What Gets Whispered

Charlie and my dad/Gong Gong at Target on a Sunday Upon reading about how some parents are turning to the techniques of the "Dog Whisperer," Cesar Millan, to raise their children—to a reliance on, as a November 22nd New York Times article puts it, "discipline, order and devotion" rather than a "child knows best, no is not a word in my parental vocabulary" more laissez-faire sort of approach—and first thinking "here we go, apparently the parental need for child-rearing expertise is straining at the seams with parents now turning to dog trainers, excuse me I meant whisperers!"—upon reading about Millan's "trademark 'calm-assertive energy,'" I found myself acknowledging, now wait a moment, isn't that the sort of "techniques" that we draw on in teaching and raising Charlie, even down to the rather New Age-esque mention of something like "emanating peaceful-easy, positive vibes?"


Trust me, I'm not trying to usurp any celebrities or their significant others who've talked about "
autism whispering." Wwhile raising a child like Charlie is in many ways very much like raising a child who's not on the autism spectrum (though I'm not able to be 100%-plus positive in making such a statement, as Charlie is our only child), there is plenty about parenting Charlie that sets us apart from the typical sorts of things one reads about parenting and the "mommy/daddyhood" more generally.


For one thing, when I use a term like "problem behaviors," it's not "child talking back to mom, refusing to do homework, or the like" that I'm referring to, but, let's be frank,
the sorts of things that can result in a child needing to be educated in a behavioral school, take various medications, and so forth. Further, the NYTimes' discussion of parents turning to the Dog Whisperer for rings a bit differently on the ears of a parent whose child has been taught using teaching methods such as Applied Behavior Analysis that some equate with "dog-training."


But the whole notion of projecting "energy" that is calm/
peaceful-easy feeling: That's been an important part of our so to speak "parental toolkit" and especially since last summer, when Jim and I became intensely aware of how our moods and our verbal and non-verbal expression of these are picked up by CharlieI'm certainly not trying to put forth any claims about some AMAZING NEW BREAKTHROUGH AUTISM TEACHING TECHNIQUE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!. But when a child has communication challenges like Charlie, there is a tendency to underestimate how very emotionally attuned he is.


Call it what you will, calm energies, good positive vibes, served us all well on a Sunday on which Charlie displayed a full share of Weekend Anxiety. He woke up at 5.30am and got dressed and wanted to be out the door around 7am. Jim and I convinced him to sit down on the couch and he did doze off for about an hour. After that, he was hard-pressed for the better part of the day not to talk about the "diner" where we sometimes have dinner, as if he was hoping that, if he could just eat dinner, it'd be the end of the day and he could get himself ready for the next day at school.


Having found himself very recently
saying good-bye to one school and starting at a new one, Charlie's possible wanting to make sure he got himself to some school struck us as more than understandable. To his repeated requests for "diner, diner," we answered simply that it was a possibility, and offered him the full array of things in the refrigerator and cabinets. Charlie said no to most of these. He spent a good portion of the day going back and forth between the white car and our front door. He went on two short bike rides with Jim and said "no" to getting anything at Target. (Of course my mom and dad were quite ready to get him whatever he might ask for.)


Sunday was warm and bright, so it was not a bad thing to find oneself with a book or the newspaper to read in the sunlight while keeping a quite eye on Charlie. The day passed and then it was 3pm and we all got into the white car. Jim and I went to see my mother-in-law; she had a cough on top of everything else and it was as well that Charlie did not visit her this time. He did say "hi Grandma, hi Grandma," several times throughout the day and smiled while waiting with my parents. After one of Charlie's long-time favorite meals—Vietnamese summer rolls (Charlie's liking for these always trumps any requests for diner food)—we went home and Charlie went straight to his room, to listen to some music and to go to sleep, after requesting that I place his
old blue bookbag beside his bed.


I did whisper "good night, sweetie" to him as I saw him drifting off to sleep. No technique here, just the good practice you get after saying those words to your own very lovely boy night upon good night.

