Children are so perceptive in ways we adults really are not. They are also very tolerant of differences, more than we ever give them credit for. They ask the most honest of questions purely out of curiosity and complete openness.
That said, I’ve seen situations where children have tried to make friends with Neiva and been really upset when they get no response, and then asked why, usually very loudly, in front of the poor parent, who then feels awkward and gets in an unnecessary fluster. In all honesty, if the roles were reversed, I would feel exactly the same in their shoes. However, it really doesn’t take a complicated explanation. Simple and honest always works best.
A Quick Get Out Clause
Sometimes, during play dates or at the park, there just isn’t time to properly sit and explain to your child why Neiva is acting differently, “shes not listening to me” “she wont play with me” “she wont stop singing” these are common complaints I hear regularly in a play situation. Kids themselves are in play mode and just want a simple answer to a question. So for those occasions, any of these quick responses will suffice:
- “say excuse me and make sure she can hear you”
- “maybe she wants to play by herself”
- “why dont you join in and sing”
And for the ultimate get out clause and the response I love the most…. “why dont you ask her mummy” I love this one because it completely takes the pressure off the parent.
Making it lighthearted and straightforward is a great sense of relief for any parent with a child with any kind of reduced social interaction. To be honest, I could quite easily become a hermit and never venture out, it would be so much easier. No anticipation or dread, no panic. That would certainly make life easier for me but it would not be helping Neiva in the long term. Neiva loves the park, she loves being outside, I would be depriving her of her own little piece of happiness just so I could avoid potential confrontation and I’m not prepared to do that. Ill do it because I love her completely and her needs must come first.
What if your child asks about autism and you have the time to explain in more detail?
Explaining Autism to a Child (the long-winded version)
Below is a list of simple ways to explain autism to your child.
- It is not a disease and is not contagious. You cannot catch autism. (Some children do have this worry)
- They may not talk very much but that doesnt mean they dont understand what you are saying
- They may have to play with the same toys over and over again. This is ok, it makes them feel calm and safe.
- Some do not see, hear, or feel things the same way we do, loud busy noises, sights and sounds may be too much for them.
The “Statement” Technique
With Neiva, she doesnt understand “wh” questions. What, where, who and why. If you want Neiva to hear you, give her clear simple commands. Always start by saying ‘Neiva, look at me” (and when she looks) rather than ask her a question say what you want her to do ‘lets play in my bedroom/here is a drink,/here is a biscuit/lets get our shoes on and play outside” (her cousins are naturally particularly good at this)
Using statements rather than questions hasn’t come easy to us so don’t expect your child to get it first time. Its the effort that counts.
I have the ability to see the world differently while loving everyone in it the same, what’s your superpower? – Neiva
Playdate Interaction Winners!
rather than try and converse, if she is playing with bricks for example, sit alongside her and copy what shes doing and talk generally about what you are doing “today I am building a very tall tower, it has 12 bricks and the colours are….”
- make sure she can hear you
- short simple statements (not questions)
- join in with her singing (I hope you know all your nursery rhymes)
- play ball catch (shes really good)
Just a little side note for parents/adults
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Neiva’s comprehension. She understands and takes in everything she hears whether its directly spoken to her or not. The temptation is to speak to her as though she doesn’t understand English, slow and loud (and even in one instance, with a slight accent) Please don’t do this. Talk to her in a normal tone of voice. As long as she can hear you and is not distracted by loud noises or in a busy room with lots of different voices and sounds and smells, she will try and respond. I think as humans we associate response with listening, so if we don’t get a response we conclude that person isn’t interested in what we have to say. Unfortunately, responding to conversation isnt something that comes naturally to an child on the spectrum. In the same way we have had to learn to read count and write, Neiva is having to be taught how to read social cues. She will get there, like learning anything new, it will just take time.
Finally, we really do appreciate the effort our family and friends are doing already to communicate with Neiva. We know that you love her very much and we are very grateful for that. Thank you.