One of the things we’re working on with J is improving his phone skills. Don’t get me wrong, J has no problem navigating his smartphone. He listens to music and plays games on his phone all the time (for hours on end if we would let him), but using his phone to actually communicate with others–we’re still working on that.
Part of the issue is that phone communication is a new medium or “genre” for him. He was never formally taught in school how to send a text, how to speak on the phone, not in the way he was explicitly taught to write sentences and paragraphs with topic sentences and supporting sentences. For most kids who go through public school, those “writing skills” should automatically transfer over to text and email skills.
Not for J. J’s brain doesn’t work well with “transfer skills” he needs to be taught the appropriate skills in each individual scenario. He’s not at the point (at least right now) where he can say, “I learned how to write a letter in school and writing an email is sort of the same thing, I’ll write it in the same way.” He’s the type of kid where you would have to teach him how to write a letter and then teach him how to write an email.
So the last few weeks we’ve really been focusing on phone communication. J communicates WAY better by writing things down than talking things out, so we decided to work on texting. Back in high school, his para and special ed teacher did a great job of helping him text me when he was headed home from school on his bike, so we decided we’d do the same thing with the bus. Every time J gets on the bus to come home, we expect a text from him.
One day, I was headed to CVS to pick up a prescription and I told J that he was going to “stay at home and make sure his phone was close” by because I was going to text him and ask him what kind of treat he would like when I got to the store. Before I left, I made sure he knew how to answer his phone too, because I said I might call him instead. He struggled a little with swiping to answer on his Samsung (it’s not as easy as my iPhone where you just press the answer button). It’s not just him. Sometimes my finger sticks when I try to swipe to answer Steve’s android. It’s a brushing motion, not a pressing motion, and I don’t think J’s learned the difference between the two on his phone yet.
I drove to CVS, did my errands, then asked J if he wanted Skittles or Starburst. I got his answer right away. Next I tried calling him, but it rang and went to voicemail. Okay, I thought. Still struggling with swiping to answer.
Immediately I got two frantic texts back to back from J. “Please text me.” and “I want skittles.” I couldn’t help but laugh. This was an emergency for J. He missed my call and he needed to talk to me ASAP. But here’s the best part of it all: he solved his own problem IN A PANICKED STATE OF MIND. And for those of you who know J, food and candy are very important to J and he doesn’t want to miss out. The skill here? HE COULDN’T FIGURE OUT HOW TO ANSWER HIS PHONE SO HE TEXTED ME HIS MESSAGE INSTEAD. For a kid that needs to be explicitly taught everything, that was pretty darn intuitive.
On Friday I had another surprise text thread from J. Usually his text message before he gets on the bus is “I had a great day at school.” But this time, there was a second sentence. “I kept my mask on at all times.”
This has been a sore spot between me and J. J is so sick and tired of wearing his mask (aren’t we all?) He doesn’t think he needs to wear one because he’s vaccinated and when I told him we had to still wear them to keep the unvaccinated people safe, he started asking strangers if they were vaccinated or not (oh autism!) Anyway, Thursday we had a big fight about it in the Hornbacher’s parking lot (he tries now to wear it under his chin instead of over his nose and mouth), a meltdown ensued (and because of his not handling his anger appropriately, he ended up losing his music for a day) and he ended up sitting in the car while I went in the store.
Anyway, he let me know that he kept his mask on. I had already forgotten he wasn’t allowed to listen to his music, so he reminded me that he had earned his music privileges’ back.
I know two texts might seem really basic and non consequential to most folks out there, but as a mom of a son with autism who never communicates what’s on his mind, you sort of just feel elated (and honoured) to get that little glimpse.