Are you struggling with communication challenges?
You’re likely very aware of your ASD child’s challenges in the realm of communication. Mother nature intended infants to learn about meaningful communication through simple, “peek-a-boo-like” interactions between typically developing infants and caregivers. These deceptively simple interactions lay the foundation for all further social development, and mark the start of an infant’s journey toward understanding social and emotional behaviour. Tragically, the ability to “dance” socially is taken from children with ASD due to gaps in their development… but it can be given back with the proper guidance!
What is Communication?
What is the true purpose of communication? “Don’t forget your back-pack!” doesn’t qualify!! Human communication is meant to enable sharing of thoughts and feelings for a variety of purposes – to build loving relationships, collaborate and arrive at new ways of thinking. Reciprocal and flexible communication skills are essential for success in our society, and it isn’t going to become obsolete any time soon!
Individuals with ASD are often unable to understand the nuances of subtle social cues, making social connections challenging. In addition, processing challenges prevent them from making meaning of situations and borrowing the perspective of others. In most cases, our response to these challenges is to prompt, prompt, prompt! (“Say thank you, Jason!” – sound familiar?) When parenting a child with ASD, our “default communication style” can lead to anger, frustration and resentment.
The danger is, once we realize that our kids can’t easily communicate the way their typical peers do, we assume that they are incapable of learning these cognitive skills! (I’m here to tell you they can.) So, with the best of intentions, we set out to help them get through the day by peppering them with prompts – one after the next, day after day. (It is noteworthy that direct prompts are the cornerstone of the most widely accepted interventions for ASD, often leaving children prompt-dependent and unable to generate original thought… ugh.) Ultimately, all of this can rob parents of their ability to connect with their child, unwittingly becoming instruments whose primary focus is meeting a child’s needs, or worse, preventing them from melting down out of frustration. This I know for sure – I remember it well.
So, what can be done?
Much more than you can imagine! In this arena, if you haven’t already figured it out – I am an eternal optimist – which stems from experience, I’m delighted to add! Addressing communication is but one small component of an RDI Program, but in the absence of an intervention such as RDI, there are still many things that you can do. (Consider my coaching services if RDI is not an option – support is infinitely helpful – seriously, folks.)
- Start by doing an “internal audit” of your communication style. Do you speak differently to your ASD child than you do to other children? Do you prompt your child constantly? Is your communication largely “means-to-an-end?” Do you assume that your child is unable to make decisions and function in most situations? What you observe may give you a bit of a jolt!
- Remember, before you can make a shift, you must be aware of your actions! Consider your communicative options before you speak. For example, instead of directly prompting your child to move his shoes, “notice out loud” that his shoes are in the way. Or even better, simply point to the shoes and use a brief statement such as “Uh-oh, they’re in the way,” to get your point across. Then – zip it!! Give your child time to think things through. (Of course your child’s age and abilities must be taken into consideration.) Not only is this type of statement more pleasant to hear, it causes your child to connect the dots and think for him/herself. Don’t expect your child to catch on at first blush. Making any kind of alteration to your communication is as much a shift for you as it is your child. Important – don’t try to make any significant shifts when you’re under the gun or rushing out the door. It’s futile, trust me!
- Try “thinking out loud” when you’re relaxed and spending time with your child. A simple statement such as “I love vanilla ice cream,” may initiate a connection with your child that will surprise you. Don’t be discouraged if your child doesn’t respond right away – experiment and be persistent. I always emphasize to parents that there’s a lot more going on in our kids’ minds than we give them credit for! A fleeting moment of emotional connection can bring great happiness. So take some time to analyze your communication, and try “thinking out loud” not just to get something done, but to connect as well.
As with many aspects of life, the simplest things can bring unexpected joy, if we only take the time to slow down and smell the roses!
Can I be of service?
The goal of my coaching is to help ASD Moms live a more empowered life, by improving their physical and emotional wellbeing. I can’t think of a better cause to get behind. Can you? Your family needs you to be the best you can be.
Coaching provides a judgement-free, safe space for you to get your bearings, explore your needs and own your power. Power, you say? Yep! It may be hidden, but it’s there. Let’s find it together. What makes this even better? Coaching takes place by phone! For more information go here: Coaching with Sue