Sunday, August 12, 2012

Interviewing Alex

Last week, we met with Alex’s behavioral therapist for the first time. As I mentioned in my last blog entry, the state disability funding will pay for a behavioral therapist to work with Alex on not only improving his impulse control but also improving his self-help and life skills. In our first meeting, Alex’s therapist, Melissa, interacted well with him as she asked him a variety of questions while trying to learn more about him. In fact, she must have made a favorable impression upon him because the next morning, Alex asked me, “When is Melissa coming back?” That he looked forward to seeing her again and remembered her name struck me as a positive sign.

To get to know Alex better, Melissa launched into questions that we have answered many times with various people from different agencies during this summer odyssey to obtain disability services for Alex. In my blog entry, “Coming Home,” I described how this interviewing process reminded me of setting up a dating profile for Alex. Now that we have answered questions about Alex’s interests and personality repeatedly, I almost wish I had set up an online dating account so those who want to know more about him could simply pull up his profile.

Because Alex’s verbal skills are weak, Ed and I often find ourselves answering questions for him. He is generally good at answering “Yes/No” types of questions, but if he has to elaborate, he relies upon us to give the essay types of answers. Although we will usually give him a chance to try and respond to questions, we will jump in to help him when he doesn’t seem to have the words to express what he wants to say. After living with him for more than twenty years, we know what kinds of things he likes to do, and we are happy to answer for him. However, I often wonder what other people think when we speak for Alex, especially when they take copious notes during these interview sessions.

To begin getting to know Alex, Melissa asked the typical interview question about what Alex likes to do. Sitting next to Alex, I tapped him on the knee to get his attention and prompt him to respond. When he didn’t say anything, Ed said Alex’s name so that he would know it was his turn to talk and then rephrased the question. Since Alex didn’t respond to either of those cues, I asked him what kinds of television shows he liked to watch. Finally, we had his interest, and he said that he likes game shows. Melissa followed up this question by asking him what his favorites games shows are, and he responded with "The Price Is Right and Wheel of Fortune." Of course, his articulation issues and tendency to talk softly makes him somewhat difficult to understand, so I did what I often do when Alex speaks—I repeated his answer for her to hear.

Throughout the questioning process, we followed our usual procedure of trying to get Alex to focus, helping him understand the questions by rephrasing them, prompting him to answer, followed by repeating his answers or simply answering for him. As Melissa continued asking questions to find out more about Alex, I began wondering what kinds of things she was jotting in her notebook. Paranoia isn’t one of my finer traits, and I often wonder if other people judge Ed and me for the way we have parented Alex from our decision to home school him to our decision to hospitalize him and have him medicated for his extreme anxiety. While we have always striven to do what we felt was best for Alex and believed that our prayerfully considered decisions were guided by God, we know that not everyone would have made the same choices we have.  In my curiosity about Melissa’s impressions, I imagined the things she might have written in her notes.

Parents talk so much the poor kid never gets a word in edgewise.

Parents claim to understand what he’s muttering; wonder if they’re just making up answers for him.

He reminds me of the “low talker” on an old episode of Seinfeld [Watch an excerpt from this episode by clicking here.]—worried that somebody may be agreeing to wear a puffy pirate shirt if we’re not careful.

This would be a pretty good ventriloquist act if the parents’ lips didn’t move so much.

While I doubt any of these ideas were running through Melissa’s head, we always wonder what kind of first impression Alex makes upon people. We hope that given a little time to feel comfortable with her, Alex will charm her with his sweet nature and clever sense of humor. In the meantime, Ed and I will happily continue one of our most important roles as Alex’s parents—his interpreters who help him make sense of language and help others understand that he does have something important to say.

“I love the Lord because He hears my voice and my prayer for mercy.” Psalm 116:1


K. C. said...

I'm sure her notes were complimentary. If not, I'll go after her. ;)

Pam Byrne said...

Glad to know you have my back, my friend! As it turned out, she was positive; my paranoia had just gotten the better of me, it seems. ;)