Red light, green light

A couple of months ago as I drove Philip to the store, I looked in the rear view  mirror and saw Philip leaning over in his car seat to look out the front window. I was amused by his sudden interest in where we were going and what he could see up ahead.

“Red means stop and green means go,” I said.

A few weeks later on one of those days when the temperatures were deceptively spring-like despite the fact that the calendar indicates that it is winter, Philip and I went for a long walk with the dog. Our route took us past an intersection with a traffic light. We ended up walking down the block backwards so that Philip could keep watching the stoplight change colors.

A month later, while wracking my brain for something new to draw for Philip, I realized that almost everything else I’ve ever drawn for him has been monochromatic. That’s not to say that Philip only ever draws in one color, but he usually picks a color, uses it, then switches. I’ve never drawn a face with red lips, green eyes and brown hair for him and I’ve never seen him do this either.

I thought about his interest in traffic lights. I grabbed one of his notebooks and four markers: red, yellow, green and a gray for the background. I drew the three circles inside a rectangle and showed it to Philip.

He studied my drawing, as he is apt to do. He then went back to drawing whatever else it was that he had before. However, when he turned the page, he took three markers and drew three parallel lines: red, yellow, green.

He had noticed.

And that was that. I never saw that pattern of color or an effort to mimic my crude traffic light again. At least, I didn’t until this weekend.

I saw one of Philip’s coloring books on the kitchen table.

Noticed this on Saturday

Noticed this on Saturday

“Hey, Peter,” I yelled to my husband. “Look-a stoplight!”

The next day, I flipped through the pages of the book.

Turned the page and saw another

Turned the page and saw another

Finally realized that he had added a pole

Finally realized that he had added a pole

Not at all distracted by the drawings in the coloring book

Not at all distracted by the drawings in the coloring book

Definitely a pole and a base

Definitely a pole and a base

Philip had taken my model and done it one better. He had added the pole.

Starting to color in the lines, too

Starting to color in the lines, too

Double traffic lights

Double traffic lights

These simple drawings actually remind me of an important lesson: I need to give Philip time. He needs time to process. I have to admit that I need the reminder. Philip’s brain works in a different way.  If I make a request, I can’t assume he isn’t listening or that he is refusing me just because he doesn’t respond RIGHT NOW. He needs time to hear what I’ve said, figure out what it means and to take action in response.

I guess I need my own little mental traffic light. Red means stop, don’t try to rush Philip. I may be in a hurry, but if I run this light, there will be a crash.

I need to wait for Philip to give me the green light.

9 thoughts on “Red light, green light

  1. Wow this is so great:) When you mentioned giving Phillip time to process it triggered something I remember I learned in a course/program called More Than Words. It was one of their child centred strategies called OWL which means “Observe, Wait, Listen” and then follow the child’s lead by including his interests: comment or join in; be face to face. Amazing program geared to children with Autism who need to build speech and language but empowers parents to use everyday life to create interactions.

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    1. Just this week I had lunch with a dear friend that I used to teach with. We team-taught for a while, so she knows me so well. I was saying how I shake my head thinking back to how I used to behave as a teacher and what I expected/demanded of students. Sure, only a handful had autism, but so many of them probably had other sensory/processing/learning issues. I don’t think I was ever patient enough.

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      1. I guess as you wrote on your blog….a teaching moment but for mom…I find its evolving.

        Another thing we learned is in the program that in order to get a new play skill or drawing skill is to be a mirror to what they are doing. Then when you get that little shoulder check or peak a boo you know you have their attention. Then when you feel it’s right you start introducing something new to be copied by the child. I find this method really helps when my son is passionate about a toy or what new is doing and doesn’t want to let anyone intrude.

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  2. Great post. Great lesson. My oldest son has sensory processing issues. Sometimes I rush him. Many times his teachers do. One time while doing homework with him he says to me, “mom I don’t always color inside the lines, that’s just how I am”. He provided me with a nice reminder that he learns differently. It doesn’t make it wrong, just different. This was a good reminder too! Thanks for sharing!

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