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Comments
19 Responses to “What Gets Whispered”
  1. emma says:

    Oh my! Dog whispering and autism whispering???
    From the NYT article
    Did we really need a dog trainer to tell us this? Child rearing “technique” has become business, and the trends seem to cause more problems than they solve (did parents really stop saying “no” to their children?). While undoutbably, there are people on this planet with little to no parenting skills, most people seem to find the right balance, no? Good enough parent….
    When raising a child who is different, this is the same but….more so, maybe. We have to be more aware of what we do and how we do it, and what kind of effect this may have on our child, and more aware of how our child percieves things and specific difficulties he/she may have.
    This is an odd thing for me to read today, as yesterday I was reading a post on a Greek forum, suggesting that it is parents lack of “parenting skills” being behind the higher diagnoses of autism, and the cause of more “severe autistic behaviours”. This was written as society as a whole being more selfish and self absorbed, and generation by generation losing the knowledge to raise children. This is a dangerous suggestion as far as I’m concerned.
    Sorry for the long comment (I have brainache from what I read yesterday)
    Reading a book on a warm Sunday afternoon sounds lovely.

  2. beautyobscure says:

    Unfortunately, just like some autism theories. Ceaser relies on bad science to concoct his theories. (Dominance theory has been discredited…) and while the idea of calm energy is a great one, Ceasar actually relies on force to ‘make’ a dog do what he wants. I have sources for both of those statements but I’m going to get off my soap box now 🙂

  3. emma says:

    Ooops, I wrote a comment, published it and then it disappeared!! Maybe just as well, it was quite long.
    Dog whispering? Right, well, it’s a sad turn of events when we have to be reminded to be aware of our body language from a dog trainer, sorry, whisperer. We all need to remind ourselves occasionally to be more “aware” as parents but are all these parenting “techniques” helping or confusing the situation?
    Anyway, reading a book on a sunny Sunday afternoon sounds lovely! (hope my other comment doesn’t mysteriously re-appear!)

  4. emma says:

    Sorry, my comments have gone haywire today (blush)

  5. autismvox says:

    Must be the software! (always good to “blame” anything haywire on that….)
    @beautyobscure, soapboxing on these points is quite fine with me.
    @emma, can’t believe, yet can, that you read that in a parenting forum. shades of “refrigerator motherism/bad parenting-as-a-cause-of autism”?
    My historian husband often reminds me that “parenting” is a word and a concept of relatively recent origin, prior to which, parents just had to be…..parents.

  6. emma says:

    Your still awake? The forum is AutismHellas, which is not a parenting forum as such, it’s run by an autistic adult who offers advice to parents.
    software + lack of sleep (excuses – I’m just not good with technology)
    the first comment is missing a quote too, arghh! Let’s hope this comes out ok.

  7. autismvox says:

    I often find typos in my posts the day after….
    Charlie woke up at 4.51am today. He’s all dressed and ready to go and only has to wait about 2 hours to do so (and we’ll still be early). Too bad he doesn’t have to catch Dimitri’s bus!

  8. farmwifetwo says:

    There was a series in the National Post on parenting – I have the articles somewhere in my favs. Here’s an older on about “bubble wrapped kids” http://www.macleans.ca/homepage/magazine/article.jsp?content=20070226_102271_102271 About “cool” parents that have refused to grow up and parent, they want to be friends. About “helicopter” parents that plan their children’s lives to the minute and they can’t handle that little johnny may not get A’s in school…
    I think it’s very true that most parents have no idea how to parent. I also think society is also to blame since we teach children the day they go into school that all they have to do is show up and they get a highschool diploma. That parents have no rights and they can od as they please. There is no discipline, there is no “earning”. They are given respect, they don’t have to earn it. They can’t lose, b/c that will ruin their self esteem. Instead of being taught they are pushed through…..
    It will swing back the other way before too long… We hope… b/c other non-Western nations aren’t buying into the idea this is a good way to raise a child and we’ll one day b/c the “undeveloped”.

