Abbey and Evan

Welcome to the March 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting With Special Needs
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how we parent despite and because of challenges thrown our way. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.



“Evan don’t do that! Stop it! No-  Stop it Evan!”
“Abbey, honey, Evan can’t hear you.”
So then she screamed: “STOP IT EVAN! DO YOU HEAR ME NOW!?”

I have got to find a better way to explain to my preschool aged daughter that her 6 year old neighbor, who is both deaf and autistic, really truly cannot hear her at all. Because the screaming is not going to cut it.
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Evan’s mom, a good friend of mine (and my backyard neighbor) had a great laugh about the “Evan can’t hear you” episode, but I do find myself a little concerned about my inability to explain to Abbey that Evan can’t hear at all. It’s Abbey’s reality that everyone hears. . . and I think it’s going to take a while (and a better explanation on my part) to get her to accept that she won’t be able to communicate with him in her usual and favorite way – with her voice.
Sweet Evan is also autistic, which presents an even bigger challenge for Abbey to overcome when having dinner or a get-together at Evans house – which happens often since Marie, Evan’s mom, and I are good friends, backyard neighbors, and Co-Ombudsmen for the Coast Guard Cutter to which both of our husbands (also friends) are attached.

Living And Learning
I should probably do more learning on my part about how to approach and interact with autistic children, since I see Evan on such a regular basis, but Marie has been so helpful in demonstrating and modeling the appropriate ways to communicate and interact with him, that I haven’t felt the need. You can visit her Autism Awareness Facebook page at Evan Almighty – Autism Awareness for more information on their particular story and journey.
Marie has a lot on her plate parenting Evan and her sweet 11 year old daughter who is quickly blossoming into a beautiful young lady (and making Marie and me giggle with all of her preteen giddy-ness and goofy-ness)! When our husbands are underway, we spend even more time together than when they are in homeport – mainly because we want the adult company, but also because the kids play well together.  
The fact that Evan doesn’t have hearing doesn’t really affect our interactions much – it just changes them. The way that I interact with him is mostly by gesture, and with Abbey, it ends up being mostly touch-based and rather physical. 
Play and Interaction
Evan loves Abbey and thinks Joseph is just the cutest, and for the most part, all of the children interact quite normally. Evan actually appreciates Abbey’s physicality and love for loud and physical play like jumping, dancing, goofing around and pretending. A few weeks ago, Evan, Abbey, and two other playmates ran around Marie’s house, playing some sort of pretend play game for an hour straight, happy, joyful, and completely entertained. Never once did they ask for adult intervention, and never did anyone get upset or over stimulated. 
For Evan, playing with Abbey is a blast – and when he needs space, he retreats and stops playing with her. Abbey, on the other hand, has some trouble playing with Evan at times because she can’t use her words to speak to him, and because he will sometimes be a bit rough with his interaction, not intentionally, but just out of raw energy and enthusiasm. I try to explain to Abbey that the way he plays isn’t far off from the way she plays. . . what with the overexcited energy and great eagerness. . . but she doesn’t see my point.

“Evan is mean sometimes” she says. “Sometimes, I’m done playing with him!” 

For now, I have been reminding Abbey of her ability to step back and calmly leave a situation that makes her uncomfortable. If Evan is upsetting you, take a deep breath, and walk away. 

Abbey sees a lot of power in words, though, and I can tell that it’s hard for her that he not only can’t hear her, but may not understand or notice what she is trying to say anyway.
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Any suggestions on how to explain deafness to a preschooler?

Does anyone share my experience being close to an autistic child?

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Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Do you have earmuffs? Have her wear them for a few minutes so she can hear for herself what hearing loss is like. The kind that are actually made to block sound will work better than the kind that just warm ears.

  2. Did you sign with Abbey? We taught Kieran that some people talk with their hands – we showed him videos, he’s seen deaf people IRL. Maybe exposing Abbey to deaf children/adults who sign might help her understand?

