Tuesday 18 December 2018

Helping my autistic children communicate over Christmas

Christmas brings with it a change of routine, sensory explosions and a whole host of other things that can be overwhelming for any kids but particularly those with autism.  Perhaps more than other times, it's really important that I'm able to understand my kids, so I need to make it easy for them to communicate.

They may need to tell me what's upsetting them, but I'd also love for them to tell me what's exciting them too.  Just because school is over, it doesn't mean we they have to stop learning and practicing their skills.  Here's how we are going to do it.

1.  Introduce Festive vocabulary

We have been introducing Christmas signs and symbols since school finished. This has included many renditions of a Singing Hands Christmas DVD.  We featured along side The Grange and Me too & Co on the Makaton advent count down this year.  They've been flooding our home with festive signing.

However there are also some AAC methods where if you aren't thinking about it, you can cut down on vocabulary without realising it.  Particularly if you are away for Christmas, it can seem easy to cut out and just take pages of a PECS book. That's exactly what I did for 'ease' a few holidays and all it meant was that I limited what our son could think about saying.  Also remember that when it's busy or at times of stress, anyone can divert to a more simple form of communication.

Now I try to immerse us in a comprehensive and appropriate vocabulary. This previously included adding extra vocabulary to David's PECS book at Christmas so he could ask for new things like mince pies and presents! It means learning lots of  Makaton signs for everything else we might need to - like for some of the gifts.  that way we can play with his presents together. If he lets me!

2. Keep modelling communication

David's default communication method is Makaton. But that means it's my default when talking to him and sometimes when talking to the other kids too. If he's going to use his Makaton he has to know how. I wouldn't expect Jane our two year old to speak if I never spoke to her - same for David and his signing.

If I'm asking David if he'd like a mince pie, I need to use signs just like he does when I'm asking the question. I'm looking directly at him, just like he should look at me. I'm talking and signing just like he should. And I'm using the language he needs to understand, reply and be able to request again.

For my verbal son, I provide examples for him.  I speak to him in full sentences, I encourage reciprocal conversation and I try not to interrupt others.

3. Waiting

Waiting. Bless my kids, waiting is not one of their talents, but thankfully I've learned that my ability to wait is a virtue when it comes to my boys communicating.

When the boys see so much it can be hard for them to filter the information they need from a question. Like a computer chugging along and slowing down when it has lots of tasks going on, my boys need time to work. They need time to process and then act.

David needs plenty to time to form his thoughts into a communication. I need to wait. Eventually he manages to Makaton that he wants to watch Peter Rabbit. Great - I'll put it on.

Anthony needs lots of time to process and understand what I'm saying. I need to wait. At the cinema today I bought snacks he was familiar with along with the more traditional popcorn. He was prepared for the idea of having popcorn but when I asked him I still had to wait for about 20 seconds for him to process what I was saying and accept my suggestion.

20 seconds doesn't sound like a long time? Try it in the middle of a conversation, it feels like an age. After getting the popcorn, he had some and then returned to his more familiar snacks.

I'm not at all bothered that he only had some popcorn. In fact it's quite daring if Anthony to eat things he's not used to. But if I'd not waited he'd have missed out on it and perhaps been disappointed later.

So good waiting, and watching of Peter Rabbit and eating of popcorn.

4. Aiming High

My kids make progress at school and I'm not always aware of how much they can do. But I do know David can string several Makaton signs together and when he tries he can make two syllable shapes after each other.  I also know Anthony's speech targets includes responding in full sentences and adding 'wow' words.

I'm wasn't going to withhold fun at Christmas or expect targets to be hit at all in the midst of present opening. But during the normal parts of the day now I can encourage the boys to request/respond in full sentences as appropriate. During breakfast it a good idea as its routine. Jane is five and in many ways communicates better than the boys but she can benefit from these too.

5.  Follow your kids

This last tip goes for just about everything we do with our autistic kids.  If you want kids to communicate then the chances are better if they are interested in something to start with.  If the child is interested in the wrapping paper or the boxes, that's fine, let's play and communicate about those.  It's always best to go with what they are interested in.

Don't rush them.. follow their lead.  It may be better when it is quieter.  We find David will open some gifts for example and then wait till everyone else has finished before he returns to his gifts.  He feels more relaxed then and so more likely to communicate with me.  If he needs quiet time that's fine - it's all about taking advantage of opportunities.

Hope you have a great time and do let me know if you have any great tips to help kids communicate over the festive season. 

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