I pulled out my phone and opened the stopwatch feature.
I took a breath and said, “Where did you go to work today for school?”
(Sarah works at different stores in the community to learn job skills. This is a typical question I ask her each day.)
I started the stopwatch and waited…
5 seconds of silence seemed awkward.
10 seconds of silence was painful.
15 seconds of silence passed, and I thought I would have been sure she did not understand or heard me and would have asked again.
By 25 seconds I would have surely repeated myself, maybe even a couple of times.
The stopwatch finally hit 30 seconds and I stopped it.
I read again her teacher’s observation and a flood of emotion hit me.
“Sarah needs staff assistance, including visual prompts, to help with comprehension of the task at hand. She requires patience from those working with her, to allow time to process information in order to respond to questions or directions. Often, she will process for 30+ seconds before responding. It is important to refrain from repeating instructions or questions. This seems to reset her processing cycle and prolong the response time.”
We have always known that Sarah struggles with processing information and has a delayed response time, but 30+ seconds seems like an eternity when waiting for a response.
I have been guilty of not being patient in waiting for a response and ask the question again…and again.
Someone once told me that the autistic brain doesn’t sort information as efficiently as others. When asked, “Where did you go to work today for school?”, my brain would go immediately to the place I worked at. For Sarah, she might be sorting the question and determining if I am asking about school, what she did, who was at school, etc. She must rule out what I am not asking, and that could take her longer to respond.
By asking her the question again, I restart her sorting process.
I know better….
Many years ago, I spoke about Autism Awareness to third grade students at a local elementary school. The program was called “Everybody Counts” and it was a great teaching tool for kids to understand and accept children with disabilities.
I shared about Sarah’s delayed process time. I asked the students, “How would you get to the school office from this room? Please give me step by step instructions.”
One boy’s hand quickly shot up. I called on him and he told me to turn right out the door, down the hall, turn left, and the office was at the end of the hall on the left.
I thanked him and said, “Your brain thought of the quickest path to get to the office.”
“For my Sarah, her brain might have told her to turn left out the door, down the hall, out the exit doors, turn right to go around the front of the building, turn right to go through the front entrance door, and then turned right into the school office.”
The class giggled.
“Did she get to the school office?”
“Yes”, the entire class responded.
“Yes, she did. It just took her longer, but she got there! While that is not a real scenario, it reminds us that we need to show patience to kids like Sarah. Her brain might take a longer route to process things, but she can get there if we show her patience.”
My own words convict me years later!
Reading Sarah’s teacher’s observation was a great reminder to me to show patience, not just with her, but to everyone. I am spoiled by living in a fast-paced world where everything is available and can be delivered instantaneously. Giving others patience goes against our society.
As hard as it can be for me, showing patience is what I am called to do.
“…be patient with everyone.” (I Thessalonians 5:14b)
“A man’s wisdom gives him patience…” (Proverbs 19:11)
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22)
I am so grateful that I have the perfect example to model after! How grateful I am that the Lord is so patience with me!
No matter how many times I confess to Him I have messed up, He forgives and restores. He is gracious, loving, and so very patient with me!
May I be more like Him! May I reflect His patience and wait for Sarah’s response when every ounce in my being wants to speed her up.
It may take 30 seconds…but I know it is one of the greatest ways to show love to her; to show I care enough to wait.
It will be 30 seconds well spent.
“But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Psalm 86:15)
“Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:23)