Saturday, 19 September 2015

So You Need to Talk to an Autistic Kid?

Of course there are loads of professional situations when people need to interact with autistic children. Teacher, shop assistant, medical professional, police officer - the list is endless, because autistic people are just people, and they live in the world like everyone else. The most common situation where we encounter trouble with George is at children's parties, where everyone is expected to participate, to have fun, to join in, and also to communicate their wishes. It's in exactly this kind of pressurising environment that George closes in on himself, and can't talk. So today, as I sat in the clamour of a children's party, I wrote a little list that might help professionals when they need to talk to autistic kids, or any kid or adult who has trouble with the pressure of communication. I use 'he' throughout because I was thinking of George, but of course it applies equally to all genders.

  • Even if he doesn't respond, it's very likely he's listening to every word you say (unless he's distracted.) He's hyper-alert in this kind of situation, and he's trying very hard.
  • Try to have the conversation in a quiet space, away from distractions. If there's a lot of noise or other sensory stimulation he'll find it hard to hear what you're saying. That said, don't try to force him to move if he doesn't want to.
  • If he doesn't seem to want to interact with you, ask if it's okay to talk through his parent/caregiver. He wants to get through the conversation. He just can't.
  • Pressure makes things worse. He needs time to make decisions.
  • Talking more loudly won't make him respond. Please try to make your voice softer and quieter. Remember he's autistic, not stupid.
  • He might want to hide his face, look down, huddle up, or hide in a small space. This makes him feel safe. It's not a problem, and he can still hear you.
  • He might not want to make eye contact. Please don't force him to.
  • He's not being rude. He knows how to say please and thank you. He knows it's expected, and he's very aware of his own sense of gratitude. But he can't speak.
  • If needs be just leave it. Consider if the interaction is really important. Can you speak to his parent or caregiver instead, perhaps at another time? But try not to leave him out just because he can't interact. He wants desperately to be part of things. It's just overwhelming.
I hope that some of these tips help. They won't fit every kid, I'm sure. I wrote them specifically with George in mind. But I hope they help.