Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Parent-Speak Code and Behavioral Communication

There is a code.  You know the one that I am talking about.  The way we S-P-E-L-L out everything so that our little darlings to not understand what we are saying.  The Parent-Speak Code.

I mistakenly thought that we would not have to utilize this code for a long while.  After all, Ellie is predominantly nonverbal.  She cannot repeat my bad words.  She doesn't always follow commands or even look up half the time when I call her name.  Clearly, she doesn't know what I am saying.  Uh huh.  I give you permission to whack me upside the head.

Lack of speech does not indicate level of understanding or intelligence.

It has taken me a while, but I have come to the inevitable conclusion that our kids, with Down syndrome or not, truly know more than what they are letting on.   Think of the kid who over hears their mama saying "sh*t" on the phone and later proudly yells "oh sh*t!" in a room full a people.   Our children do hear what we say and they are safely filing those words away for a day when they are able to repeat them, typically in a very public setting at the most embarrassing moment possible.

Clearly, I am guilty of this. I go along blissfully unaware of all of things I say around my daughter.  There words and phrases that definitely should not be uttered in general let alone around a child.

I also make excuses for Ellie not following my commands.  "Oh Ellie doesn't understand what I am asking." when in reality she is being a stubborn Princess ignoring my requests because she has better things to do like destroying the bedroom.  Are there some things I ask of her that she does not understand, maybe, but for the most part, I believe she knows full-well what is expected of her.  She is choosing to ignore me in a typical toddler manner.

Recently, I have watched Ellie's behaviors as both a means of communication as well as a gauge to see just what she understands.  I was amazed.

On Monday, I took Ellie to Quiznos and I had her order her meal.  Nothing like a bit of food motivation to get The Bear communicating!  I prompted her with signing sandwich and water.  She said "Sssss" and signed sandwich and then signed water.  Then, she went on to say "Eeee" and sign cookie.  Wait a minute?!  I didn't say anything about a cookie!  Who said she should order a cookie?! Ellie Bear apparently understands the restaurant ordering process and snuck that cookie in there.  I am all about positive reinforcement (and chocolate) so we ended up with a cookie, which I ate half of.

Sometimes she gets a little confused.  If I mention something in passing to Andrew such as going to Chick-Fil-A later in the afternoon to play, Ellie seems to think it means NOW.  The Bear is all about instant gratification.  She gets her shoes and yells "oh yeah oh yeah oh yeah".  A whole fit is pitched if I am not proceeding directly to the car with diaper bag in tow.  First off, she understands what Chick-Fil-A is?  Two, she was totally eavesdropping on Andrew's and my conversation.  Clearly, she understands.

The Frustrated-I-Cannot-Communicate-My-Needs-To-My-Clueless-Mommy Face is very common in our house.

This brings me back to The Parent-Speak Code.  We need to implement one. Immediately.  I am a lazy girl who has trouble correctly spelling words out loud so here is what Andrew and I created.  I imagine that in a few weeks, Ellie will have deciphered our highly complex code.

The Q = Quiznos
The Chicken =  Chick-Fil-A
King =  Burger King
Arches =  McDonalds
Notice that all of these places, but The Q have playscapes.

Observing these behavioral snippets remind me that Ellie does indeed understand what we are saying.  I need to change my behaviors and expectations.  I need to clean up my language and I am going to speak to her as though she understands every single word.  If I ask her to do a new task, I will help lead her hand-over-hand.  Ellie may have Down syndrome, she may have an intellectual disability, and she may be mostly nonverbal, but she knows far more than I was giving her credit for.

How have your kids shown you that they understand their surroundings?  What sort of "parenting language code" do you use?


  1. Oh my goodness...I don't think she can get any cuter! We have noticed, too, Hailey understands so much more than we realize!

  2. Kiddos are such stinkers ~ they REALLY do know more than they let on! Madi has been showing us this lately, but she just chooses to ignore us!

  3. I love this post!! We don't have to speak in code yet, but I remember my friend's child trying to speak in code one day. He was four and asked his mom for a QXRZT & told her he thought that spelled cookie!!

  4. We have to spell now too - pool/swim/water, eat/pretty much anything involving food, etc. Car/shoes means Road Trip! Diaper/bath/bed/PJs means "let's run and make mommy catch me!"

    And yet the idea of "later" has, um, not been fully embraced.

    [Love that dress!]

  5. We've had to resort to the spelling already. Claire pays too much attention to everything around her. I'll say something to Darren, and all of a sudden she'll show up beside me with whatever I was talking about.


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