Yesterday I had a realization. I’ve thought this many times before, but this last time, it stuck with me for some reason. My autistic daughter needs a different communication style than my typical child.

As many times as I’ve thought about this, actually committing to it has been a different issue. But I have to get real with myself and start changing my habits. Rachel needs to be shown rather than told. Sounds easy enough, yes? I wish it were so.

Here’s an example. While I was trying to get dinner on the table last night, Rachel started her kitchen sink hand-washing ritual: three pumps of soap then spray it off — over and over. In between my other tasks, I would turn off the water and dry off her hands. “No more, Rachel. All done.”

In between my physical intervention, I would talk to her. “Rachel, please turn off the water.” “Rachel, no more.” “Rachel, please stop washing your hands.” “Blah, blah, blah. …” Since when did I become one of the teachers in a “Charlie Brown” cartoon?

I tell myself all the time that she needs more than words and that I must slow down, but sometimes it’s hard and sometimes I’m too lazy — sad, but true. Isn’t it easier to make verbal suggestions while sitting on the couch or doing something else rather than hop into the game? I suppose I could call it sideline mothering. While that often works for my typical child with above-average language skills, it doesn’t work for Rachel. And it’s my job as Mom to meet her needs.

So, here’s to being that football referee who runs along in the middle of the fray and waves his arms around. (I’m sure that guy has an official title, but I have no idea what.) So if you see me in stripes, making wild hand gestures, and using good non-verbal communication with Rachel, cheer me on, sisters.