On Day #176 – 50 Pieces of Sibling Advice you may have wondered what Estelle meant in #37: He’ll interrupt you, he’s not doing it to be mean. He doesn’t know there are rules to having conversations. You can teach him some rules though – like talk time and think time. That’s what my mom made up.
Tucker is not nonverbal – not all children who have autism experience a loss of language. It’s the nature of the spectrum – it’s often said that, “When you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” It’s so true – even though our experiences mimic each other, every child is incredibly different – thus the challenge.
Tucker didn’t talk much in his early years. He would talk when he wanted or needed something – so I just figured when he was ready to talk, he would. He was my first child. He did not stray enough from the well-child marks that anything seemed odd. Correction – there were several oddities but nothing too major. Regardless, the struggle of communication is real and constant.
On Day#43 – Tape Recorder I commented on how he struggles to put together his own sentences.
On Day #184 – No Chit Chat I commented on how we have had to prepare and practice conversation.
Today? Today is about interrupting.
When Tucker has something to say, get ready. It’s coming at you, a bit like a freight train. He will not wait for his ‘turn,’ he will not wait for you to ask more details – it will all come flying down that track at you. One of my favorite resources regarding conversation can be found at: http://www.jamesmw.com/sixrules.htm. James Williams explains many of the oddities that we (neurotypicals) find in having conversations with someone who has autism. These ideas are his – and expanded on by me.
- Conversations are associative. This means that the person with autism will reply to you using something they can identify with – regardless of whether that is what the conversation is really about. So, I may be talking to Tucker about a conversation I had with a student. I may mention that student is from LeMars. He will interrupt and begin talking about the Blue Bunny factory that is LeMars. He will talk about our visit there and about the GINORMOUS ice cream cone he had. Again – the conversation is really about the student…but he picks up on the one detail that he can associate with. So – the ‘off-topic’ interruption makes complete sense to the person with autism.
- In order to be a part of the conversation the person with autism MUST interrupt. If the conversation keeps going they may miss the opportunity to comment on what they associate to ‘LeMars.’
- Most people with autism have poor short-term memory. While Tucker can recall details (that are important to him) from many years ago – he may not remember what we talked about 30 minutes ago. This is yet another reason we have to repeat, repeat, repeat -both ideas and behaviors. So, to compensate these individuals will ‘blurt’ out or they may not remember what they wanted to say when it is their turn to speak.
- Most people with autism lack the social norm skills to know when another person is done talking. They cannot recognize that you may simply be taking a breath or pausing to collect your thoughts.
Here is the deal – I know it’s rude, I know it’s not appropriate – but, as a parent of a child who waited and waited and waited for conversation you just want to hear their voice. Regardless, we have to try to teach him these very basic conversation skills. We have to do something so that his sister (and everyone else around him) has a chance of being heard.
So, we have “think time and talk time.”
I don’t scold. I don’t get angry. I simply say, “Tucker – you are now in think time. Think about what you want to say next, if you need-write your ideas on your iPad (on the ‘notes’ program). Estelle is in talk time. She will say ‘I’m done’ when she is finished with her idea. At that point, you can begin talking again.
The ABSOLUTE worst thing you can do in this situation is stifle his attempt at conversation. He MUST practice conversing, he MUST practice generating new ideas, he MUST practice expanding on current ideas, he MUST develop an understanding of how to listen to others.
I have heard people try to stop him and control the conversation. Then, all you receive is a ‘never mind’ or ‘forget it.’ This is troublesome because this the pattern will…
- Stop the flow of conversation.
- Make him think you are not interested in what he has to say – and if you are not interested, he is not worth.
Talk time/Think time allows for both of my children to be heard. It also adds a bit of control for me – as the listener.
Okay…now, I’m going to move back to think time. Feel free to ‘talk time’ back to me!
(Sorry…I HAD to.)