Wednesday, June 09, 2010

How to talk to a child with Asperger's without pulling your hair out...or theirs!

In an ongoing series, I have been posting some of my older posts, for new readers who have recently found me. (ok, you got me, I am just pressed for time. ;oD) In all seriousness, this is one of my favorite posts...written almost three years ago. hope you enjoy it.

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
how about you? What works in your house? Talk about it the comments.

T, who hopes this helps you with autism

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4 sent chocolate:

Kim Thompson said...

Thank you for re-posting this piece. I found myself rather in awe because you have just described my child to the LETTER, particularly in his younger years!

Okay, your three years later on this post. Have you found that the social interactions have changed? Better? Worse?

I could say, that for us, we have better, same, and worse in some respects. The lines all blur.

Tina@ SendChocolateNow said...

Kim: YES, for my son it has gotten better. He is 11 now, gregarious and outgoing, and sometimes overly so. But he has found friends/acquaintances with similar likes (Japanese anime, Doctor Who, Pokemon, Link) so he has people he can talk to. He does a whole lot less talkng your ear off and more listening. But he still makes random non-sequiturs and likes his pet subjects. Day by Day.

Lisa said...

Hurray for Anime. Have you been to any conventions yet? They are mind-blowing. Imagine a thousand people, all single-mindedly discussing anime and manga and other esoteric subjects. May as well call them Spectrum Conventions.

Oh, and I might have met your son a few weeks ago (or his double):

stark. raving. mad. mommy. said...

Thanks, this is really good information. My four-year-old son was diagnosed with Asperger this week. Your points about steering the conversation were especially helpful, and I'm so glad I'm not the only one who struggles with other people's expectations about how he should behave at the grocery store. Thank you.

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