People often tell me that Ella is such a great girl/sister/daughter, or that Lucas makes them smile/laugh/giggle. And it makes me happy as a mother to hear feedback like this, but it also makes me really sad on another level.
Because; I rarely get reports like this about my precious little Harley.
And occasionally, I permit myself to think about the possible reasons for this and become sick to the stomach as I consider the possibility that I did this by blogging about him.
Have I used this platform to paint an unfair and inaccurate picture of him? Have I magnified the not-so-pleasant parts of autism therefore causing him to be branded as a troubled child?
Well. No. I don’t believe so.
I spoke to my Mum about this and she pointed out that she has read every single post I have ever written and assured me that the major theme that shines through them all is total compassion and unconditional love for my sweet boy. And I believed her because I KNOW that I never once have tried to vilify him in any way.
Harley is a challenge yes – but he is not a bad or naughty child. But sadly, there have only ever been a handful of people in our lives that have bothered to get to know the beautiful loveable little Harley that lurks beneath the aggression and aloofness. A lot of people simply refuse to look past the often sulky, highly anxious and sullen faced boy that he so often presents to the world.
But I’m here to say that he is special, he is a joy and a remarkable example of God’s grace and perfect workmanship.
It occurred to me a couple of days ago when talking about all of this to a friend, that this is more than likely a case of other people not knowing HOW to talk to him or respond to the sometimes awkward interactions with him. It’s highly probable that a lot of friends are unsure of what to say or how to say it and are afraid of causing offense so opt to play it safe by saying nothing instead.
And hey…..I totally get that!
But Harley is extremely intuitive even without being skilled at reading body language or facial expressions. He knows instantly when someone is uncomfortable around him and he responds accordingly.
So I thought it might be interesting and possibly helpful to write-up a short list of do’s and don’ts when interacting with MY aspie.
And my disclaimer up front is that I don’t profess to know all there is about aspergers or how each individual differs, but I can give an insight into MY aspie that no other could, so bearing that in mind….each point will be written ONLY about Harley but a lot of them are transferable to other children on the spectrum as well.
So here goes, I’ll try to keep it short
- Acknowledge Harley by using his name when greeting him. Sometimes – particularly if you’re in a crowded environment or noisy area – he will be overwhelmed and not listening when you speak. Hearing his name will alert him that you are talking to him.
- Repeat the greeting if necessary. He possibly didn’t hear you.
- Take it personally if he grunts/groans/scowls or snaps at you. It’s more likely that he is overloaded sensory-wise than being oppositional.
- If he refuses to answer – don’t push him. It may seem that he’s being rude, but I’ve learned that this is not because he doesn’t like you. There may be a thousand reasons that often even I am unable to figure out.
- Speak to him like you would any other child. He is at an age now where he detects if you’re talking down to him.
- Expect him to eye contact you. He is unable to speak and maintain eye contact at the same time, Just because he isn’t looking at you doesn’t mean he isn’t listening.
- Find out about Harley’s special interests and weave them into conversations with him. This is how my Mum and now another close friend have gotten into Harley’s world. Sonic the Hedgehog opens up a part of my boy that nothing else can.
- Tell him that he’s a big boy now and shouldn’t be playing with Sonic/Teddy bears/My Little Ponies/Toy Story or Cars paraphernalia. Children on the spectrum often have an ongoing and lasting interest in toys or gimmicks that aren’t what society (or toy companies) deem to be age-appropriate.
- Show an interest in what he is talking to you about however mundane it may seem to you at the time.
- Finish sentences for him even if it’s obvious where he is going with it. This frustrates him and makes him lose his train of thought and he gets quite anxious. He needs to get sentences out fully before he can move onto the next thought.
- Follow my lead. I have learned how to read his vital signs most of the time and I always try to cater to what I’ve sensed in him. If I say something along the lines of: “I’m so sorry but we really have to leave NOW”, listen and respect that. Please don’t try to illicit conversation from him or tell me that “he’s fine”.
- Think that I’m shunning or avoiding you. I am just trying to save my son some dignity and remove him from situations before he loses control and possibly embarrasses himself.
And I have like a thousand more to add but right now, I’m going to turn it over to you my loyal readers: What would you like to add to the list and I’ll try to include them all in ”How to talk to an Aspie Pt 2″ :)