very little French under my belt. I guess life likes to test my ability to communicate (which – as is clear – is NOT always done with speech.)
In any case, it’s as the saying goes – you don’t always realize what you have until you lose it. I’d never anticipate not having the ability to speak was an easy road…but it is a welcome experience. (Now I’m not exactly encouraging anyone to go out to a concert and scream at the top of his or her lungs to deliberately subdue the vocal chords…I’m just saying, there is good to everything. Yes, including getting sick and losing a primary means of communication.)
Now my husband has a little bit of a challenge playing the guessing game as far as “what is my wife trying to say now?” He’s doing a remarkable job of deciphering, decoding, and understanding what I am trying to say, and that’s not easy to do! So I’m very fortunate to have the support and patience.
Going to the store is also an enlightening experience – I can’t say “thank you,” or “excuse me” as I normally would, nor can I respond vocally to others. That leaves me feeling a little bit awkward as reciprocal speech is one of the key forms of communication many of us learned from infancy. When I indicate with gesture and my lips that I have lost my voice, people either immediately begin to whisper or act altogether more gently – it’s incredibly interesting! (I actually can’t even whisper, as that puts more stress on the vocal chords than speaking does!)
The other side of it is that I’m derailed from my activities – in part I simply don’t feel up to them physically. The pain and discomfort though. . .I think about all the children with autism suffering from sensory sensitivities without the ability to say “those lights are hurting my eyes,” “this fabric makes my skin burn,” “my chest hurts….” What is life like for them? Many “behavioral issues” are a result of such a scenario – they don’t have a means to say what they are feeling.
For the children who are deaf or hard of hearing, thankfully they do have words at their disposal (albeit non-speech, hand / facial /body gestures.) I learned “sick,” “feel,” “bathroom,” and “okay?” as quickly as I could. Fortunately I’m learning many other words too…but knowing that it will take time, it’s important I know some basics.
Even if I was feeling better, my usual day-to-day would still be a substantial challenge – I can’t make a singe phone call, for one. I can’t ask for help locating a medicine at the store. If I were in an office, I’d have to type everything out (doable, but less efficient.) I certainly can’t breakdown a Ninjutsu technique the way I could by asking questions in class, and I definitely can’t teach or volunteer. I have to rely on gestures to talk to others I might run into in my own apartment building because I am utterly devoid of my usual method of communication…
So it’s been a remarkable few days…
While I’m sure it’s not fun to be around me while I’m loudly coughing, slower-moving, and unable to answer even the easiest question, I feel truly thankful for the experience. In fact, I’m taking the opportunity to review videos from the ASL course modules that I’ve already completed – I will hopefully be seeing the Special Olympics kids on Wednesday to skate and I know a few happy ones who use ASL exclusively. 🙂
I love this quote from Autism Speaks – there’s nothing more important that encouraging children (your own, or otherwise!) by focusing on their strengths and positives.
The world critiques enough, wearing down the strongest and most brave. . . Therefore at least give children (if not also yourself and your loved ones!), unhindered by the “should,”s “can’t”s, and “bad”s of adult conditioning, the opportunity to meet life with confidence and a smile.
At Ninjutsu, my Sensei teaches the children to embrace failure. We ask them – often – “who loves to lose?!”
Joyfully, the children yell out “MEEEE!”
We then ask, “WHY do you love to lose?”
“Because it helps us to leaaarrrrnnn!!!” they emphatically reply.
Life is riddled with challenges – there are often far more “failures,” lost games, missed deadlines, rejections (etc!) than there are successes. But as a result, we learn SO much more – We grow and develop to have an astoundingly richer, more valuable experience in Life, and we learn that NOT winning is not only OKAY…but it is a POSITIVE.
In my mind (and heart) teaching this to children cannot be started early enough. Let them know that failures are going to happen – no one likes surprises! 😉
But ALSO let them know that it is okay, that their own value has not diminished in any way, and that because of that “loss” many good things will bloom in its place.
More of my Martial Arts… ❤
I had the fortune to attend a Jiu-Jitsu tournament the other day which spanned a wide age group, from young children to adults. Having been a competitive athlete for at least half of my Life, I was taken by the alarming amount of tears I was seeing! Certainly Jiu-Jitsu is a rough and tumble sport – we aim for submissions, which involve putting our opponents in less-than-comfortable positions. The goal isn’t to break arms, but you walk such a line by default much of the time.
I didn’t feel like the majority of the tears were from pain (THANKFULLY!) With the little kids I was worried about that – I know my Italian mother would never have permitted Martial Arts competition for me early on, lest she hop on the mat and defend her child! (It’s one of those “she doesn’t know Jiu-Jitsu, but she doesn’t need it” kind of things…) 😉
There were some “I’m-ehausted-is-this-over-yet” tears… There were overwhelmed tears from children trying to hear the impassioned shouts and directions from the sidelines while grappling. But it felt to me that much of the emotion centered around NOT winning. It wasn’t even losing so much as NOT winning.
