Monday, March 07, 2011

Communication…


Longtime readers know that my older brother is autistic.  He recently moved to a new house in the city.  With a new house came new staff and two new roomies.  We’ve had a few hiccups, but Bill has taken them in stride.

Last year, when we finally got the opportunity to move Bill closer, my sister and I decided to learn sign language.  Bill has limited speech and does not speak in sentences. After years of speech therapy and being surrounded by verbal people, Bill has expressed his preference for sign language.  We noticed that he gets frustrated when folks don’t understand his speech…but it took us a long time to come to the decision to learn sign language. 

As children, we were discouraged from signing with Bill because the focus was on improving his verbal speech.  But Bill is 40 years old now…and he clearly prefers sign language. So, we came to the decision to err on the side of communication and see where that takes us.

My sister C- Money has been taking sign language instruction from a tutor and we practice at home.  We’ve focused on the words we know Bill uses and are building from there.

Fastforward to a couple of weeks ago.

I got a call at work.

Bill’s new house manager was on the line.  Staff had reported that they had accidentally given Bill his morning meds…twice. Since his meds include two pills for high blood pressure, this was not a little fuck up.  I called C-Money to fill her in…she called the house manager back…and we all ended up at the Missouri Baptist emergency room.

FYI – Missouri Baptist has got to have the quickest ER in town!  We were seen within 20 minutes and the entire experience took under three hours.  The ER staff talked to Bill directly (a huge plus, since far too many medical folks tend to talk around the patient when the patient is autistic).

Anyhoo, the ER doctor said Bill would be fine but wanted to run a blood test.  Bill’s blood pressure was low, but still within the range of normal.  Double dosing blood pressure meds can be dangerous as hell…so we subjected Bill to a blood test just to be careful and then waited to see the results.

As we waited…and waited…and waited (the MOBAP ER was fast, but it still took some time)…Bill started signing that he wanted to get the hell out of Dodge and go for a ride in the van.

C-Money started signing back and the most remarkable moment of normal unfolded in the ER room.

I watched as my sister and brother started fussing with each other over whether or not we were going for a van ride now or later.

Bill’s face was animated.  He jumped up and leaned toward C-Money, hands flying as he signed his opinion that the van ride should commence immediately.  C-Money, trying not to laugh as she egged him on, kept repeating that the van ride was going to have to wait because Bill let staff double dose him.  He didn’t appreciate her sense of humor and the fuss-based debate went on for a while.

The doctor came in.  Bill’s blood work was fine and we were free to go.  He shook the doctor’s hand, turned to C-Money and signed van with a smirk on his face, and then made for the door.

Later that evening, as I processed the day, I realized that was the first time I’d ever seen my siblings really argue.  Oh, we’ve disagreed amongst ourselves before.  Bill has expressed annoyance and frustration with us plenty of times.

But that was the first time I can recall ever seeing them communicate like that…really communicate, person to person, with both participants understanding each other and thinking the other was wrong as hell.

There are a lot of reasons why my parents focused on verbal communication when we were growing up.  This is a speaking world and they wanted my brother to be able to ask for help, tell people when he was in pain, and express his wants and needs in a manner that speaking people can understand.

His speech, though limited, achieves that goal.  He speaks softly…in single words.  It gets the job done.

But communication is different than single word declarations that get the job done.  At least it is in our situation. 

When I sign to my brother I often mess up…when I get it right he turns to me and signs “Good job!’

I’m looking forward to more opportunities to chat with my brother, rather than at him…to get to know him better and enhance our relationship.

Pause…consider…continue.

And we may have to add some signs for “I’ve already taken my blood pressure meds this morning!” to the mix.

Blink.

25 comments:

Berdawn said...

Your post made my day: full of optimism of what can happen when we create the space. thank you for a wonderful start to my week!

Dreamer said...

This is so awesome. So beautiful. Reminds me that it's never too late in families...for that miracle of communication to happen.

Ken said...

