One of the joys of raising a child with a developmental disability is a tendency to latch onto and repeat random words or phrases that they hear from TV shows, movies, older siblings or from your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine. And this isn’t your typical favorite phrase, you will hear these words repeatedly for an extended period of time – we are talking months or years. Here’s a history of my son’s favorites, which he uses to express his anger or frustration. And that doesn’t happen often with a child with autism, right?
Our son started off strong with “stupid head.” It was a staple during his preschool years, thanks to his older sister. Teachers, classmates, parents and siblings earned the moniker for offenses that varied from asking him to do something he didn’t want to do, to transitioning him from one activity to another. We worked patiently with teachers and therapists to extinguish (special-needs speak for “stop”) and replace the behavior. After about two and a half years, we finally conquered “stupid head.”
He then transitioned to calling people “furball,” courtesy of a Berenstain Bears episode. At least this one was somewhat benign, but after a couple years living with “furball,” even an f-bomb starts to feel like a better option. Again, patient, repetitive coaching from teachers and therapists over two years helped to break the habit.
Next, our son moved on to “Iniot.” He has one of those adorable kid accents where they trade syllables for each other, in this case “N” for “D.” Yep, that’s right, he was really saying “idiot.” Lovely. At least, his pronunciation created some room for interpretation. “What’s he calling me, an Indian?” asked one puzzled teacher. “Yes,” I said. Fortunately, “iniot” only lasted a year.
Witch, You’re Fired, Etc.
We’ve made some progress recently. Rather than one phrase, my son now has a variety of options that he plucks out of his garden of inappropriate phrases, depending on his mood. One – courtesy of every Disney princess movie – is “witch,” which unfortunately sometimes sounds like he’s swapping “B” for “W” (this time the cute kid accent didn’t work in our favor).
Like a mini-Donald Trump, he also likes to tell therapists and teachers, “You’re fired!” Although what every person who works with him really deserves is a promotion and a raise.
We know we’re not alone. Every year, we attend a family camp for families who have children with developmental disabilities. Two years ago a friend came with her two daughters, one of whom has Down Syndrome. The moms gathered in a cabin at night to chat and commiserate over a contraband bottle of wine. Almost every sentence my friend’s daughter uttered included the phrase, “Prove it!” Two years later I saw my friend and her girls at a special needs family picnic. Not long into the conversation her daughter chimed in, “Prove it!” Her mom and I looked at each other. Her weary expression was a reflection of my own.