    • I signed with Abbey some. I think she might be a bit confused if I told her that some people “talk” with their hands because Evan doesn’t sign. But to expose her to the idea in general is a good idea. I’ll try this along with the earmuffs and see how she retains it :)

  3. I worked with Deaf children as an interpreter in the public school system. Now I volunteer in the Deaf community. When working in a mainstream elementary school setting I’ve found the Moses books by Isaac Millman to be very helpful. There is one called “Moses goes to School”, “Moses Goes to a Play” and one called “Moses Goes to a concert”. Though your situation is bit different, they may be helpful in addressing deaf awareness.

  4. I don’t have any advice, but I loved reading about Abbey and Evan’s interaction. They already sound like great friends and I’m sure as they grow older they will continue to find new, fun ways to interact :)

  5. That is really interesting. My experience with getting little kids to understand anything (like the deafness) is just to repeat it over, and over, and over. I keep thinking Mikko’s not taking something in … and then suddenly one day the lightbulb comes on and he repeats it back to me. Thanks for sharing how well kids can play together, even when their needs are different!

  6. I don’t have any advice, but I just loved hearing the story of Abbey and Evan. The way children can simply play, not understanding the differences, is so helpful for when they grow and learn all about them.

    • I LOVE their relationship – Evan gets so excited when Abbey plays with him, and Abbey loves his energy and enthusiasm (you know, until it challenges her own!)

  7. Hmmm…this post really has me thinking quite a bit. I do some speaking and this is something I often talk about, how to teach your children about other kids and adults with disabilities. The thing is, often times, kids get it a lot better than adults do. They can see past disability and look at the person. And yes, kids with disabilities can be annoying and mean, just like any other kids, and pointing out the similarities is a powerful thing to do.

    I have a question, have you asked your friend how to explain her son’s diagnosis to your daughter? Has your friend explained it to her?

    Does Evan sign? Because learning basic signs would be a lot of fun and it would open up some communication.

    And I think it is wonderful that your daughter shares those feelings with you. That way you can reassure her of what she is feeling, and then help her understand her friend better.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

    if you get a chance, stop by my blog :)

    • Marie and I have both explained to Abbey that Evan cannot hear. She knows what the word “deaf” means. . . well, I mean, we have told her, and she uses it. I.e. “Evan is deaf” I just don’t think she remembers all the time what exactly it means.

      I’m going to be explaining it to her experientially . . . covering her ears and having her experience something to similar to what Evan experiences.

      Then maybe she’ll understand better! I’ll definitely stop by and check out your blog, Ellen.

  8. Very interesting post! I am sure you will figure this out as the fact that you are willing to research it and learn how to help your daughter understand her playmate speaks volumes. Such great learning for your daughter!

  9. Good for you for being interested enough in trying to help your daughter understand her playmate. I know a lot of parents that would be really uncomfortable about it. I thought this was a very interesting post.

  10. Evan and Abbey are building something really remarkable! I love that both children are enriched by having each other in their lives, and you sound like you are doing an awesome job of facilitating understanding of Evan for Abbey. Just keep plugging away, she will get it more as she grows, in my opinion! =) This seems to be what works for helping other kids understand my ADD son (less extreme than Evan’s situation, but similar in that his behaviour needs explanation sometimes).
    What a beautiful relationship! Great post. =)

  11. What a great learning experience for Abbey, I will be interested to hear how she overcomes her struggle to be vocal with Evan. I don’t have any advice myself. In fact I feel rather sheltered in that I do not have any dealings with deaf or autistic children / people at all. My grandfather was slightly deaf from a young age, although he wore a hearing aid and could hear well enough as long as we enunciated our words, which was a good thing for us kids in the family to learn to do. It sounds like you guys have a good time of it though, lovely story, thanks for sharing.

  12. I was going to suggest that you try speaking to her from another room, but the earmuffs idea is a much better one.

    Also, don’t know if it’ll be of any help in the future, but I recently found the most amazing series of posts about explaining autism to children (they’re from a mother blogging about her experience of talking to her son’s classmates, who were eager to find out more). There’s an introduction at http://momnos.blogspot.co.uk/2010/02/opportunity-possibility-and-community.html as to how this got set up, and then the series of posts starts at http://momnos.blogspot.co.uk/2010/03/circle-of-friends.html, with each one linking on to the next. Some or all of those ideas about how to explain things might come in handy.

    (PS – Sorry I took so long to comment! It’s been a bit of a busy couple of weeks!)

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