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.



Well 'tis the season to recommence blogging (fa la la la la, la la la la).

I've been a little slovenly again of late, mostly due to plain business, but also because L has been progressing reasonably well.  Well, at least there have been very few new challenges to share with you anyway.

Christmas is always an interesting time of year, and with young children, you can rarely go wrong.  Their excitement is palpable, contagious and wonderful.  At one stage around a week before christmas, I caught them both lying on the rug, watching the 'sleeps to christmas' app counting down the seconds to Christmas!

It also presents challenges, not least because as an annual event, it doesn't really fall into the easily planned and regular activity which an Autistic child relishes.  We had spent a long time preparing the boys for Christmas though - Christmas lists, advent calendars and even the 'elf on the shelf' to keep an eye on them.  Unfortunately, the elf wasn't exactly welcomed with open arms.

The idea is simple - the elf arrives with a story book on 1st December.  The story explains how he goes back to santa each night to report on the boys behaviour, and each morning is in a different place in the house.  Sounds delightful?

Well, clearly the thought of a potential living being in the house, one who can move freely around and appear anywhere, and one who watches the boys with an eerie silence much like the weeping angels in Doctor Who initially provoked a not disimilar reaction when, the next morning, L did not react well to 'Odie's' new location.

Needless to say, we decided to keep him downstairs for the next few days.

After a while, he was welcomed into the family.  L even spent time talknig to him and explaining the 5 gifts he wanted from his list and what he was going to do with them.  I hadn't quite appreciated originally, but very soon it was apparent that here was the dream conversational partner for L.  Someone who wouldn't keep interrupting him because he was labouring the point after 15 minutes of explaining in minute detail.  Someone who wouldn't stop him and say he has already heard it.  Someone who wouldn't say no.  That he didn't say anything wasn't a problem.

Odie wrote a few letters back to the boys and became a very good idea, so I thank my wife for that and, as per Odie's last letter, left on Christmas morning after he had gone home with santa, and leading to the motherload of presents (14 each in the end - they were clearly very good boys), eagerly await next year and Odie's return on 1st December 2013. 

Only 1,213,730 seconds to go (as of writing!).