  9. farmwifetwo says:

    There was a series in the National Post on parenting – I have the articles somewhere in my favs. Here’s an older on about “bubble wrapped kids” http://www.macleans.ca/homepage/magazine/article.jsp?content=20070226_102271_102271 About “cool” parents that have refused to grow up and parent, they want to be friends. About “helicopter” parents that plan their children’s lives to the minute and they can’t handle that little johnny may not get A’s in school…
    I think it’s very true that most parents have no idea how to parent. I also think society is also to blame since we teach children the day they go into school that all they have to do is show up and they get a highschool diploma. That parents have no rights and they can od as they please. There is no discipline, there is no “earning”. They are given respect, they don’t have to earn it. They can’t lose, b/c that will ruin their self esteem. Instead of being taught they are pushed through…..
    It will swing back the other way before too long… We hope… b/c other non-Western nations aren’t buying into the idea this is a good way to raise a child and we’ll one day b/c the “undeveloped”.

  10. Louise says:

    We have raised a only-child boy ourselves, and it’s sometimes difficult to separate the causes of whatever issues are at the top of today’s Issues Agenda. (“Does he consistently get into private conversations with his friend during Circle Time, instead of paying attention, because he is 1.) an only child; 2.) undisciplined 3.) raised thinking that his ideas and input are as valuable as anyone else’s? His pre-school teacher didn’t care – she just wanted him to not be disruptive in a circle of 20 3 year olds. (Understandable…)
    With Charlie, you have the entire autism-spectrum of issues as well. But it’s obvious that you both have always attempted to see things from Charlie’s POV, to treat him as a fully-functioning soul with his own distinct set of desires and motivations.
    How well does he deal with being told “No”? He is acutely aware of other people’s moods – is he also acutely aware of their needs and desires? What does he do when those conflict with his own?
    What sort of tool does he have to understand what day is a school day (“gotta get up on time, get ready, be there, can’t be late..”) School and classes are the big ordering events in all of your individual lives, and going to school is Charlie’s job as well as yours.
    Farmwifetwo, I agree with your analysis – but maybe it’s not that many parents don’t know how to parent. It’s b/c parenting is damn hard work and a lot of them simply do not want to add that burden on themselves. A child who is dealing with “no” has a lot of options, depending on his or her age, and a many of them are a lot of work to deal with (a tantrum in a supermarket, for instance). Lots of parents just want the nagging, the tantrum, the disagreeable embarrassing non-cooperation to end, so they give in to the child’s insistence. It’s a terrible lesson to teach a person, but parents do it everyday because their kid is a pest. Does the child ever respond thankfully to such bribery, and say, “Well next time, I will be reasonable”? No, the lesson learned is, “Acting like a spoiled brat gets me what I want.”
    Consequences are a fact of being alive. It’s the duty of the parents to make sure that the offspring understand how consequences affect our lives. Cesar Milan can’t really explain consequences to dogs; he simply enacts them. But children are not dogs and can understand concepts. So “child whispering” is not about establishing dominance in the family “pack.”

