Pardon, I am sorry I don’t understand?”
The doctor paused and said again, “does he understand everything mom. I need to know because I am going to be poking at him and I don’t want him to hit me. If he understands I can explain what I’ll be doing to him.”
Mom looked at the doctor and said in her deep Halifaxian accent, “tell you the truth doctor, I don’t understand everything. I would also like to see a child you can explain things to so much that they don’t fight you when you’re looking in their ears, hitting surgery scars, taking blood; I don’t know no child like that.”
I love that mom; she sure has a way with words. Her words sometimes slap people in the face, back into reality.
I couldn’t believe the doctor asked that, yet, I have heard it before. What does that even mean? There are a lot of things I don’t understand and I am still learning, as are all my clients. Just because they may not be able to anticipate the pain from getting blood taken, doesn’t mean they don’t know you are going to do something that will hurt or understand the pain once they feel it. I don’t know about you, but that means they understand.
I once really pushed a doctor on what he meant by, understanding everything. I also challenged him on his comments of, “the way we understand” and “normal language.” In the end he said, “Because someone may have suffered so much brain damage, we as doctors are taught and shown that the brain no longer learns or strives the way it does in people with no brain damage.”
I still wasn’t convinced. My favourite thing about my job is seeing that the kids I support do understand. They never cease to amaze me by what they know and what they react to. I love when people think they aren’t listening and then they tell me about it later. They also know how to manipulate their world and he people in it. What I mean is, knowing how to tell someone to get them a drink or laughing so they can get some attention or sighing to get a hug. Maybe these things are due to vulnerability, but you tell me the last time you got all those things without verbally asking for it or commanding it.
I know that my clients may not understand or react to things as someone ‘typically developing’ for their age, but it doesn’t mean they don’t understand everything. A better way to pose this question may be to ask exactly what you want to know in that moment. “Will he swing at me if I touch his scar” or “can he hear me” or even “mom, do you mind helping me out so I can explain it to you and him.” I understand doctors just want to come see you and leave; they have a lot of patients to see. But, when they ask questions like this they don’t think twice, but a parent may be hear it over and over again in their mind.
Yes, we need to be honest about what our kids can and can’t do, but when people are automatically negative about in the first sentence, it leaves a bad taste. Especially if that doctor needs a parent to cooperate, I would suggest not offending them.