Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew: Part 4; Literal Thinker

19 01 2008

This is the fourth part of of my series from the book I just finished reading. It’s Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew  by  Ellen Notbohm. The following is from the article by the same name:

I am a concrete thinker.  This means I interpret language very literally.  It’s very confusing for me when you say, “Hold your horses, cowboy!” when what you really mean is “Please stop running.”  Don’t tell me something is a “piece of cake” when there is no dessert in sight and what you really mean is “this will be easy for you to do.”  When you say “It’s pouring cats and dogs,” I see pets coming out of a pitcher.  Please just tell me “It’s raining very hard.”

 Idioms, puns, nuances, double entendres and sarcasm are lost on me. This has been a real stumper for me– and for my parents.  Having grown up overseas, I don’t use a lot of slang in English but, I do joke around a lot. J is into Pirates these days– specifically; The Pirates Who Don’t do Anything.  He’s a little actor, and his primary method of communication is Echolalia– so, when he’s quoting the movie in the voice of Sedgewick, it’s pretty natural for me to call him Sedgewick– he corrects me every-time: “I’m not Sedgewick; I’m J.” His language is literal. It’s important to say what you mean– precisely what you mean. It doesn’t rain cats and dogs; it rains really hard. He isn’t my “Honey Bunny”; He is my favorite guy ever.  He dog isn’t “acting up”; He’s being naughty.

When I realized that J didn’t understand my tone of voice it was a major adjustment for me and I started announcing when I was asking a question.  It’s my habit to get his attention– “Question” (In the inflection of a question– if he doesn’t look at me I tell him to look at me) “J do you want to go to the store with me?” This has been so helpful for us.  He knows when I ask a question– he has to respond and he does.

This is important: When giving instructions you have to be specific. Seriously– this will reduce the number of meltdowns, get results faster and correctly.  Don’t tell him to clean up the mess– tell him to put his toys in his toy box and the dirty clothes to the laundry.

J doesn’t get jokes. The Three Stooges are Funny (physical humor) but “Knock, Knock Jokes” (play on words– an orange is an orange– not “orange you glad I didn’t say banana again..” ) aren’t funny.  He knows that he gets a positive response from telling a joke and so he does it.  His jokes are memorized and have the same inflection as the person/movie/cartoon that taught it to him.  A few nights ago we had dinner with my mom in the nursing home where she is having therapy after hip replacement– Part way through dinner there was a short lull in conversation and J told his best joke; “What lies at the bottom of the ocean and shakes?” (He pauses appropriately, waits for a response.) “A Nervous wreck.”  Everybody laughed– even some of the people at the next table.  So, he told it again, and again…  He didn’t think it was funny but laughed along with everybody else because that’s what he was supposed to do. (NEVER discourage your child from experimenting with social conversation– if he falls into a loop; Help him get out of it. If he uses inappropriate language; steer him toward appropriate language. Do not reprimand your child for trying to participate in the social situation. More about Social Interaction in Part 8.)

Keep promises. Your child needs to be able to believe what you tell him– literally. If you say you are leaving in five minutes: Leave in five minutes.  I’ve quit giving a time-frame because it’s just too hard to keep in a social situation; instead, I tell J what has to be done before we can go. “I need to finish helping grandma with the dishes. When I am done we can go.” Or; “Pack up your toys, Get your coat and give everybody hugs and kisses then we will go” I always make sure he is looking at me when I tell him what needs to be done and, I always keep my promises.

I really do recommend reading this book– it’s been so helpful for us– No meltdowns this week!

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