Children with autism think in pictures as well as in a literal sense. Understanding things like sarcasm or alternate meanings to words is a high level developmental skill. In addition it’s a social skill which we all know our kids with autism struggle the most to overcome. You must be hyper vigilant in making sure to speak clearly and concisely until you fill in those developmental gaps. This will make your interactions with your child be far more successful resulting in less meltdowns.
What does it mean to be a literal thinker?
When I say speak clearly and concisely, I mean you can’t use all those cute sayings and hyberbole that is common in childhood. There are no “See you later alligator” or calling the child by any other name than his own. There can be no “Hey, buddy!” or “What you talking about Willis?” happening here in Autismland. Yes, I totally just showed my age with that last reference. You can include sarcasm and snark in this category as well.
Another area that literal rears it’s ugly head is when making rules or talking about routines. For children with autism, routines are life. They want hard and fast rules with no room for interpretation. Remember that there is no gray area for a child with autism. It’s either right or wrong. It’s the way it’s done or you are doing it wrong. If you are the person who usually does it then the child can’t fathom that someone else could do it too. Let me show you what that looks like for us.
What it looks like in Autismland
The day began well. We hopped out of bed early to get our chores done before our homeschool friends came over. Well, hopped out as best as three non morning people can hop out of bed. Everything was done before noon. That was the only thing that went right that day.
First, no one showed up. As in, not one person. It was a co-op thing where three moms get together to encourage each other and see how other moms set up their homeschool. I even gave directions to one mom that morning. I think that the other one forgot all about it. I ended up stuck with a cranky kids who were expecting company. They were not happy at all. In addition, Logan could not understand why someone would say they were coming over then not show up. He talked about it all afternoon nonstop.
About 4:00 PM , I started to feel physically sick. I was tired and my whole body ached. Depression can make you physically ill. I had spent the afternoon answering the same question from my child with autism which reminded me that I had no friends every time he asked it. I thought it would be a good idea to take a nap since Michael was off from work. Sounds good so far, right?
About 5:15, I hear Logan talking to Michael outside my bedroom door about how he needs to wake me up. All of his independent lessons are done and he needs me to finish his lessons. We have a no electronics rule before 6 and only if your independent lessons have been completed. Logan knew the rule and it was about to bite me in the butt.
The conversation ended with Michael sending Logan away to finish something else. He completes that task then proceeds to come into my room. Michael, of course, didn’t realize that once Logan completed the task at hand, he would come back to the original goal of completing his work by 6 PM in order to get his electronics.
Logan ( rubbing my back): Mom, you need to get up.
Logan: I need to do read a loud and my memory verses.
Me: Are you serious? ( I am highly agitated at this point and still laying with my eyes closed)
Logan: yup (at least he continued to rub my back)
Me: I am not the only adult in this house. What if I told you your dad could do those things with you?
Logan is silent for a moment . Then he quickly stops rubbing my back, gets up and leaves. It was like asking Michael never occurred to him. He does those things with me so he assumed he needed me. His autism makes him a creature of habit. He needed to complete the task so he did it in exactly the same order as any other day and needed the same people.
What could I have done better?
In hindsight I could have set him up for success from the beginning. Sensing his disappointment in no one coming over, I could have called it a fun day with no lessons. Thus he would not have needed me before 6. Doing lessons helped alleviate his distress though so we reverted back to our standard day. When I went to lay down, I could have told him that as long as he was done his independent lessons, he could have electronics at 6 PM. Engulfed in my own needs, I did not think of that option. You know what? That’s ok. Sometimes a mom needs to take a break and tend to herself. The interaction ended successfully and we were once again reminded that Logan interprets things literally.
How do you make sure your child understands your meaning?