Communication-Part 2 How Do We Help?

May 10, 2012

Stuart picks his son John up from college. As they are walking to the car, Stuart asks his son about his day and if he is prepared for tomorrow’s history exam. John tells his father that he studied. Stuart, cautiously optimistic says “Great Buddy! How about I quiz you after dinner?” John stops in the middle of the parking lot and forcefully says “I told you I studied!” Stuart firmly replies, “Son, this is not the place. We will study after dinner.” John, clearly upset, yells “I told you I studied!” as he strides past his father to the car.

John and Stuart shared an interaction but failed to communicate. From our professional perspectives, intentions derail for different reasons. As we said in our last post, each professional takes in the situation they see and you describe; absorbs it; and then formulates it into a working hypothesis.  The working hypothesis directs how each one repairs communication breakdowns.  Here is a snapshot  into how the See-Absorb-Formulate process goes:

Speech Language :  Stuart communicates effectively using both verbal and non-verbal language. John relies on spoken language and is challenged by the unspoken. John understood  his dad’s question “Did you study?’ and answered it. Stuart knew by John’s answer that his son only understood and responded to whether or not  he studied for tomorrow’s exam.  John answered his father and was unclear why Stuart continued talking about it.

Reason for Speech Language Interventions:  Considering John’s diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome,  it is likely that his language and thinking skills do not reflect his intellectual capability.  Therefore, further exploration is needed to know what John’s concept of “to study” is and what he did to study for the test.  Therapeutic intervention builds John’s ability to use language in academic and social settings.

Mental Health : Stuart asked a question as John’s father.  Stuart’s  behavior suggested John’s answer was insufficient so he asked a follow-up question.  John’s behavior indicated he was not going to answer the same question again.

Reason for Mental Health Interventions:   College is a time of transition for both father and son.  The communication breakdown reflects how  their relationship would benefit from another way to connect.   The task for a 20-year-old is to practice becoming independent and intra-dependent .  The task for a parent of a 20-year-old is becoming a consultant to support their child’s transition to adulthood.  A Special Needs diagnosis adds layers of complexities to the tasks.  Therapeutic intervention facilitates John and Stuart’s understanding of each other which in turn builds communication and strengthens their relationship. 

Considering John’s age, diagnosis, social/emotional and academic history, it is important to learn more about his problem solving skills and how he interprets and responds to social/emotional cues.  Equally important to explore is Stuart and his role as John’s father. What are Stuart’s  wishes, hopes and dreams for John? What informs his parenting and parenting style? What about Stuart’s mother? How does she impact this story? How does Asperger’s Syndrome live with each one individually and as a family?

Therapeutic intervention is more than talking with an understanding friend or getting extra help.   Clinical knowledge and experience goes beyond bridging strengths to build skills with a trained and profound understanding of the all the puzzle pieces that are known and unknown.

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