Longing for a conversation
If any of you have read our about or my journey page you will learn that it took my Monkey a really long time to talk. I worked really hard on breaking down those walls and getting him to use those words. His progress was astounding and I am so grateful for where he is because I know that my reality is not always reality for others. I however find myself longing for a real conversation.
My son is 100% capable of telling us what he wants and what he needs but he isn’t very good at actually talking to us. If you are with him for a brief time and he tells you something you will be amazed at how articulate he can be but when you spend an entire day with him you will realize he is telling you about the commercial he just watched or rehashing what he heard on the radio. If I were to ask him how his day was and what he did at his grandma’s today it would be like pulling teeth. I know he knows what he did but he has a hard time recapping what went on. Now ask him to recap what just happened in a 2 hour movie and he will probably tell you ever scene.
Echolalia is often a behaviour seen in children on the spectrum but for us, because my son’s speech was so delayed, we never really had this. Until now. Now at almost age 6 he has started to do this. He will come and repeat a commercial to me or repeat a phase in the commercial. If he is watching How it’s Made (which he has a slight obsession with) he will repeat the intro and repeat what they will be talking about. I wonder if this is his way of having a conversation with us or if this is just another aspect of autism that we will have to accept and move on.
Even if I accept this aspect of life on the spectrum it does not mean that I do not long for a conversation. Acceptance of something merely means you understand it may never change but you can still want something that may never happen. For me this means that I wish that we could talk back and forth over supper about what he did and what he likes, etc… I know I should count my blessings and be thankful that he is at least talking and that he can tell us what he’s upset with, that is when he doesn’t shut down, but I sometimes find myself hoping that he’ll engage me in conversation over something other then a movie or a video game.
Conversation with individuals on the spectrum can sometimes feel one sided either you are doing all the talking or they are. Rarely is there a back and forth between two parties unless your are talking about a topic of interest. The Monkey tends to either listen to other children but never really joins into the conversation or he gets stuck playing one thing and his language becomes repetitive, stuck in the scene they are playing.
Now I know he may never be a great conversationalist and that is 100% ok however I think that if he is given tools and is taught this that it will help him in the future. Finding a job is difficult when you have trouble recognizing social queues. So where do you start? You teach them how to respond.
Start by teaching them how to read facial queues. Teach them what it means to see someone smile in a situation. Teach them what it means when someone is crying. Are they happy or are they upset? You will do this by showing them images of people’s facial expressions in certain situations. Eventually they will learn what these expressions mean in any situation. His therapy team started to do this with the monkey a few months ago and he is doing great but now we need to take this new knowledge and teach him how to apply it to conversation. He needs to learn how to generalize these skills as they apply to real life situations.
Once they understand the basic facial queues then you can move on to social stories which show conversation. Ex: Tom is very sad (show picture of Tom with a frown on his face) What should we say to Tom.?Hi Tom, What is wrong? Are you ok? Tom answers, I lost my favorite toy, I don’t know where it is. You answer? Here you would ask them to complete the conversation. The Monkey has a hard time with this and needs a lot of prompting but I think that if we are consistent that this will be a skill he will catch on to.
Along with this we are also working on sequences of events. What happened first what happened last etc.. He has a hard time remembering what happened in which order and so this plays into conversations where he is asked about his day. I really don’t care the order that something was done in but he does seem to get very anxious about what happened when yet he has a hard time expressing it in the order he wants. His workers are currently working on this with him by using images and by acting out events. Hopefully once he understands the order of things he will be more confident in answering the simply question of what did you do this morning.
Now my Monkey is working on the start of this but once he understand how people interact in the social stories then I plan on doing something fun with it. I am going to get him to put on a play with me that is unscripted which he will have to engage. I’m going to make it fun, get dressed up if he wants to or use puppets but i’ll start off my giving him a topic. Example: It is Tom’s birthday today and action! Then he will have to fill in the blanks.
Here is a link to a PDF which explains script fading which is essencially how I am approaching this as well. TEACHING CHILDREN WITH AUTISM TO ENGAGE IN CONVERSATIONAL EXCHANGES:SCRIPT FADING WITH EMBEDDED TEXTUAL STIMULI.I really think this approach will work but it will take years and a lot of practice for him to learn how to understand all the social queues and how to break into conversation in a way that is not one sided, scripted and rigid. I haven’t even talked about sarcasm or body language or jokes etc…
He will probably always be socially awkward and he may not always understand what is expected of him in certain scenarios but if we can give him the basic understandings which lead to conversation then may be someday he will ask someone how they are or what is wrong. Maybe someday we will be able to sit down at supper and when I ask him how his day was and what did he do today he will have a better understanding of what is expected of him.
If it never happens that is ok also and I will continue to count myself one of the lucky ones whose child did find their voice.
I leave you with this cute little video called The Conversation Vacation.
Have a great day.