Perhaps you remember the 1990 ad campaign from Volkswagen. They cleverly coined a silly made up German word – “Fahrvergnügen” means “driving enjoyment” in English (from fahren, “to drive,” and vergnügen, “enjoyment”).
That’s not what Fahrvergnugen means at Square Peg.
Here – Fahrvegnugen means much much more. At least to one little guy.
Like all of us, he’s struggling with his COVID reality. Like all of us, he’s bored, restless and lonely.
Unlike you or me, he’s only 6 years old and he’s got ZERO control over any of it. He’s also got a neurology that demands that he MOVE and RUN and EXPLORE even more than the average 6 year old.
As a result, he’s broken toys and furniture in the home, he’s losing sleep, he’s unable to access classwork on a Zoom call.
These are hard times for him.
In hard times, we all look for coping techniques and once again, many things that are available to an adult aren’t available to him.
I’m going to level with you here. I’m a person who has, from time to time (read: often) used “bad language.” Certain words are powerful, crass, and more satisfying than I should admit. They are words that punctuate, color, bruise, entertain, illustrate. And they are off limits to a 6 year old.
Ergo, these words become delicious, tantalizing, compelling and bold. Dangle them in front of a bored, restless, lonely, curious, bright and frustrated child and VIOLA – you’ve got a powder keg of f-bombs just waiting to explode.
This young man’s imagination and curiosity are stupendous. His intelligent mind is on fire from the minute his eyes open in the morning. Consequently motivating him to stay on task – any task for any length of time is not just a critical skill, it’s really – frickin’ hard.
So we used a lever. We told him that sitting on our pony’s back was a safe place – a place where he could say anything he wanted……
And boy did he let some frustration fly. From the privacy of the ranch, we didn’t flinch when he let off verbal steam and we gave him a channel for his frustration.
But at some point, we have to re-direct. Because the world can be an unkind place for a little guy with a neurology that causes him to rush and dart about, climb into small spaces, over walls and fences while shouting obscenities like a rap star. But taking away such delicious, tempting, powerful words also felt like a cruelty and a misuse of trust. And it set us all up for failure.
With the permission of this child’s amazing mom, we met as a team and devised a “secret language” with our own, private, powerful words that were satisfying to say, secret, and only ours. These would be words that were tricky to say – words that would, in stealth, help him with some speech pathology while achieving the soothing power of a strong words that punctuate big feelings.
Words that are satisfying to say – like a laying down of a pressure-laden burden. Words that skirt the edges of naughty – but plunge into the magical depth of 6 year old silliness. Mystical, secret words shared between trusted friends.
One of the things about the field of autism support that both energizes me and exhausts me is that as the science evolves and changes, we find that our most basic understandings of humanity – namely the critical role of engaged and loving caregivers as well as the role of playfulness – are consistently the most effective in relieving the suffering of autism families. it’s the intention of helping to give a voice to those who suffer – rather than the method by which we elicit that voice that matters most. While we all strive to find more effective and reliable methods to facilitate communication in those with language or emotional barriers, we must never forget that the humanity of the affected person is paramount.