“Learning to Speak to a Dinosaur”
When Cameron was younger, he was totally into dinosaurs. Kids on the spectrum obsess about limited topics, which they then get really good at!! He watched everything dinosaur, read dinosaur books and yes even ate his dinner like a dinosaur (what could I say to that! It was hilarious to watch!!) He would study their movements, analyze their colors and features and became quite the expert on the topic. Quite often he corrected, with unyielding confidence, the experts in the field that he felt were a little but off.
When he played, he would enter a world of his own and BECOME a dinosaur. I know that kids like to be creative and act out and play but this was more than that. He would growl at passersby, run on all fours, tweak his body to mimic the motions…He was a dinosaur. He would even practice this play to make sure that each movement and sound was just right. One day his dinosaur self was chasing his brother and sister and having a grand old time totally in his element. They, however, were totally done with his game and the screaming and yelling commenced. I ran in the room and began firmly talking to dinosaur Cameron explaining that they did not want to play with T-rex today and asked why he was upset with them. (He would often act out his anger and frustration while in dinosaur mode) He looked at me completely stunned and said, “Mom, isn’t it obvious that I am not a T-rex. Look at my hands….I have three fingers up. T-rex only have two fingers. If I have two fingers then you know I’m mad, but if I have three, then I’m playing” I just had to laugh at this. As if anyone, especially his mom, would know to check how many fingers the “dinosaur” had to know what his behavior really was.
There was a valuable lesson to be found in this experience. What I learned was that dinosaurs were such a big part of his communication. He was talking to us through a mode that he well understood. I entered this world with him and tried to glean what I could. We used that knowledge to create behavior charts and job charts, improve emotional awareness, provide incentives, and more. This was our way into his mind. A way that we could communicate with him and he with us.
Below is a copy of the behavior chart we used while he was in school. Cameron picked the pictures and wanted to show the emerging T-rex. As we worked with him on emotional awareness, he would point to which picture described how he felt and how close he was to a melt down. Then we had a separate notebook that had some to do’s. It was a list of tools that he could turn to to help him diffuse his building anger. He was to work hard to avoid reaching “Dinosaur Rock” which meant… We are in trouble now!! We knew that once he reached that level, prevention was no longer possible and we instead turned to more intense techniques of trying to calm down. I share this because it was a valuable tool for us based on “The Incredible 5pt scale” by: Kari Dunn Buron and Mitzi Curtis. I highly recommend this book as a tool if behavior outbursts &/or emotional awareness are a concern for you and your child. It offers great insight on the process as well as valuable techniques of implementation.
What methods or tools have you found to be useful in communicating with your loved one?