We got a note from camp that Alex has been asking to come home during the day. I thought this would be a great example of the challenge of figuring out what he actually wants. It seems fairly straightforward on the surface: he's asking to come home. But things are not always what they seem:
1) He could be sick and wanting to come home.
We all want to be home when we're sick and sometimes Alex asking to come home is his way of telling people that he's not feeling well. When this is the case, we have to check for actual symptoms before making any decisions.
2) He could be bored and wanting to leave.
Somewhere along the way, Alex has figured out that asking to go home is one of those requests that people always consider. Thus it has become his go-to request when he doesn't like an activity, like going to the grocery store. The clue for this one is to see if there's a pattern to his requests.
3) He could be feeling sad or homesick.
Alex has a hard time explaining his feelings, so he tends to focus on practical details. "Alex go home" could mean that he is feeling overwhelmed or sad and wants the comfort of being home. If that's the case, he'll usually be lethargic or withdrawn.
4) He could not want to do the work.
"Alex go home" can also mean "I don't want to do this", especially at school when they're asking him to do academic work. Again, he's figured out that it is a request that people take seriously, so he uses it to avoid work.
5) He wants a preferred activity at home.
Sometimes he doesn't need to be doing work, sometimes he'd just rather be at home on the computer or watching the buses. If that's the case, it's usually fairly easy to distract him away from his request with something else enjoyable.
6) Something has upset him and he wants his parents.
This one is probably the rarest one. If he's upset, he's more likely to tantrum than use his words. But he's getting better about speaking instead of screaming, so we have to consider it. If he's upset, it will be obvious that he's upset and any delay or refusal will quickly spark a tantrum.
It's a lot of analysis to have to put into a simple request but when dealing with a child with limited communication skills, it's necessary. With Alex, we always have to look at the surrounding circumstances: what he's doing and what he's *not* doing. Then, maybe, we have a chance at figuring it out.