Sunday, November 27, 2005

Silence is golden

Yet more insight gleaned from the SCERTS seminar. During his presentation, Barry Prizant made frequent references to Ros Blackburn, a woman from England who has autism and often gives presentations at autism conferences. Like Temple Grandin, Blackburn is able to talk about autism in a way that gives neurotypicals real insight into life on the spectrum. One particular reference stood out for me.

Prizant said that he once asked Blackburn to name the thing that other people did that was most frustrating to her. She answered that other people don't allow enough time for people with autism to answer questions. Typically, she said, just as she is forming the answer the other person starts talking again. And not only that - they're not just repeating themselves, they are saying things differently.

It struck an instant chord. I do it all the time. I hear other people do it all the time as well. We honestly think we're being helpful.

We ask, "Bud, what did you do in school today?"

Pause.

We think, is he listening?

We say, "Bud, look at me. Was school fun today?"

"Yeah."

We think, good, he's listening. We repeat, "What did you do?"

Pause.

We think, maybe he doesn't understand what I'm looking for.

We ask, "What was your favorite part of school today?"

Pause.

We think, he still doesn't get it; I'll be more clear.

We say, "Did you play with toys at school?"

"Yeah."

We think, here we go! We say, "What did you play with?"

Pause.

And on and on it goes until we give up or have gotten enough yes/no responses to satisfy our need for the pretense of conversation.

According to Prizant, Ros Blackburn compares her experience of this sort of "conversation" to assembling a jigsaw puzzle. Someone asks a question, and she begins to piece it together - what are they asking? what is the expected response? what do I think about this? how do I put that into words? The piecing takes her full concentration, so she is silent while she thinks. She is silent, in fact, for a long time; long enough that the other person decides s/he needs to be "helpful". Unfortunately, by rephrasing the question, it feels to Blackburn as if the person steps in, grabs the puzzle she has almost completed, and hurls the pieces into the air. Now she has to start over, this time trying to assemble the puzzle with a heightened level of frustration. (And we wonder why people with autism get dysregulated?)

So I've been trying since the seminar to slow down my conversations with Bud and to stop "prompting" his answers. The conversations go something like this:

"Bud, what was your favorite thing in school today?"

Pause.

Pause.

Pause.

Pause.

Pause.

"I play Magic Letter Factory on the computer."

"Oh, that sounds fun. Did any other kids play with you?"

Pause.

Pause.

Pause.

Pause.

Pause.

"Sadie play me."

Pause.

Pause.

Pause.

Pause.

Pause.

"And Margo, too."

As the Dalai Lama says, "Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer. "

6 comments:

Eileen said...

I am so guilty of this as well. Thanks for reminding me to slow down.

Jenn said...

I just tried this with my 4.5 yr old and he answered almost every question!!! Thanks so much for opening my eyes - Hopefully I can get his teacher to have a little more patience with him.....

Kristina Chew said...

Sometimes it seems to take a half-hour or a day for Charlie to think of the answer to a question...... Perhaps the need to have a bit more silence before Bud answers a question is related to what you wrote about earlier regarding not being able to forget and memory? He's still trying not to forget what to say to the first question when the second gets fired.....

Anonymous said...

Right on. My two year old is a former preemie that suffered a severe brain bleed at birth. She has very mild CP. We began the pausing method about a month ago. She has definately responded to this. L's therapists have noticed the difference in her receptive language as well! ND

gretchen said...

Thanks for this suggestion. I have been trying to remember to wait for Henry's answer. Last night I asked "how was the basketball game with daddy?" (I actually should have phrased this more specifically, but anyway...)
pause, pause, pause, pause, I think he's not going to answer, then
"you picked out poptarts." "and pizza."

Of course, what he ate is what would be important to Henry to report. He's not going to tell me about the game itself.

Thanks again for the tip- easy to implement, and productive.

Camilla said...

I know this post is from forever ago, but its new to me and i relish in all the posts from when your son was in kindergarten since thats where we are at. i cant wait till my 5 year old comes home from school today to try this! i have been doing just like you used to, not giving him enough time to answer! I am hoping to acutally hear what happened at school for once! usually when i ask about he is ends up bursting into tears.