Tuesday, December 05, 2006

road sign obsession

Since I mentioned it last time, I figured I'd better talk about the road sign obsession. Somewhere around the middle of Stage 4, Jacob developed an absolute obsession with road signs. Well, actually, truth be told, he'd probably been obsessed with road signs since the first time he noticed there were road signs. But the middle of Stage 4 is when he started talking about them perseveratively (all the time, to the exclussion of all else).

The spring and summer of 2006 was the Road Sign Season. I cringed when we had to go out in the car, as it meant a non-stop play-by-play of every street sign, traffic sign, warning sign, etc etc, that we came to. Might not sound so bad I suppose. The first several hundred times or so, anyway. After that, it just gets downright annoying.

"Look mommy, there's exit 63! Speed limit, 65. Right lane ends, 1000 feet. Merge! Trucks excluded from left lane. Speed limit, 65. Work crew ahead, slow to 55 mph. Stay in lane! Hartford, 35 miles. Next exit, 62!"

I suddenly was empathizing GREATLY with those parents of kids with an Apserger's diagnosis who have been dealing with this sort of perseverative speaking for years! As mildly annoying as Jacob's non-stop scripting had been in the early years, it was at least somewhat entertaining and fairly easy to tune out. This was entirely new and totally aggravating, if not downright unnerving. First of all, he INISISTED on being heard. Ignoring him just didn't work. "Mommy, there's Brick Rd. Did you hear me Mommy? Mommy? MOMMY!! Brick Road! We just went by Brick Rd!!! MOMMY!!!!" Argh.

Worse, he would read signs that had nothing to do with the direction we were heading in. In case you can't envision how unnerving this might be, imagine that you've just turned onto a highway on-ramp at about 45 mph, and suddenly you hear "WRONG WAY!!!" screamed from just behind you.

I complained bitterly to our consultant about it, I guess because I had no one else to complain to and that's what I was paying her for. She offered suggestions, ranging from ignoring it (but there was just NO ignoring it, he made sure of that, and that didn't feel right anyway -- I mean, all this time, I had been working towards him wanting to communicate with me, it just seemed wrong to ignore it now that he was desperately trying to), to trying to let him "borrow" my perspective by picking something else to focus on. The latter suggestion made for some of the most dysfunctional conversation in the history of mankind:

"10 miles to Manchester!"
"Oh, Jacob, look at those pretty blue flowers!"
"Speed Limit 45!"
"Wow, the clouds are really pretty today"
"Exit 43!"
"I wonder what Daddy's doing for lunch today..."
"MOMMY! I SAID EXIT 43!!!!!"

The next helpful suggestion was to just tell him that I didn't want to talk about road signs right now. Here's how that went:

"Road work ahead!"
"Jacob, I'm really not interested in road signs"
"Oh, OK. Sorry."
a 30 second pause
"Speed Limit 45! Exit 26 A and B! 35 mph on Ramp!"

I kept telling myself it was just a stage. I kept reminding myself that parents of Asperger's kids have been dealing with this for years and somehow still managed to stay at least functionally sane. I kept telling myself to delight in the fact that Jacob wanted to share his passion with me. Meanwhile I was grinding my teeth down to nubs and slowly counting backwards to myself to keep myself from screaming "SHUT UP YOU LITTLE FREAK!"

During August I flew out to the RDI Annual Parent's Conference, armed with a load of questions for the consultant that was teaching the "Talks Too Much" session. I kept my mouth shut through the first half hour of the session, listening to her address the concerns of parents who've been dealing with this sort of thing for years with their Asperger's kids, most of which I didn't think was appropriate for us, either because I knew that he would respond badly, or because I'd already tried it (see my above attempts!). Finally, I opened my mouth and explained my situation, and she agreed with me that I don't want to do anything that is going to discourage Jacob from wanting to share his thoughts with me. Her suggestion was to acknowledge what he said, and then gently guide the conversation elsewhere. I liked the idea -- I felt it both honored his attempts at communication, but also didn't lend him to think that I was actually interested in road talk. So here's how it went:

"Mommy, look, exit 63!"
"Oh yeah, there it is. Hey, that exit sign is green. That color green reminds me of Christmas trees."
No response while he ponders that.
Several minutes go by.
"Speed limit, 65!"
"Uh huh. Oh, and that sign's white. That reminds me of snow. The road signs are all reminding me of Christmas today."
More silence while he ponders that.
"Christmas is in December."
"Yes, it is."