Huzzah for learning ASL! It's a fun and beautiful language. I'm curious, did the hospital have an ASL interpreter with your brother, or was your sister interpreting?

Jeffrey Ricker said...

So, your brother is strong willed, opinionated and stubborn? I don't know who that reminds me of.... (wink)

Shark-fu said...

Great question, Ken!

Being new to the sign language team, we didn't even think to ask. C-Money and staff interpreted...and Bill's pretty good with non-signing folks.

I'll contact MOBAP & see if they have someone on staff!

Shark-fu said...

Jeffrey...
LOL - that shit runs in the family!

JoyMama said...

OK, tears come to my eyes easily lately (what with all we're dealing with here in Wisconsin) but this post about did me in. What wonderful communication! Makes me hopeful that someday I'll see my daughters actually argue for real...

roslynholcomb said...

That is so awesome and of course, made me teary-eyed. Such an incredible breakthrough.

I.M. said...

I almost shouted out in joy to hear that you are learning ASL to communicate with your brother. I recently picked up ASL in the last year after meeting my wonderful partner and it has been a blessed experience. It is such a beautiful language and I encourage to dive into it without fear. (I will e-mail you some resources that have helped me in the last year.) *Grinning from ear to ear.*

Laura said...

I admit I scrolled down to the end of the post to make sure that Brother Bill was okay! So glad everything turned out fine. And how wonderful that you are able to use sign to communicate more precisely with Bill! You and C-Money are the BEST sisters!

Laughingrat said...

This was really beautiful. I'm so glad your family has a new way to really communicate with each other.

Cinoda said...

Thought I'd be the only one with tears in my eyes after reading this. What a wonderful "defining" moment to build on.

Anonymous said...

Bill knows the sign for "medicine." And I know how to sign: "I took my blood pressure medicine this morning. I don't need more." I'll show you tonight. Great post, Fu. I need to learn how to say "already" ...

C-Money

Shark-fu said...

Good job, sis!

badkitty_dc said...

Thank you so much for my first real smile of this year!

KBO said...

I really love your posts about Bill, and I love all the good news for him lately. Keep it coming.

DesertRose said...

Yay for good communication! My daughter's best friend is learning to be an ASL interpreter, and my daughter wants to be a nurse and learn ASL so she can communicate easily with signing patients. This was an awesome and heart-warming entry. Thanks for all you do, Shark-Fu.

Anonymous said...

what can i say that hasn't already been said? this was so amazingly beautiful, so heartfelt, so lovingly written and soooooooo sibling-fied! made me miss the heck out of my own brother all over again [never had to learn asl to communicate with him but god knows it took much more than that before we could finally chat with each other and not at each other...it changed our lives, as you well know]...y'all ARE the best sisters and bill? have him teach you the sign for "a bitch ain't ready for more meds!!"

angryblackwriter

Leesa Watego said...

What an amazing story. Bought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

tinfoil hattie said...

Thank you! This is a very moving story.

Shannon Des Roches Rosa said...

Love it. Thanks, yet again, for sharing Bill with us.

Helping Leo's sisters understand that it is actually typical for siblings to bicker and that the autism is not always a factor -- that's been interesting.

Molly said...

Love this post. And you may have earned yourself a new stalker. Just sayin'.

Muslimas Oasis said...

What an absolutely enlightening and empowering post. Thanks for sharing this.

chameleoninthespectrum said...

How did I miss that one of my favorite bloggers (and hometown girl!) had a brother with Autism?!?! I guess I have not lurked here long enough or frequently enough! :-S Anyway, I think it is absolutely wonderful that you are taking the time to learn ASL for your brother! You will be rewarded with a whole new aspect of your relationship with him! Thanks for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

Not sure exactly how I stumbled across your blog, but this morning was my first visit!! And lucky for me, the first entry I read was about your brother Bill, yourself and the equally amazing C-Money. Brought tears to my eyes and put a smile on my face. Thank you for sharing. I'll definitely be back to read more of what you have to say.