Wednesday, July 02, 2008

How To Talk To Someone With Autism Without Pulling Out Your Hair (Or Theirs!)

Coming Soon To a Plane (or Theatre) Near You

The biggest hurdle that we face with my son's autism is that he looks so normal. There is an expectation for his behavior that sometimes he just flat cannot meet. But you can't see what is wrong with him at first glance. He isn't in a wheel chair. He hasn't lost his sight. Most of the time, he hears what you say. But he has a disability. I hate calling it that, but that is what it is. Yes, he has autism. That's not the disability, though. His disability, you ask? Peoples' attitudes. Judgmental women at the grocery store, and anyone who thinks he "should" know how to behave and that he is just the product of over-indulgent parents.

He deals with the attitudes of other children. Kids can be, if not cruel, just not understanding. They think he is weird. He talks funny, with more of a drone than other kids. Sometimes, especially when he is excited, he doesn't enunciate well. His topics go on and on. Frankly, many of his peers don't know what to do with him. It's hard. But you know what? He exists. He has a right to live a full life. I am not going to keep him at home because he might be a little strange in his talk about movie characters. He needs to learn how to interact with others, and some need to learn to be more tolerant. They can help each other.

The hardest thing for me to watch as a mother is to watch my son struggling socially to fit in. He tries so hard, is very gregarious, wants to engage people and interact. He just... isn't very good at it. Autism isn't a very good friend. Granted, I would imagine I am more tuned into his social gaffes than others may be. In fact, others seem to enjoy him. I am concerned when he is around other adults that he will talk their ear off and then get his feelings hurt. It worries me. I really try not to be, but I verge on being hyper-vigilant when he is talking to others, especially adults. (his favorite people to interact with). They talk about how sweet he is, and kind. And yes, he is all of those things. But he's also annoying as hell.

I have talked with him about possible conversational approaches he could take. We have worked and role-played in order to figure out the give and take of conversations and how they can be approached. We discuss non-verbal cues that show you someone has grown weary of the interaction and is ready to move on. But he just doesn't get it. It absolutely isn't his fault, and I cannot blame him. It is the way he is wired. Lessons, especially social lessons, must be gone over in depth. We have to work out possible responses. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. He will talk to me, and we have a great talk about science, or the weather or whatever we are discussing. But as soon as he is around someone other than me or his father, it all goes out the window.

In his quest to enjoy someone else's company, to connect with them socially, he forgets everything we have discussed and goes to one of three subjects: Video games (namely the new Indy Wii game which he will describe for you, in detail all the way to the 7th level, if you let him.) What? You don't have quite that much time? Well, of course, my son won't figure that out...that's where I come in.

He also will discuss Lego, the rabbit from Monty Python (and no he has not seen the movie, just a few YouTube clips) and whatever he is into that month as well. Guaranteed to make your eyes glaze over and have you thinking to yourself, "Just look at the time!" But, give the kid a break, he really does try. And he wants to interact with you. He genuinely likes you and he is likable, too.

Here are a few suggestions to make it less painful for you both:

How to Interact With a Kid Who Has Autism
  • 1. ask questions about things you are interested in. Get him to talk about what you want... lead the conversation. If he starts in on Indiana Jones, change the subject...make it something related. "Yes, Indy was a really cool movie, but what did you think of Wall-E?" "Really? What did you like about it?" If you steer the conversation, it will go more smoothly.
  • 2. bring someone else into the conversation, and throw my son a, rather, a thread of conversation that he and the other person has in common. Once he is talking to the other person, escape! Yes, I am mostly kidding with this one! Besides, he would just catch you...
Tomorrow...Part 2

T, who hopes this helps you with autism

8 sent chocolate:

Sarcasta-Mom said...

Wow, this sounds exactly like living with my son. He has Asperger's and looks "normal" as well, which makes it hard for people to realize he has a disability, and isn't just obnoxious when he starts rambling about math. lol.

plentyoftime said...

T, I think we are living parallel lives on opposite coasts. I have dd 13, ds 10 with HFA, and ds 6 with undiagnosed "stuff", plus I homeschool ds 10. Oh, and nerdy husband? Yes! I love your post, I think I need to share it with a few adults we know. A few of our friends are huge fans of my son and love to talk with him, but others I'm sure are ready to crawl under the table or jump out the window, lol. Sarcasta-mom, Math is a perennial favorite topic for him, too, and lately he's all about the Wii games. Luckily ds 6 enjoys his brother's ramblings -- and actually has learned a heck of a lot of math for a kindergartener (exponents, symmetry, I think factorials are next.) It's nice to hear we're not alone.

Mary P Jones (MPJ) said...

Yep, autism is tough that way -- as are many neurological conditions -- because the kids *look* the same as everyone else, but behave differently. I had to explain to my son yesterday that, yes, other kids shouldn't have chased him, but he probably shouldn't have, um, spit at them to start the conversation. ;)

Genevieve Hinson said...

I like your suggestions. My son's topic of conversations always land on his favorite subjects.

Will try these out.

Val said...

Wonderful post!! Have you heard/read "Rules" by Cynthia Lord? It's a great book about a 12 year old girl with a younger brother who has autism. To deal with it, she makes up all these rules to help him fit in. I just loved it-I'm having my daughter read it now, and I may try to read it in class next year, just because it's such a discussion starter..Which is what we need with autism.
Speaking of, I saw an autism awareness sticker on a car today! And in my itty-bitty southern town, pop. 8000, that shows some forward progression methinks :)

lonestar818 said...

Great post!! So true, we get a lot of "but they don't *look* autitic..." of course they don't, if you could *see* their brain I'd be concerned (sigh).

When my twins were younger it felt like a "double-whammy" with them b/c not only were they developmentally delayed but they were big for their age, so people thought they were older and they had a hard enough time acting their age, much less the age they looked to be.

Jean said...

It's interesting all the comments so far seem to be from people who have direct experience with people with autism. I don't and I have to admit that if I see a child who is acting in an unusual manner I don't automatically think "disability" (for want of a better word) but am very likely in that category of people who wonder why he's not behaving properly. I offer an apology for that but you must surely understand that for people who don't have experience of disability then unusual behaviour is just that. On the train yesterday there was a child who started groaning (not loudly but certainly noticably) and when that finished standing on the table (don't know how he managed that!) and so on. It was clear from the way he looked (I mean no offence) that he was disabled. What was magical was the way his parents dealt with the situation. The mother did look exhausted and was fairly passive, mostly staring out the window, but helping him when he needed it. The father would look up and just reach out with his hand or fingers in what was obviously a very intimate gesture between them.

Debs said...

I love this post and agree that it's other people's attitudes thats the problem. My nephew has Aspergers and I can relate to what you've said.

If people had more of an idea how to interact with a child with Autism it would make life much easier all round. So thanks for the post.

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