Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad


with 12 comments

While in Orlando, we went out for dinner with our Best Man, Chandler*, and his wife, Joanie*.  We were able to leave Cubby with my parents, so Pudding got our full attention.  She was, as usual, initially quiet (anxious) with unfamiliar people, but gradually became more at ease.  Pudding talked about the pictures she was drawing, and her new special interest: Ernie.  That evening she had a thing about whistling, something she can’t do, but is currently fascinated by other people doing.  She asked me to whistle, and  dutifully obliged, and stopped when she ordered no more whistles.  Then she told me she wanted Joanie to whistle.  I wasn’t going to let her off that easily, and told Pudding that she would have to ask herself.  She did, and Joanie also followed our little dictator’s orders.  We repeated this with Chandler too.

Joanie, quite reasonably, felt that the ice was then broken, and conversation could be made.  She asked Pudding a simple question, something she knew Pudding would be able to answer.  I can’t remember specifically what it was, but probably something about how old she was, having just celebrated her birthday a couple of days earlier.  Of course, Pudding ignored her.  I took over, as I frequently do, and asked Pudding directly how old she was, and Pudding answered.  I don’t know why, but she does this all the time.  It might be that she just isn’t paying enough attention to other people to catch their questions.  It might be that she is too nervous to give a response, and she feels more comfortable with a question coming from me.  I don’t know.  Even given plenty of time, she remains aloof.

What followed was a conversation of sorts, with Joanie asking questions, me repeating them, and then Pudding responding.  Parents do this interpreting thing naturally.  You might not know that when Cubby says raff-raff, he means giraffe, because you simply don’t spend as much time with him as I do.  We become masters at decoding what our kids are trying to say.  Perhaps even more so when our children present with communication difficulties.  We interpret because we have to.  Sometimes we are the only ones who can decipher what they want to say, and form a bridge between the parties present.

Lately though, I’ve been feeling increasingly uncomfortable in my role as Pudding’s interpreter.  During that dinner, I wished I could have just sat back, and let the exchange happen without me, however stilted or one-sided that may have been.  Clearly, Pudding still has significant difficulties with social communication.  She can be a chatterbox at times with myself and Spectrummy Daddy, but adding a new person to the mix simply overwhelms her.  I need to keep acting as that bridge until she no longer needs it.

After that meal, I thought hard about why I so dislike playing interpreter.  A friend of mine has been in a wheelchair all her life.  She is intelligent, articulate and social.  She can talk, she just can’t walk.  When we were younger and out together, some people would address me instead of her, even if she was the one buying something, or they wanted to know about her.  It drove us both crazy, and we’d get fired up in righteous indignation.  Just because someone has a physical disability, they are to be denied a voice.  My friend Rebecca* would take great delight in turning such assumptions around and establishing her independence.

And so to Pudding.  I dislike being her interpreter because I fear I’m increasing her dependence.  I’m a crutch that is disabling, rather than enabling natural and spontaneous interactions.  Am I facilitating a conversation, or am I reinforcing an inappropriate way of communicating?  No, I’m not speaking for her.  Yes, I’m trying to encourage her to become independent, but for some reason I feel that I’m doing the opposite.  She is still young.  I hope and expect she will continue to develop her social communication skills over time, with assistance from her teachers and therapists.  I expect I’ll grow in patience over time too, and if this is what she needs me to do, I’ll continue to do it for as long as I have to.  It appears to be another one of those duties that falls under my job description as Spectrummy Mummy (can you tell I used to work in HR?).  I know there are mothers who would long to have a child with Pudding’s communication skills.  I’m incredibly grateful that she is verbal.  It is my role in her communication with the rest of the world that I’m still trying to interpret.

*Names changed to protect the innocent.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

December 16, 2010 at 6:52 am

12 Responses

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  1. I can’t remember how old Pudding is, so I don’t know if this would work yet, but what if you just changed the approach a bit? With Coleman, when he was younger, I’d say, “Coleman, Mrs. Blank has asked how old you are.” And sort of stress that he needed to be responding to Mrs. Blank himself.

