Monday, August 19, 2013

Watch Your Tone of Voice ... Other People are Paying Attention

Matt and Linda are quite the team.
When I started this blog, I wanted to write honest, insightful observations about having Aunt Linda live with me. I've posted some photo updates and such, but I've avoided the more honest writings. Part of me doesn't want to offend. Part of me doesn't want to reveal too much. The writer in me, however, wants to be genuine. After chatting with Matt, we've decided to go ahead with the blog as planned. Nothing here is meant to offend or point fingers - these are merely observations about our new life.

I've known Linda my whole life. She changed my diapers, gave me bottles, and spent almost every July 4th at our family's house. Growing up with a handicapped aunt, I've never noticed anything odd or uncomfortable about her special needs, and I often forget that not everyone grew up with an Aunt Linda.

Matt and Linda met about a dozen times before she moved in with us. It's been an adjustment for both of them, but they're learning a lot about each other (and I'm learning too).

Generally Matt and Linda get along very well, but occasionally there's tension. The tension usually creeps in after a conversation, and it usually ends with Linda reminding Matt that she's not a child. After a few such episodes, I started paying attention. It didn't take me long to identify the problem.

Though he doesn't mean to, Matt talks to Linda differently than he does to me. If he wants to go to Kmart, he'll simply ask me, "Do you want to go to Kmart?" That's not the case with Linda, though. He doesn't mean to, but Matt's tone changes when talks to Linda. A simple question about going shopping turns into, "Hey, Linda! Do you want to go to Kmart?! We can walk around, see what's on sale. Maybe buy some candy?"

For Matt, like many people who didn't grow up around a handicapped individual, this weird instinct kicks in. My thought: Linda's childlike wonder and appreciation of life leads people to unconsciously talk to and coddle her like a child. Matt doesn't hear it, but Linda does.

There's a delicate balance between respecting her needs and respecting her age. Now that I've helped Matt identify this tension-causer, he's making an effort to change. He's paying attention to what he says and how he says it. We do sometimes need to explain things to her differently, but it's how you say it that matters.

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