Monday, August 6, 2012

Speak To Me

Anyone with a special needs child knows that communication is probably the number one issue in helping your child. Without good communication many other problems will arise. The cause of most meltdowns is due to lack of communication. If a child could tell you what is bothering them, or what they need or want they wouldn’t get so upset. The same could be said about social skills. If the child can’t understand what someone else is talking about it makes them feel very uncomfortable.
I saw a post on the Gregory Kistler Center’s facebook page that I thought was very informative. I thought I would share it and give some examples. Some of these things have already been discussed in past articles, but they deserve reexamining.
This is How to Support People with Autism:
·         Explain at every stage what you are about to do, what will happen next and why. We were told early on to use first and next commands with Konner. An example would be if we were going to get dressed we would say, “Konner first we will put on underwear, then we will put on pants, then a shirt…etc.” This is to give them an idea of what is about to happen. Kids with autism don’t really like surprises. This also worked when we went to the dentist. We talked him through the scenario; “First you will go up the ramp, then we will wait in the waiting room, then they will call us back, then the lady will look at your teeth…etc.” This really seems to take the edge off of things. The more detail the better.
·         Give the person enough time to understand the information you are sharing and wait a few seconds for a response if it is not given immediately. Our speech therapist was working with us to see how long it took Konner to answer our questions. I have the biggest issue with this one. When I ask a question I usually expect an answer quickly. It takes a child with autism a little longer to process the information. This is especially true if they don’t fully understand what is asked. It’s best if you slow down, think about what you are asking, and wait patiently for the answer.
·         Questions should be clear and direct using language that is easy to understand and pictures where necessary – do not rely on the person to pick up on the meaning of your questions or body language. My wife and I have been watching The Big Bang Theory quite a bit lately and if you are familiar with this show there is a character named Sheldon. While they don’t come out and say that he is autistic all the signs are there. One of the major issues he has is the lack of ability to pick up on social cues. Some of these include body language, sarcasm, emotions, and facial expressions. One of the things we’ve really struggled with is trying to help Konner understand how to react when someone is hurt or sad.
·         People with autism might take what you say literally so avoid words with a double meaning and humor that could be misunderstood. Out language is colorful with many metaphors, similes, homophones, and cliché’s that many of us neurotypical people can’t fully grasp. What do you think it is like for someone who can’t sort out the literal from the jovial? Again, I’m one of the first to admit that I have a hard time with this one. I am very sarcastic. This is something that is lost on Konner. It’s hard for me to sometimes try bringing things to a language that he can understand better.
·         Maintain a routine – familiarity is often important to some people with autism. This is something I stress all the time. We are all creatures of habit. This is especially true for autistic children. Keep things as close to normal as possible, but it is good for them every once in a while to change things up. If you don’t then they will never learn how to deal with change in life.
·         Social difficulties may include lack of eye contact and unusual body language, talking at inappropriate moments or about inappropriate topics. I can’t explain to Konner that it is rude to talk when others are talking. If he has something to say he wants to tell you now and not wait for your conversation with someone else to be over. The eye contact is typical and should be worked on, but I wouldn’t stress too much over this. You have to remember that this is often described as painful for them.
·         Repetitive behaviors might be a coping mechanism and therefore should be respected. Some of these include routine, but all could be rocking, tapping, repetitive talking, etc. These are commonly known as stims and help to relieve anxiety. You will usually notice these when a child is over stimulated.
·         The environment is important – some people with autism are particularly sensitive to light, movement, sounds, smell and touch. Try to keep the immediate environment as calm as possible to help alleviate any anxiety. Don’t forget to check the surroundings if a child is getting upset. Notice if there is something that may bother them. Florescent lights can cause problems because even if we don’t see it there is flickering that can be amplified for a child with heightened senses.
·         Always consider the person’s behavior in terms of his or her autism, even if it becomes challenging. We had a discussion about this in our recent Parents of Autism meeting. We can’t determine sometimes whether a child does something because of their autism or because it is typical of a child their age. I think most will lean toward the autism side, and according to this that is not a bad thing.
·         Ask the person and/or parent, carer or advocate what support they might need.  It’s always best to ask the person. If they are non-verbal then this could be more difficult, but with Konner I always tend to ask him if there is something wrong, or if he needs something, and most of the time he will tell me what it is.
I hope some of this helps.
Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be an expert. I’m just a father who is trying to learn as much about Autism as I can to help my child. I hope that you all can learn from me, and I from you. I ask anyone who has questions or comments about something I have written, or autism, please contact me at I will try to answer questions as I have time, and if I find it interesting enough I may touch on it in my column.

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