When It Clicks and Abstract Ideas Become Concrete

Most children on the spectrum, learn best by really repetitive teaching like ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis).  Brian responds well to this and has learned many things over the years, that some professionals tried to say he’d never learn.

However, sometimes children on the spectrum have a really hard time generalizing what they are learning.  What they learn is almost a robotic response and then to take that new information and apply it in the real world is a real challenge.

A couple years ago, I asked the school to really push Brian to learn personal and safety information- like his phone number, his parent’s names, and his address.  Knowing this information is critical for individuals on the spectrum who are more apt to elope and wander off and put themselves in danger.

And they did their job and it worked.  I can ask Brian, “What’s your Mom’s name?” and he’ll respond, “My mom’s name is Heather”.  But….if I ask him, “Who is your Mom?”, he won’t respond.  This is a prime example of a “robotic” response and not really understanding what he is being asked.

This past weekend, Brian and I went to an AAC (Augmentative-Alternative Communication) camp.  A camp for children who use electronic devices to communicate.  Upon arrival, we were given name tags and Brian was so fascinated with mine.  He kept staring at it and then looking at my face and then staring at my tag again.  At one point, he pointed to my name tag with a look of question on his face.


I responded, “It says Heather.  That’s my other name.”

He looked at me and said, “Heather?”

I repeated it and we went back and forth a few times.

There was a very clear moment of understanding.  If it was a cartoon, there would’ve been a light bulb flashing brightly over his head.  He slowly said, “My Mom’s name is Heather”, and it was clear he was putting it all together and it finally made sense.

Two days later, my Mom dropped him off at my office like she does a couple times a week.  I heard him in the waiting room, “Heather?  Heather?  Heather?”.

To which I responded, “Mom! Mom! Mom!”, to only confuse him more.

The idea of a person having more than one label is sort-of abstract and though I want him to know my name for safety reasons, I’m not done being called “Mom” quite yet.

Heather Nelson

About Heather Nelson

Heather resides in Rockland where she is busy juggling life as a newlywed, a mom to two boys (one of which who has autism), a part time job in direct sales, and a full-time job as a pediatric occupational therapy assistant. She has a love for live music, karaoke, and cheering on the underdogs.