“Wait! What?” Processing Verbal Information and Autism

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“It’s okay,” the nurse continued, “Just tell me what this is.”

Declan looked slightly up from the ground and then to the wall.  He turned his head to the side and looked back at the ground.

We were at the Dr.’s office for his 6-year-old well visit.  As a part of this visit, Declan was having his eyes and ears checked as well.

I realized what was happening right away.  The nurse was a stranger.  Declan did not like looking at her.  And as she was pointing to the eye chart of shapes, Declan was having a hard time getting past the stranger and figuring out what she wanted him to do.

“Okay, Declan,” I said.  “Let’s try this.”

I walked up to the board and blocked the nurse.

“Look at me.”

Decan’s eyes came to meet mine.

“Look at this chart.”

I pointed to the top line of figures.

“This is a house.  This is a heart.  This is a square.  This is a circle.  Okay?”


“Good.  Now just look at the chart, follow the finger and say what you see.”

I stepped out-of-the-way and the nurse came into Declan’s view.  Declan’s head went down, but his eyes stayed up to see the chart.

“Can you tell me what this is.” The nurse continued and pointed to the shape.

And a few minutes later, Declan was deemed to have very good eyesight.

The nurse had only met Declan a few minutes before for the first time.  And found similar responses when she stood over him to check his hearing.

His head was practically in his lap to avoid seeing her.  When asked to clap when he heard the sound, Declan sat still.  I turned his chair and demonstrated what he needed to do.  The clapping to sound began.  Declan was deemed to have very good hearing as well.

I was thankful I was there.  I could help the nurse gather the information she was requesting and I was able to help Declan understand and respond.

It got me thinking, though.  What if I wasn’t there?

In this case, I am sure the nurse would’ve tried another approach.  Or maybe she would’ve indicated more testing was needed.

But it broached another subject area of concerns.

Processing Verbal Information and Autism

The testing at the Dr.’s office made me think of this sticker:


Or this sticker posted on cars in case of an emergency:


And then led to the list of “what if’s?”

What if a group of children on the playground are trying to play a game with rules, which Declan doesn’t understand and therefore doesn’t follow?

What if the lunch lady is telling Declan to pick an item, put it on his tray, move his tray down and then go pay for his lunch?

What if he was ever in an emergency and needed to follow directions from a first responder?

Autism involves problems with socializing and communication.  Processing what one hears is a large part of social communication.  I had Declan seen by a private speech therapist not only to help him speak, but to try to learn ways for him to comprehend what I was trying to say to him.

I picked up on Declan’s problems processing speech.  I learned he wasn’t trying to be difficult.  He just didn’t understand the words people around him were saying to him.

But what about the kids on the playground?  The lunch lady?  First responders?  Without knowing Declan, or that Declan is affected by autism, one is more likely to conclude he is difficult, a bad child that will not comply with directions.

Declan’s road in life will not always be surrounded by supportive staff, family and teachers.  People that are aware of autism will not always be around him.

So, I guess that is why I write.  To help spread the word about autism, so more people are surrounding those with autism with more understanding.


40 thoughts on ““Wait! What?” Processing Verbal Information and Autism

  1. I’m quite bitter about being told that my child is making “poor choices” or “being defiant” when not responding to verbal commands. Some people just aren’t going to get it. Keep educating and possibly more will figure it out.

  2. We have the stickers and have thought about making a t-shirt with the same info. We don’t want to stick a big label on him but if, heaven forbid, he ever got away he wouldn’t respond. He doesn’t know our phone numbers or address. We’ve tried to teach him. I’ve thought too a t-shirt might lead to people asking questions which is a great way to spread information. He used to wear a silicone bracelet with info on it til it broke. We’re going to get a metal medic alert one for him.
    I have a feeling Declan will be like Ben and charm all the adults at school. 😉

    1. We have the bracelet, but that is all. When you see Declan you may not think anything is wrong. If you are addressing him, you better be talking about Spiderman, or listening to him talk about Spiderman – if not he will be confused. Yes, once you know him is to love him. He is pure – just like Ben! 🙂

  3. Robyn, I totally get it. Had some same issues and sometimes I get frustrated with “the professionals ” because we shouldn’t have to explain why all the time, but like you I will advocate until I draw my last breath. Many people think if they continue to repeat it, this makes a difference, but for Tyson I know he’s still processing the first few words, not even the entire request. I worry also and actually have one of those stickers on my vehicle and filed with our Police and EMS just in case. BTW, Tyson is up to 40 words, 10 signs and he’s starting to put two words together to request things. Declan is lucky to have you!

    1. Wow, that is awesome! Great job, Tyson! Amazing! That shows how much how love and support you provide to him. That is great! We help our kids and tell others about them and autism. Keep up the good work, Carlene! Love advocating with you!

  4. You are going to have to post that warning about him being autistic and may not respond to vocal commands on every exit to your house and all over your vehicles in case of an emergency! Does he wear a medical I.D. tag identifying his challenges?

    1. Yes, you are right. He wears a bracelet so if he is ever separated from us, he is identified.

  5. For some reason, the stickers didn’t show up on my reader, but the experience is so, so familiar. My oldest had so many issues with teachers thinking he was causing problems when it was, in fact, another child, but he wouldn’t speak up for himself. He also did so much more poorly in some subjects because he was afraid of asking questions when he didn’t understand. He still struggles some and we still work on it. He is starting college in a few weeks, but with the constant working with and education as to what he needed, I think he’s ready (for the most part – I’m sure there will be some issues).

    You are the best defense for your child and his best advocate. Good job mama!

    1. I am wondering what Declan’s expereince will be like when he goes to school and is out of the special education specific classroom. How will he be instructed, percieved? And how will he respond? Maybe just like your oldest. Wow, that is great – congrats to your oldest starting college! I will keep him in my prayers as he transitions. Thank you so much! That is very nice!

      1. Thank you! Declan has a strong mama standing with him and giving him the foundation to stand and flourish. I look forward to reading about him as he grows.

  6. You are a great mom. It’s wonderful how you learn and handle your son so incredibly well and find time to share it so others can see the possible live with these difficulties. It is scary. The what ifs. You are giving him the best tools to survival that you can. That’s all any mom can do.

  7. This is a huge obstacle for my son, too. He has an excellent vocabularly but his receptive speech is only in the 7th percentile (hes 6 years.old too) He often gets lable as being purposefully difficult or defiant when really all he needs is things broken down into small steps witg less information at a time.

    1. Thank you! I agree – we have a story to tell. So similar, yet so different. I am thankful for those that read our story. Yes, they are ! 🙂

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