When scrolling through my twitter feed yesterday evening I came across a tweet by the lovely Mike from Talk About Autism, he was sharing the BBC Radio 3 program, "How Was your Day Joe?" that was available to listen to again via the BBC website.
You can listen here
The program information read as follows:
'Joe is home from school.
"How was your day Joe?" asks his mum Emma (the producer of the programme).But Joe, and many like him on the autistic spectrum, can't always find the words to summarise their day, or even make sense of the question. Yet later on, they may come round to offering an answer. So what is happening as they struggle to process what is being asked of them?'The Producer of the program, Emma Kingsley, examines why this may happen and asks for thoughts and opinions from both professionals and those individuals who are on the autistic spectrum.'
I have to say I felt emotional while listening. I often ask Tom the question, "what did you do at school Tom?" as I ask both of my boys, I like to know what they have been up to and if they have had a happy day. However I always get the reaction "mmm mmm" or "no mum, no school" I always thought that this was solely because Tom does not want to talk about his day, which it is, but this program highlighted the many other possible reasons for this reply which had escaped me and that now become very obvious.
Firstly there is the school/home divide. For Tom, what he does at school stays at school. So that means reading his book is done at school and not at home. It also makes perfect sense that when he gets home from school he does not want to talk about it, it's been and done, and just like Joe featured in the program, he too can become angry when asked about his day.
The program also discussed the issue of individuals who have autism having difficulty in processing information and that they need space and time in which to process all of the visual and verbal information and stimuli that surrounds them. This was described excellently I thought in the summary and description of traveling home on the minibus, and then walking down the path to home.
When I think about Tom he has an awful lot of information to process before he even arrives through the front door: He sits in the taxi and processes all of the images and sounds while traveling. Perhaps the taxi will go a slightly different way. Perhaps it will be raining, sunny or there may be roadworks. All of these are subtle changes that Tom will need to process. He also has a different car/driver each day so perhaps the seats are a different material, a different colour, and the sears may be higher up, and there may be different smells. All of these changes and this information will need to be processed. Therefore when he gets in the house and I ask him how his day was, he just can't respond, he needs time to transition from school to home and I now understand this.
As soon as he gets in the house, even before he takes his shoes off he is asking for his pyjamas to be put on. School has finished and he needs to be in the 'home zone' where he can relax.
The program also explained that the question, 'how was your day?' Is simply far too big a question. What part of the day are we referring too? There is just too much information to process and I now know that I need to be more specific when I ask Tom about his day. I could ask him, 'did you play in the walled garden?' Or 'did you go to the library?' Most importantly though I need to wait until he is ready and wants to talk to me about his day and I know that some days he will not want to.
What really fascinates me and which I now understand more fully, is when Tom is lying in bed at night. Once I have kissed him goodnight and closed the bedroom door I can often hear him talking to himself and reciting, almost as a monologue his entire day. It's almost as if he has had time to process all of the events that have happened and that he can now get them out of his system. What astounds me is the vivid attention to detail, he remembers everything.
So what did this program and ultimately listening to this mother teach me? Well I need to be more patient and more importantly I need to enter Tom's world. I need to understand and respect his need for quiet contemplation and reflection and wait until he is ready to talk to me. Some days it will happen, some days it will not, but you know what, that's ok.