Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Communicating Choices

Over the weekend, the three of us were going out to a restaurant for dinner. Since Ed and I had no real preference about where we would eat, we turned to Alex and asked him to choose the place. This incident has significance on various levels. A) Until recently, Alex’s behavior has been such that we wouldn’t consider taking him to a restaurant unless we were picking up take-out food and bringing it home. That he can dine in restaurants and act appropriately is a testimony to the improvements he’s made in the past several months. B) The advantage to having an only child is the use of said child to make decisions when the parents cannot or choose not to do so. He doesn’t have to compete with siblings who may not like his decision; therefore, he gets the final say when we allow him to make a choice. C) Another indication of progress in the past few months lies in Alex’s ability to make choices and to communicate them clearly. D) All of the above are true. The answer, of course, is D.

Not long ago, Alex was driving us crazy with his inability to make decisions. I’m not certain whether this was an issue with maturity or language, but he had great difficulty choosing between alternatives. For example, if I gave him two choices of what he could have for lunch, he would ask me, “What would be better?” When I assured him that both were equal, he would become agitated and repeat the question as though I had ignored him the first time: “WHAT WOULD BE BETTER?!” Rather than having him upset, I would simply suggest one of the choices, and that would satisfy him. I realized it was better not to present him with any alternatives and just put food on the table, so as to avoid any confrontations about what was preferable. This extended to his clothing, too. If I asked him whether he would rather wear a red shirt or a blue shirt, he would immediately ask, “Which is better?” Even though red is his favorite color, he still seemed unable to select a shirt. Again, I decided that having to make decisions was causing him unnecessary stress, so I would just pick out his clothes for him. Coming up with something to do in his free time was more difficult for him because he had to choose between many alternatives, not just two. Alex would come running to Ed or me and ask, “What do now?” This was a loaded question since giving him ideas about what he could do presented him with another challenge—choosing one of them. We learned quickly to suggest only two activities and then had him make the decision by flipping a coin, which he thought was fun. This idea worked well until he decided he didn’t really like either of the choices we offered him. Then I came up with a list of five of his favorite activities: reading, computer, television, handheld electronic game, or video game. After assigning a number to each of these, we would have him roll a die to see what number activity he should do. If he rolled a six, he had to roll again. Since Alex has a fascination with games of chance, such as dice games and slot machines, he liked this method of selecting what to do in his spare time. He was satisfied that probability determined his choices instead of having to do it himself. Interestingly, once the category was narrowed for him, he was able to choose within it by picking a television show to watch or a book to read or a game to play.

As with many situations, once we found a solution, the problem disappeared. Fortunately, Alex overcame his difficulty in making decisions. Now he never asks us, “What do now?” because he easily finds things to entertain himself in his spare time and doesn’t need a coin to flip or dice to throw to determine what he should do. Not only has he improved his decision-making skills, but he can convey what he wants more effectively, as well. A couple of weeks ago, we were having dinner at Panera Bread, and Alex seemed to be done with his meal. When Ed picked up our plates to put them away, Alex immediately grabbed his plate to let us know that he was not finished eating. I suspect that he wasn’t as interested in eating what was left on his plate as he was in letting us know that he really wanted to stay. Nonetheless, he kept his plate longer through his decisive action. Another indication of his improved ability to communicate his choices lies in his ability to respond to yes/no questions. Recently, my mom asked Alex near the end of their daily phone conversation if he had anything he wanted to tell her, and he responded with a definite, “No!” Similarly, in a conversation with Ed a few days ago, after asking Alex several questions, Ed gave Alex the opportunity to ask him a question. When Ed asked Alex if he had any questions for him, Alex replied with a resounding, “NO!” On the other hand, when presented with choices he does like, he eagerly responds with a strong, “YES!” No longer needing coins to flip, dice to roll, or suggestions from us, Alex can now make decisions without anxiety and can clearly convey them, thus displaying maturation through his increased independence.

“Who are those who fear the Lord? He will show them the path they should choose.” Psalm 25:12


K. C. said...

I really love the idea of assigning numbers to activities and rolling a die. Brilliant!! Seriously, Pam, when are you and Ed going to write a book?

Pam Byrne said...

Hi K.C.,
You've probably already discovered with your own kids that "Necessity is the Mother of Invention." Or is that Mother invents out of necessity? Thanks for your faithful reading and helpful encouragement. I'm thinking that these blogs might be a first draft; maybe combining and editing them will be my project next summer. :)