"Talking Terrier"…and Other Conversations – By Cara Potapshyn Meyers
I’ve had my dog, Max, for over 13 years. When you’ve known anything that long, you can pretty much “read their mind.” Max and I have our own ways of communicating. His moans, whines, woofs and barks all mean something different. My son is constantly asking me, “Mommy? What is Maxi saying?” I will tell him what I assume Maxi wants. My son will then ask, “How do you know what he wants?” I tell him that I’m “Talking Terrier,” (Maxi is a Terrier breed). My son has been constantly intrigued.
From age eight months until approximately four years ago, my son and I took American Sign Language (ASL) classes together. We unfortunately stopped taking (ASL) classes due to scheduling difficulties. Up until then, though, we were both getting more proficient in communicating with each other via sign language. In fact, starting next school year, my son’s school is offering American Sign Language as an option to take in learning a second language. I’m enrolling him in the class immediately. Especially with all of his reading and writing issues. It can only help him with his communication skills later in life, if necessary.
Somewhat incidentally, my son has both remembered and has been asking me how to sign various things in American Sign Language lately. I like this for a variety of reasons. My son has Auditory Processing Disorder. One of the fundamental techniques in helping those with this disorder is eye contact. Coincidentally, one of the key actions needed to communicate using ASL is to engage in eye contact when signing. ASL forces eye contact so that the person you are signing to can interpret what you are saying. My son needs to engage in eye contact more, even when speaking verbally. If he gets in the habit of engaging in eye contact, whether via ASL or verbal communication, it will ultimately stimulate his neurochemical imbalance to “reorganize” itself. His verbal communication is guaranteed to improve.
Another “type” of communication has also emerged throughout this past year with my son. My son seems to have matured exponentially. I can almost visualize the hormonal surges washing over his brain. We have had so many mature conversations; I sometimes have to tone down what I say so that my choice of vocabulary is not completely “over his head.” His thought process is mind-boggling. And I don’t think it is because he is a smart kid. I think it has to do with other factors.
One of those is that my son is an only child. Only children are unique in that they spend a large part of their time either communicating with or listening to adult conversations. This helps them develop more sophisticated vocabulary and converse in a more mature way. One example I have is that I referred to my son as “tenacious,” and told him that it meant that he doesn’t give up. He keeps on working until something is finished. He has continued to remember that word and it’s meaning from months ago.
Another example was when he was at karate this past week. The word of the week was “integrity.” Putting aside the fact that my son cannot read the word integrity, I wanted him to try to understand what the word meant and to internalize it. I asked him if he knew what the word “integrity” meant. He said, “I have to go ask Sensei.” His Sensei gave him a watered-down version of the real definition. The Sensei said that it meant to be honest. He is correct, but “integrity” is much more than that and way more complex. While my son was questioning what his Sensei’s definition was, I took out my iPhone dictionary App and looked up the actual definition. The actual definition is:
Integrity: adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty
Yeah…try explaining that to an almost 8 year-old. So when my son came back from speaking with his Sensei, and said me that “integrity” meant “honesty,” I told him that his Sensei was correct, but that the true definition meant much, much more. I explained that it means being the best person you can possibly be, both to yourself and with others, and that honesty was an important part of that. We drove home having this whole discussion about all of the times he felt he displayed integrity. I swore I felt like I was having a conversation with an “almost adult.” You practically have to shake the cobwebs out of your head to grasp the complexity of these conversations sometimes.
I know my son is bright, but I am also aware that there are other influences in school that he has picked up in his learning. He relates well to his teachers and tutors because they are adults. And I very often speak to my son as an “almost adult.” He is used to engaging in more mature conversations. Part of me, though, wishes he would just slow down and talk about “kid stuff” with me. I feel as if he is rushing himself through his youth. Then, again, I, as an only child, never felt “out of place” speaking maturely with other adults. My difficulty was relating to my peers. That was mostly due to the fact that my parents never went out of their way to socialize me with other children. I was somewhat sequestered. I enrolled my son in Mommy and Me classes as early as 3 months old most likely because of that! I was determined to make sure those classes helped to socialize him! And helped it has! My son has been taking age appropriate classes, continuously, of his choice, throughout all of these years. I surmise that coupled with his extraordinary social nature, this kid has absolutely no fear of socializing with his peers! I truly think he has the best of both worlds. Although he still needs a little practice “Talking Terrier!” But that will come with time…I’d give it another year!