Thursday, May 10, 2012

Translating the world for a person with fetal alcohol


In an abstract world a brain that thinks concretely may need help with interpretation and by having a cognitive translator our daughter can avoid mistakes and frustration in professional meetings in finance, social welfare, medical, and the judicial process. When needed she enlists me as her cognitive translator and I attend the appointment or meeting to make sure the communication between the professional and my daughter is understood.

To translate I make myself an only when necessary piece of her conversations. I may bring a magazine to glance through to look busy or I may catch up on a text message. I make sure to give her the space she needs to manage herself and remain in charge. If she gives me a preset signal, I interject into conversation for clarification. After the end of the meeting I ask for a recap of next steps or meeting.  Cognitive translations provides safety to remain on course and navigate through complicated adult discussion, keep her trust in the professional and increase skills and knowledge.

When she trusts and feels safe she is able to manage more complex situations. With time and experience, she manages her life challenges.

While some professionals consider my attendance a hindrance to her progress I wonder how clearly they understand the brain and metabolic system of a person with fetal alcohol.

For example:
  • In a therapy session for anger management, a therapist described the range of emotions: "Emotions are like waves, there will be low times and high times and if you wait through a low time you can ride the wave up to a high time. Then you will ride the wave back down. Like this." (Therapist demonstrated with her hand a waving motion.)  I remained silent, watching my daughter process what she heard. When we arrived in the car, I said, "Your therapist had a good idea today about managing anger, tell me about it." She replied, "I don't get it, why would she want me to ride in a wagon?"  
Why did this miscommunication occur? 

First, we live in Minnesota so she has no experiential frame of reference for a large wave. (Professionals must think what experience this person has that I can connect new learning to) Second, she took "wa" sound and assumed her auditory processing issues had confused her once again. "You can not ride a wave on a Minnesota lake. If you ride on it, could it be a "wagon?" 

How many times "What we say" is not "What is received?
  • At a job placement meeting, a counselor stated, "I am a realist, do you think senior citizens would like your hair?" "I am a realist, do you think senior citizen's would like your clothes?" (And she continued with more questions beginning with "I am a realist") When we reached the car, my daughter turned to me and said "Why would a Realtor care how I look for grandmas and grandpas. They like me just how I am." I was glad she had missed the professionals point.
  • One adult I have translated for begins nodding her head when she "does not" understand. This provides two results - "The person explaining believes understanding has occurred and stops talking." Another polite adult states, "Thank you so much for telling me that, now I understand." Only later in the safety of her home do you realize the words understood were hot air.
As a cognitive translator, I do not consider myself an external brain any more than I would consider a seeing eye dog an external brain for a person who cannot see. 

My daughter's brain is beautiful - very different from mine and very capable. In a world that has moved from agricultural to industrial to informational and now to communication we have left this population behind. I do not believe my daughter is a lesser person because of her challenges. She is a strong, dynamic adult with valuable insight into a world that often seems to talk too fast and too much.

Cognitive translation empowers versus de-powers.


Anonymous said...

A video you might find interesting:

"Cognitive Interventions to Improve Language Skills"

Check out our "FASD Interventions Across the Lifespan" blog for more FASD intervention information!

-Intervention Network Action Team, Canada FASD Research Network

GmaSue said...

The cognitive translation terminology makes alot of sense to me. The method provides support and reassurance, but the adult with FASD is given as much autonomy as desired, in that moment. When they need support the translator is aware of where the convesation may have derailed. Your examples of ride the wagon, not the waves great. When we pay close attention and understand the processing issues, we can translate both ways.... to the professional, explaining the misinterpretations, and to the person we are translating for, to recommunicate what was meant.