Autism And The Art Of Conversation

17 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Every night, I give my older son George a piggy-back ride to bed. These days are numbered, of course. George is almost nine and he’s all arms and legs. Someday soon, he will too tall and heavy for me to cart around on my back. For now, though, I treasure these last days of being able to pick up my son.

We get to his room, where I dump him unceremoniously on his bed. He tucks himself in while I turn off the light, and then I lie down beside him. For the next few minutes, it’s just him and me, alone in the entire world.

We talk. I ask him questions. He answers them.

Who does Mommy love? She loves George.
Who does George love? He loves Mommy.
How do you feel? Happy.
Did you have a nice day? Yes.
Where did you go? School.
What did you do there? Math.

Always the same questions. Always the same answers.

I follow this ritual for the sense of closeness between me and my son, because it’s a comforting part of our time together. I also do it to help him practice the art of conversation. His verbal communication skills are worlds behind those of typical kids his age. He knows how to talk, how to make requests and the occasional joke. He is starting to make the odd remark for social purposes, and not just when he needs something.

But he does not know how to have a conversation. So I am teaching him.

When George was first diagnosed with autism, he did not know how to point. Over a period of eleven painstaking months, during which I followed the same routine every single night, no matter how futile it seemed, I taught him how to point. I still cry when I think of the first time I was rewarded with him pointing independently.

If I could teach him how to point, surely I can teach him how to have a conversation. After all, they are both forms of communication, right?

From time to time, I switch up the questions during our nightly routine, and ask him something else. When I do that, he never answers the question I ask. He gives an answer to the question he was expecting. I don’t mind. It just shows that he’s not yet ready to move to the next level. There’s no rush. I can wait. It will happen when he’s ready for it to happen.

It’s OK that he has memorized the sequence of questions and answers. Children learn to read in much the same way, rote-repeating sentences that they have heard many times, before making the connection with the printed text. There is every reason to believe that George’s relationship with conversation could evolve in much the same way.

While I’m helping him learn a skill that will be of value to him for his whole life, I am treasuring those nightly moments we spend together.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

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5 Responses to “Autism And The Art Of Conversation”

  1. spiritsguidingway May 17, 2012 at 10:58 AM #

    We are teaching Nathan (9yrs old) how not to have a nightly meltdown because he can’t find his words to express frustration or anger. It happens every night at bedtime, he gets into bed, has a meltdown and we practice using our words and blowing up our imaginary balloon to release tension. We’ve been working on this for 2 years now… haven’t made much progress but I will never give up on my baby boy.
    ~Mimi

    • runningforautism May 17, 2012 at 11:18 AM #

      Do you know what the triggers are, or what’s causing the resistance to bedtime? Absolutely don’t give up! Every time you practice the strategy with him, a little bit is getting through. I *love* the imaginary balloon – I might use that myself!

      • spiritsguidingway May 17, 2012 at 11:47 AM #

        Sometimes the trigger is his video game, but other times there isn’t a visible trigger that we know of. The imaginary balloon really works well for him. We have him ball up his hands and while he’s blowing out his mouth, he’s releasing his fists as if they are the balloons. I even use it when I’m about to blow my fuse, I just think “balloon, blow up your balloon!!!”

  2. Karyn @ kloppenmum May 17, 2012 at 9:15 PM #

    For what it’s worth: I love the way you parent. :)

    • runningforautism May 18, 2012 at 11:30 PM #

      That is the highest compliment that anyone could possibly give me. Thank you!

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