April 25, 2014

Don't Put Words In My Mouth - Part 2

After I wrote Don't Put Words In My Mouth, I got great feedback in the form of a different perspective, saying they actually found some prompts useful. It's described here in a great post.

However, I don't really see that conversation as prompting. I see it as gaining understanding and a form of effective communication.

It's about taking the time to really listen to what someone is trying to express. It's about understanding that language is not always reliable. It's about understanding that language also limits, depending on the day, the circumstances, the person communicating - so many factors for things to go wrong.

When people say that autistics who are using echolalia or scripted dialogue are not using real communication, it's a failure to accept and acknowledge a different way of expression and communication. Those methods of communication, even if repetitive or scripted do have meaning and provide a comfortable way to express concepts that can be difficult to find the "right" words for.

I'm not going to lie, I take great pride in using words precisely, and so do many autistics I know, but language is not always 100% reliable for everyone all the time, and in those cases, other more creative methods have to be used.

When someone, anyone, autistic or not, is trying to say something and you do not understand, isn't it the "right" thing to do to try to understand what they mean? 

Sometimes, when asked a question, my son will parrot back whatever word I said last. This does not mean he is mocking me. Nor does it mean that's what he wants. Nor does it mean he doesn't understand.
It means he knows he should give an answer to a question and rather than say nothing, he says the last thing he hears. Most importantly, it also means I need to wait patiently while he thinks it through, because if I wait for him, he will give me his true, unrushed answer.

For example, sometimes in the morning I ask, "would you like an apple or an orange for your snack at school today?" so that I know what to pack.
He might reply, "no" initially.
This just means he doesn't want either of these things right now, not that he doesn't want them at all, because his mind is on the present.

So I say, "ok," I acknowledge, "but at school today, when you have snack time, would you like apple or orange?" and he'll usually say, "orange....no apple....no orange....uhhhhh."

And this is where I must wait quietly while he decides. Prompting with "apple? Orange?" or even worse, "make up your mind!" is not helpful. He needs time to process and think.

Invariably, he will come out with his answer with conviction, "I want apple!" or he will say he prefers something else, "no, I want banana!" in which case I'll have to see if that desire can be accommodated. But the point is that the dialogue is there and he is allowed to freely speak his mind and make decisions for himself because I wait for him to express himself in his way.

In other ways, for an NT, it's like learning to speak a different language; Autistic. You have to keep an open mind to speak Autistic. For example, my son used to call bananas "moons" because they look like a crescent moon. Other round fruits may have been "circle fruit" so the conversation could easily have been him saying, "no circles, want moon." Hearing the utterance of "no circles, want moon" wouldn't make much sense to many other people, but for us, it would have made perfect sense.

I think it important to encourage and become fluent in whatever language your child is using to communicate because when you think about it, you're asking a lot from them. You're asking them to learn your language. Maybe make a bit of compromise and learn a bit of theirs. 

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