Spare me the details

My wife and I attended a training session this week, run by the excellent Positive About Autism group.  The sessions are aimed at parents and teachers to provide some insight into the condition and techniques to deal with them.

One technique which really rang a bell with me will shortly be deployed to help L manage one of the behaviours of autism.  Many may refer to it as verbal diarrhoea (spelt without the aid of a spell-checker no less!), others a hint of obsessive compulsive disorder, but for us it is simply not knowing when to stop talking and this is exactly the point.

When do you know when to stop talking?  Depending on what you read, anywhere between 70% and 95% of communication is non-verbal, it is the shape of your body, the faces you make, your tone of voice.  The autistic child has no comprehension of what goes on inside another person, what they might be thinking or feeling, and needs to be taught how to control this.

A typical example may be lego.  L is a huge fan of Lego Ninjago at the moment, he watches the cartoons, he collects the models and plays with the figures.  He knows it inside out - the characters, their backstory, the models and the baddies and the goodies.  And boy can he share it! 

Me:  Shall we go sledging?   (The snow based activity, not the act of abusing another cricketer at the crease in an effort to distract him from the incoming ball for my Australian/Cricketing friends)
L:  Great!  Yes please, and then can we build an igloo?
Me:  I'm not sure there is enough snow for that.
L:  Well, I can gather the snow from the garden and if that's not enough we can get some from the front and off the cars; we can pile it up into walls and use it as a hide for when we play snowball fights, and then we can put a roof on, then we can make a snowman with a carrot for a nose and raisins for eyes, or maybe stones.  We could use a parsnip instead for the nose, or a stone if we wanted to give him a round nose...
Me:  I'm really not sure there will be enough snow
L:  Well if we get all the snow from the garden we can see how much there is and then get more from out the back or off the sides of the road, maybe....
Me:  Thanks L, let's just see when we get home.

At no stage during this conversation did L look at me to see my eyes roll, my body preparing to go out the door, even me walking away from him as he wittered on.  Nothing deterred him in his quest to impart the entire thought process of his planned snow play.

We learned at the course about a technique referred to in Jennifer 'Toole's Book 'The Asperkid's (Secret) Book of Social Rules' whereby you explain to the child that when explaining something the 'topic' can be thought of as your arm, the 'subject' your hand, and the 'details' are the fingers.  It is ok to talk about a topic to someone ("I like playing in the snow") and maybe even the subject ("I'm going to build a snowman"), but unless you establish the other person shares their interest and wants to pursue the conversation further, don't wiggle the fingers, the details, because the other person may not want to hear about it.

I have yet to read the book to fully elaborate on how this can be implemented, but the idea certainly struck a chord.

Our efforts will be to teach L about eye-brow raises, eye-contact, body language, little verbal cues such as 'hmm?', 'yes', 'I agree', 'go on' etc.  If he doesn't get them, he shouldn't wiggle the fingers.

So we continue to learn about ways to deal with his behaviour, unfortunately, after a fantastic fun time sledging, we were all too cold to discover if we had enough snow in the garden to build anything, but there's always tomorrow.

Drive safe in the snow everyone.


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