    I only offer that because you seem to want a different approach, and truthfully that might not even be a different approach for all I know. Anyway, I think we have to remember that for our kids, some forms of independence come later than others. Fine motor issues caused us to help Coleman getting dressed through the 2nd grade, but he does it on his own now. Pudding is still young, it’s good to be aware of a need to foster her independence, but there’s no real hurry on it, is there? 🙂

    You’re the best mom to and for Pudding and Cubby, and your instincts about what kind and how much help they need at a given moment are what you should trust. {{{hugs}}}


    December 16, 2010 at 7:03 am

    • Thanks Laura, that is a great way of doing it! She is only 4, and we can coast by on the shy around strangers thing for a while. I just don’t want to create more of a problem by hindering the process. I’ll give this one a try. Thank you! 🙂

      Spectrummy Mummy

      December 16, 2010 at 7:24 am

  2. I find myself, even with my two older Aspie sons (21 and 16), always keeping one eye on them in social situations, ready to jump in at any time to bridge a mis-communication. While I’m not a perfectionist by any means, the constant judgement I perceive (maybe real or maybe not), keeps me on edge to be ready to intervene in conflict. As parents of special needs kids – especially those on the spectrum – I think we become hard wired to be that interpreter on different levels including interpreting the world to your kids and your kids to the world. I totally agree with you about feeling the need to back off…I’ve tried it with varying degrees of success. I think it happens in baby steps, but as soon as my boys achieve success in one area, a new area pops up to address. It’s a constantly evolving journey…


    December 16, 2010 at 9:59 am

    • Nice to know it isn’t just me. It is definitely a fine line to balance. Definitely a constantly evolving journey, as you say.

      Spectrummy Mummy

      December 16, 2010 at 10:45 am

  3. I think Laura is spot-on up there. Pudding is young yet and will get there on her own time, and also you could try role-modeling for her. I used to actually say, “Charlotte you can say, ‘blah blah blah'” when I wanted her to answer someone.

    I really don’t think you are creating any problems by interpreting for her since it doesn’t sound like something you do ALL the time.


    December 16, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    • I do it more than I’d like though. Fingers crossed Laura’s technique will work and I can ease back a little.

      Spectrummy Mummy

      December 16, 2010 at 2:08 pm

  4. I can understand your concern, I used to feel the same way and sometimes still do, but I will say that I would bet money that she is well on her way to answering herself! I used to answer all.the.time for the Roc and slowly, slowly he is answering on his own, given a little bit of processing time!


    December 16, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    • So there is hope! I just don’t want to be causing the problem. I’m going to try and encourage some “safe” adults to try to get a response from her during calm times too.

      Spectrummy Mummy

      December 16, 2010 at 6:23 pm

  5. […] Spectrummy Mummy was talking about how Pudding will often go completely silent around strangers.  Coleman has […]

  6. We have the same problem here I’m afraid…..sorry that I have no advice, I’m still trying to figure it out too!.
    There is some great advice here though 🙂


    December 20, 2010 at 4:55 am

  7. So far, my daughter doesn’t communicate to answer questions at all, but I can see this situation happening in the future… What I can really relate to is the dictator. Ugh! Just today I called her ‘our household hitler’. She tells us what she wants us to do [elmo, elmo, ELMO!] and then tells us to stop it. Sometimes she wants us to sing the song, other times screams for us to stooooooooop! because she doesn’t want us to. Her life seems to be filled with these constant varying rules, that she establishes, invisible to us. And HEAVENS does she get upset when we break a rule! Other people look at me very funny and I’m sure with judgement as they see me obeying my 2 year old’s commands… and I just think “you have NO idea what I’m dealing with here!”


    December 22, 2010 at 1:25 am

    • You know, I was just thinking that I do this to my poor kids. (and they do it to me too) Most of the time I’m less sensitive to sound in the house than, say, the car. Different acoustics and all, but this morning their noise level, which I’m pretty sure is the same as always, is actually causing my ear drums to “flutter” in my head. I can FEEL it. So, I’ve been asking them all morning to keep it down. I’m sure their a bit confused by it. Of course, as an adult, I have a better vocabulary and am able to explain it without screaming at them (usually). I don’t know why there’s a higher sensitivity today, but there is, so adjustments have to be made. Maybe that’s something similar to what’s going on with your bunchkin. 🙂


      December 22, 2010 at 9:41 am

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