Now, I don't think this technique is the reason the road talk has stopped. I think it's because his appraisal abilities are getting stronger and he's able to focus on more than what the road signs say, and that his Stage 6 co-regulation skills have made him realize that people are not really interested in talking about road signs non-stop. He still reads the signs when it's appropriate to do so -- when we're looking for a certain exit, or when something unusual comes up, like road construction -- but it's no longer an obsession. I don't think just talking with him in any certain way caused that -- it's a part of his development and progress with his RDI program. BUT, this method allowed me to regain control of both the conversation AND (much more importantly) my sanity. I no longer shuddered at the prospect of a road trip, I no longer tried to avoid highways whenever possible (because the road signs on back roads are much less repetetive). I can't even tell you when it stopped, because worrying about it no longer consumed my energy.

And now it's gone. Looking back on it, it's pretty funny, actually. Trust me, at the time it most certainly was NOT. But like all of the things we've encountered on Jacob's Journey, it makes a pretty good story now that it's over.


At 2:05 PM, Anonymous diane said...

How wonderful!!!!!!! Thank you so much for sharing your stories.

At 9:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This brings to mind the phase my daughter with AS went through around 4 years old. We did not know of her diagnosis at the time, merely of anxiety. It began with a shout from the backseat, "Watch out! There's a car coming!" Nearly driving off the road, I realized in time for sanity that she was referring to a car coming from the opposite direction, in its own lane and no danger whatsoever. After that, it occurred with regularity. At that point, I insisted upon medication for anxiety for my little one. Yes, many of those stories are funny when you can look back on them (Rebecca is now 13.)

At 9:39 PM, Anonymous Peter said...

It sounds so familiar - unfortunately we are in the middle of it. Our son Jay is 6 in Feb and just starting Stage III.
He particularly loves traffic lights and those with arrows are an added bonus. Sometimes we feel like we should move to the country so that we don't have to drive past another traffic light.
One thing that I wondered did Jacob's obsession touch all facets of his life. With Jay every drawing is of roads and road signs. If he has lego then he builds traffic lights and signs. Once off on this tangent he is off in his own world and really hard to bring back.
I hope some time soon now we can laugh about this too.

At 7:30 AM, Blogger Harvest Mom said...

Peter, I forgot to put that in my post and I meant to. Yes, everything he drew during that time was a traffic sign, or an intersection, or a highway exit (his favorite things to draw, complete with all the ramps in all the right places, how the heck did he know how to do that? It was an aerial view, and we'd only ever driven on and off the ramps. Just amazing, really....). Railroad crossings were a favorite of his, tho he didn't really care all that much about the trains (trains have never been an obsession for him, I know that they are for a lot of kids with ASD), he just loved RR crossing signs. When he played with train sets, it was an opportunity to set up traffic signs. When he played with blocks, he made roads, then the little blocks were traffic signs. So yes, it was pervasive in his play as well as in his speech. But his brother did a MUCH better job of ignoring it than I did.

Best of luck to you -- you'll get there! In the meantime I wish you much patience and sanity. ;-)

At 8:05 AM, Anonymous kyra said...

fluffy doesn't perseverate around traffic signs but he DOES talk endlessly about his made up characters, looooooooooooong stories with details and made up words and made up numbers. it's a monologue. and there is no place to get in until the end. what we do is pretend to fall asleep in a BIG COMIC way with falling off our chairs, etc., which does help him wrap it up. either that or i say, 'i'm getting bored with this story', or 'i liked hearing about this at first but now the story is getting too long for me', or 'i'm ready to talk about something else now' but i wonder if your strategy would work? where could i fit in some comment?

ah well. we're only in stage 3 so, most likely i'll have to ride it out for another couple of stages!

At 8:20 AM, Blogger Harvest Mom said...

Kyra, I'm not sure it will work if Fluffy's talk is truly monolog. When Jacob was scripting, that certainly was monolog, and believe me, we tried breaking in every way imaginable. He would only let us "in" if we followed his script, and what good does THAT do! I think the reason this approach worked with the traffic talk was because it was directed at me, and he was looking for a response. He wouldn't just move on if I didn't respond, he needed me to respond somehow (which was proven by my unsuccessful attmepts to ignore it). So I think that left him open for me to interject a little something different -- too much different and he just ignored me, but something just different enough but still related seemed to sink in. I dunno. I guess stage work is the real key, so it probably doesn't really matter how you handle it, do whatever helps you keep your sanity!


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