Autistic child’s lesson for all: shout ‘Hurray’

Autistic child’s lesson for all: shout ‘Hurray’

This article was originally published in North County News.

“Hurray!” is the correct response.

What was the question, you may ask. The fact is, it is a command.

More precisely, it is a stimulus that is part of a drill: an Applied Behavior Analysis drill that is used to help my daughter Madison learn how to express her emotions.

Drills have become a daily, integral part of our lives. From drills, she now knows her address, phone number, family members, numbers, alphabet, colors, shapes and sizes. Drills are necessary for Madison to learn. Why?

Because Madison, my beautiful 9-year-old daughter, has autism.

Gratefully, these drills allow us to connect with Madison, who often plays in a world we cannot enter. For “show me happy” to become even more meaningful, she needs to recognize that “hurray” is the verbal sign for being happy. To accomplish this, we watch for her happy moments _ dancing, laughing, singing _ and say, “Madison, you’re happy. Show me happy!”

“Hurray!” she replies, hopefully connecting the mood to the words.

I often wonder if someone were to drill me, “Show me happy,” how would I respond? What kind of moment would I point to as a “hurray” moment?

Sometimes I think we all run so fast and live so quickly that we don’t take the time to show our happiness, to shout, “Hurray!”

Of late, I have started to interject the comment, “Show me happy,” using it much as a celebratory remark, replacing, “all right,” or “give me high fives” in response to good news. For example:

From my 13-year-old daughter, Brittany: “Mom, two girls asked me if I could baby-sit for them. They gave me their phone number to call their mom.”

“That’s great, Brittany. Show me happy!” I encourage her.

“Hurray!” she replies.

From my 7-year-old son, Peter: “Mom I found a salamander under the steps. And it’s still alive!”

“Super, Peter!” (ugh!) I gulp. “Show me happy!”

“Hurray!” he replies.

And for Madison, this week brought a special “Hurray” moment. A yellow flyer stuffed in her backpack delivered the news. “Come join us for bowling!” bold letters jumped out at me. I quickly called the number listed where a pleasant voice greeted my inquiry.

Yes, bowling was offered every Saturday from 1 – 3 p.m. for a group of children ages 7 – 10 accompanied by parents or caregivers.

Children with autism were welcomed. As I listened to program details, the woman casually added, “And, of course, each child who participates receives a trophy.”

A trophy? For Madison? I was incredulous. Madison could have a trophy in her room, just like Brittany and Peter? Tears filled my eyes when I realized just how excited I was for my daughter.

“Thank you,” I managed to reply.

“Hurray!” I shouted for Madison. “You go girl!”.

And she has. Assisted by ball guides and gutter guards, she won her first game _ two strikes and four spares. What a day. Hurray! Hurray!

For more information on April’s autism awareness month activities contact www.unlockingautism. org/conferencespeakers.html or