Friday, September 07, 2012

What lies between Yes and No? A cookie, apparently

"Mom, can I have a milkshake?
"No. I just finished cleaning up the kitchen and it's time for bed."
"But I can make it myself. Besides, Oliver had the last two cookies while I was at soccer practice and I'm still hungry even though I ate all of my dinner."

This is a version of a conversation I have with Sami everyday about a million different things. He asks for something, I say "No" and then he gives me a hundred reasons why I should change my mind.

One of the things that must have been hard for Oliver, being mostly non-verbal and unable to communicate for most of his life, had to have been watching his brother get away with things, get out of things and work the situation to his advantage through the delicate art of negotiation. (And yes, sometimes this means that the kid just hammers away at me until I give up or give in out of frustration.) When you stop to think about how much of life is really open to negotiation you begin to see how much time we spend navigating those grey areas. When you realized that you could actually have another cookie if only you could get your mom to agree, when you understood that there was something between the "Yes"and the "No", you probably also began to develop your skills of bargaining, negotiation, wheedling, whining and pleading.

But lets face it: if you are non-verbal, you are at a tremendous disadvantage in this department. You might want another cookie but if whining or repeatedly saying "cookie" is your only way of getting what you want, you are at a distinct disadvantage.  I know this because both of my kids are master whiners, but when Sami follows it up by promising to eat two servings of vegetables for dinner if I let them have another cookie, I'm much more likely to give in. I've been conscious of this for years and try to remember to be more flexible when Oliver's desires are in conflict with what I think is the right thing to do, like say when he he wants to have a snack before bed even though he's already brushed his teeth. It's much easier to just say "no'' to a kid who just can't talk back, to one who can't argue or negotiate, and then chalk his frustration up to the autism.

So I'm thrilled to report that my boy is starting to assert himself through the fine art of negotiation. And given that he has a fine role model in Sami, I'm pretty sure I'm doomed. Two days ago when I told him that he absolutely, positively could not go and play in the water AT ALL TODAY because of something he had done, he waited until we were finished with school and then wrote: "Maybe I could go in the water for a little bit now?" The "maybe" did the trick and in five minutes he was in his bathing suit and in the water.

Then today I told him that he absolutely could not have another cookie until he finished all of his math work for the day, he picked up the pen and instead of writing out the answer to the question at hand, wrote: "How about if I have another cookie and then finish my math?"

So just like that, at the ripe age of ten, Oliver pulled up his chair to the bargaining table and served himself a cookie.

(It was actually me who ate the last two cookies. I did it when Sami was at soccer and Oliver was in the shower. And I didn't have to argue or negotiate with anyone. It's good to know how to pick your battles!)

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