There is always a level of disappointment when we don’t come out on top. We train hard and we hope we have the edge…but there is always someone out there to give us a challenge. I feel like the longer fights were at least more satisfying, where a competitor can internalize how long they lasted. But the tears came all the same.
What impressed me the most was that amidst an emotionally-charged atmosphere, the kids would respectfully shake hands, trade fist bumps, or hug.
Seeing young children respect one another and offer support despite the personal disappointments rocked. It wasn’t about just doing the right thing – neither was it feigned nor forced. I saw some go up to the other afterwards and congratulate them. They’d fight back those tears and smile and acknowledge the second place. I was so impressed (and hoped all the adults took notice, as it reminds us how we need to be!)
Sportsmanship is something that should be instilled early – we aren’t always going to win. We take it hard because we want to do the best every singe time, we want to dominate, we want to prove to ourselves and everyone else that we are unbeatable…but it won’t happen that way. Respecting our opponents, appreciating the experience, and taking away the positives and learning is HUGE – when we learn those things at a young age, they stay with us.
The other side of the coin was that the winners weren’t making a fuss at ALL – each one was humble and reserved. There may have been smiles, but what I saw more of was making sure the other competitor was acknowledged and that there was no display of victory – equally as impressive in my mind. ❤
I like to remind competitors that they are THERE – they are putting themselves out there for the challenge, and working hard. That alone deserves respect and I, for one, think everyone out there should feel proud whether they are wearing a gold, a silver, or nothing at all – it’s winning or learning and BOTH are positive.
I passed by this quote the other day, and it resonated for me…
“The Way We Talk To Our Children Becomes Their Inner Voice.”
I recently took a road trip and at a rest stop, I saw a father really yelling at his son… It was not only the angry tone used, but the words, that alarmed me. I was really taken aback and noticed that I was actually staring (fortunately he didn’t notice!) I watched the child, who not only separated a distance from his father, in somewhat of a fear response, but also the way he slumped his shoulders and crossed his arms, as if to protect himself (not only physically…but also because the words HURT. It was obvious.)
I have certainly have my moments with my parents over the last three plus decades…but I grew up realizing that we all contribute to the equation – it’s never just them being upset with me, I have a role to play as well. That said, it was instilled in us that respect, care, kindness, and apologies when owed, are of vital importance. Support of one another, communication, accountability…those things matter.
We are going to make mistakes, and we will therefore have “moments” here and there – humans will always go head to head a times, whether because of a personal experience (bad day at work, someone cut us off etc) or because we disagree on something (it happens, we don’t all have to agree on everything!) etc, BUT…it is important how we speak to each other.
Sarcasm was always hard for me…maybe because I have had some ugly relationships where people used it FAR too often. A friend of mine recently posted an article about how sarcasm can injure a relationship (of any kind) – it can be hurtful even if not intended that way, so imagine a little one hearing it! With children it is especially tough because they definitely won’t understand the nuances, or the jest! Yelling is another toughie – we have all done it, but it can hurt…especially a child who probably already knows he or she did something wrong. We can express disappointment without yelling (in fact, it may impress the point more so without it!)
This quotation also falls in line with this, and I find it to be incredibly true much of the time…
I couldn’t speak to the nature of the conflict with this gentleman and his little one…but it was in a public place, it was loud, the tone was harsh, and the words were not appropriate for a child of maybe eight or so. It wasn’t my business, and still isn’t, but I felt sad because SO much was said in the body language. Consequences are important, no doubt…but we do have to be mindful of the words and tone we use because that can carry forward as the child grows older.
I was most definitely NOT perfect as a child…and I’m still far from it…but what I CAN say is that my parents were always incredibly supportive.
I may not have fit the mold (evident early on!), but they loved and supported me anyway – they always made me feel strong, beautiful and talented.
I may not have loved the same subjects, and have focused more on sports than school, but they would help me when I needed it, and encourage me when I was having a hard time – they made me believe I had the ability even when I doubted.
They would say how proud they were of my athletic accomplishments, and that it was okay not to like exactly the same things as everyone else, so long as I followed my heart…and my heart was happy.
When I was out of line, I also had consequences. We had as many tiffs as the next family…but I never, EVER questioned my safety, nor that I was loved. Never. To see a child respond in a way that suggests he or she might, breaks my heart. Not everyone realizes that words and tone can injure.
Words can ALSO give a child wings...and I hope that more air on the side of feeling encouraged, beautiful and safe, than not. It is possible for that to happen even with “learning as we go” and “timeouts.”