  11. Louise says:

    We have raised a only-child boy ourselves, and it’s sometimes difficult to separate the causes of whatever issues are at the top of today’s Issues Agenda. (“Does he consistently get into private conversations with his friend during Circle Time, instead of paying attention, because he is 1.) an only child; 2.) undisciplined 3.) raised thinking that his ideas and input are as valuable as anyone else’s? His pre-school teacher didn’t care – she just wanted him to not be disruptive in a circle of 20 3 year olds. (Understandable…)
    With Charlie, you have the entire autism-spectrum of issues as well. But it’s obvious that you both have always attempted to see things from Charlie’s POV, to treat him as a fully-functioning soul with his own distinct set of desires and motivations.
    How well does he deal with being told “No”? He is acutely aware of other people’s moods – is he also acutely aware of their needs and desires? What does he do when those conflict with his own?
    What sort of tool does he have to understand what day is a school day (“gotta get up on time, get ready, be there, can’t be late..”) School and classes are the big ordering events in all of your individual lives, and going to school is Charlie’s job as well as yours.
    Farmwifetwo, I agree with your analysis – but maybe it’s not that many parents don’t know how to parent. It’s b/c parenting is damn hard work and a lot of them simply do not want to add that burden on themselves. A child who is dealing with “no” has a lot of options, depending on his or her age, and a many of them are a lot of work to deal with (a tantrum in a supermarket, for instance). Lots of parents just want the nagging, the tantrum, the disagreeable embarrassing non-cooperation to end, so they give in to the child’s insistence. It’s a terrible lesson to teach a person, but parents do it everyday because their kid is a pest. Does the child ever respond thankfully to such bribery, and say, “Well next time, I will be reasonable”? No, the lesson learned is, “Acting like a spoiled brat gets me what I want.”
    Consequences are a fact of being alive. It’s the duty of the parents to make sure that the offspring understand how consequences affect our lives. Cesar Milan can’t really explain consequences to dogs; he simply enacts them. But children are not dogs and can understand concepts. So “child whispering” is not about establishing dominance in the family “pack.”

  12. I love your last line. Amen.

  13. Regina says:

    Kristina said,
    “…But the whole notion of projecting “energy” that is calm/peaceful-easy feeling: That’s been an important part of our so to speak “parental toolkit”…”
    I concur! For a child who has been diagnosed with a lack of social awareness, my daughter can sense the electricity in a room faster than anyone else. It’s been a good experience for me to learn to take stock and stay cool. (Not always accomplished, but I try [smile]).
    Here’s to peaceful, easy feelings.
    Warm regards

  14. Regina says:

    [smile]
    And I meant cool as in the cucumber/centered, not cool as in anything goes.
    Just thought I’d throw that note in, since I saw some comments above about other variations of “cool”.
    (Carry on.)

  15. Jill says:

    I’ll bet Charlie notices EVERYTHING that goes on around him but he’s unsure as to why things are the way they are. In terms of his leaving the public middle school, he must have a sense of having done something “wrong” but he’s not sure what it was. That’s so sad. He must be wondering if the new school is going to end, too, and when it does, what will happen next?
    It’s understandable why he’s experiencing anxiety.
    I wonder, how does he interact with your parents. Other than saying, “hi Grandma,” does he engage with them or have favorite activities that he does with them?

  16. autismvox says:

    @Jill,
    He actually calls them by their Cantonese names, Gong Gong and Po Po. Lots of interactions “in his own way” that are of the sort as he has with Jim and me, though every time they visit, they have somewhat to figure out anew what to do
    @Regina,
    working on the cucumber coolness here for sure….

  17. autismvox says:

    @Louise, some of your questions spurred the next post…. Charlie seems to have a strong internal sense of time and certainly for the pattern of 5 weekdays and 2 weekend days. Things get a little, or rather a lot, more interesting when that schedule is altered, as it will be this week. I have to think more your question regarding conflict (maybe that’ll be yet another post….)
    @farmwifetwo, I definitely had no idea how to parent. I had minimal experience taking care of children of any age when Charlie was born and I constantly felt that I was learning each step of the way. And then Charlie started having delays that were more and more noticeable and severe and if I had thought more about it, I would have realized how completely and stumbling in the dark I felt, to find myself the parent of a child with so many, many needs, and such limited communication skills. It has been quite a journey.

  18. Synesthesia says:

    Dang, these parents must have watched that episode of South Park.
    It’s just that children are not dogs. They are people.
    When I have kids I want to be an attachment parent which is not the same thing as being a helicopter parent or a permissive parent.
    I especially like the emphasis on NOT hitting as discipline doesn’t mean hitting people and ruling them with fear and harshness.

  19. autismvox says:

    with you—–

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