How to engage when your ASD child talks AT you constantly
Bright Eyes' latest craze is reading all of those 'little boy' books. If you have eight year olds in the house, you'll know the ones.
They're all written by Dav Pilkey, Andy Griffiths and other authors who have maximised the use of poo and wee and undies and stinky farts in order to attract the 8-11 year old male market.
And there are so many of them, all with horrendously long titles with ridiculous alliteration and silly names.
As with all of Bright Eyes' obsessions, he doesn't like enjoying these books alone. We are all continually bombarded with Captain Underpants references, title lists and requests to 'just listen to this bit'.
Which kinda drives me a bit nuts.
It's not mutual communication, you see. Really, he is trying to control our interactions by giving me information. He's not very interested in my reaction to what he likes. Instead, he wants to get what he thinks is the correct reaction ("Ha ha, that's funny") from me which makes him feel in control.
Given that I'm trying to help him learn to think in flexible ways and communicate effectively and self-regulate, just listening to his monologues and nodding isn't going to help him very much. But it's a struggle to know what to do.
I've tried falling on the floor in boredom and I've done the 'I'm not interested' and 'I've heard it before' and 'I'm not talking about Captain Underpants'. But he persists with lists of titles and requests to read specific chapters.
So I'm trying a new approach. I'm going to attempt to engage with him every time, but slow him down, make him wait and give him an actual reaction or observation and then attempt to get him to extend and vary the interaction.
Ideally, this is how it will go:
Him: "Mum, guess what?"
Me: "I'm guessing, I'm guessing, I'm guessing.... but I can't think."
Him: "The book Captain Underpants and the Terrible Talking Toilet is the third one in the series. Before that comes Captain Underpants..."
Me: "What? Hang on? Did I hear you? I thought I heard you say it was the third book."
Him: (trying to get me back on his track): Um, Before that comes Captain Underpants and the..."
Me: Hang on. I'm just trying to think about what I can say about this.... If this is the third book, then you must have done a lot of reading.
Him: It's Captain Underpants and the....
Me: I think I've seen you reading every single day. For months!
Him: Mum! Mum! Listen!
Me: I did listen. I'm just amazed at how much you read! You've read so many books.
Him: "Yes, this is the third book and then there's..."
Me: I remember when you were five and you couldn't read. And then when you were six you were learning.
Him: (hopefully by now getting diverted) "Yes, I learned to read."
Me: "Some of the readers you used to bring home were funny."
And so on and so forth. The plan is to slow him down, while remaning engaged, to take control back and to create an opportunity for him to converse with me on a mutual topic.
It will take more energy than I have given him for a while, but hopefully it will help him to really begin to regulate better with me.
A good phone call
I was intrigued to hear Bright Eyes on the phone with his (slightly younger) cousin (also with Asperger's) the other day. We forgot the poor little fellow's birthday and rang up a bit sheepishly two days late. Bright Eyes and he have always had quite a close bond, both liking trains a lot, so Bright Eyes did all the talking from our end.
I heard him begin a conversation, ask relevant questions, keep the conversation going and then repair some miscommunications. Finally at the end, he signed off effectively and happily.
I was impressed and pleased to see that he could take the responsibility in a conversation where he was the 'older', more mature partner.
UPDATE: I had almost the exact conversation with my son tonight that I predicted above. He was confused by my slowing down the exchange and got frustrated with me for not allowing him to continue with his list of information. At one stage he burst into tears and said, "You've GOT to let me speak because I'll forget my words otherwise!" I'm going to continue to do this despite the frustration because I could see him stopping, processing, studying and thinking, all of which are what I'm aiming for.