I sometimes feel like I have learned how to speak a different language when it comes to interacting with my son. I like to call it Asperguese but I’m not sure anyone else does!
I have over the years learned the art of using more direct and literal sentences because by modifying my own communication style communication has become much easier.
To use the analogy of computer programming – a computer will only do what it has been programmed to do. It will only perform in the way you want it to if you have entered the correct information. Obviously my son is not like a computer but very often misunderstandings that occur are in a large part due to the fact the instruction or question which has been given to him has not been phrased clearly enough, it might be too ambiguous or it might not signal the amount of detail required in his response.
In school settings teachers who have autistic pupils need to place a high level of importance on learning to communicate very clearly when they are instructing autistic pupils. If they don’t ask the right questions they will not get the right answers.
The same could be said of employers of autistic adults.
If the input is inadequate the output won’t be up to scratch either.
Edward has never been keen on homework – but that’s probably not exactly a shocking revelation. He’s always questioned the purpose of it and seen it as a completely pointless exercise as it reduces his time for learning about things which actually interest him.
When it comes to following homework instructions Edward is perfectly happy to go with the interpretation which means he can produce as little work as possible.
In year 7 he had a piece of RS homework which was to answer the question, “Do people feel closer to God when they are in religious buildings?”. I think this question posed all sorts of problems for Edward but he took it at face value as a very simple yes or no type question and so his homework consisted of the word “NO”. That was it. Completed in all of 2 seconds.
I spent ages trying to convince him that the teacher didn’t just want to have a one word answer to the question but he was having none of it.
As far as he was concerned he’d done exactly what the teacher had asked and if she had wanted him to write more she would have explicitly said so. We couldn’t make him budge on his opinion but after about 45 minutes of discussion he made a small concession and wrote , “No, God is omnipresent” and that was it.
It would have been much more helpful for the teacher to have given a bit more information so that Edward would have had a better chance at producing a piece of work that she wanted him to. Just a few lines more would have helped. Please explain your answer using at least X words or even “Some people feel closer to God when they are in a religious building. Why might they feel like this?” or even “What do you think people mean when they say that they feel close to God?” .
Even if Edward had been given more information about how much to write I think this piece of homework would have been challenging as it requires putting yourself in someone elses shoes and trying to see things from their perspective and it also involves understanding and explaining abstract concepts which you may not have experience of in your own life. However we’d at least have had a better chance at engaging him in a thinking conversation about his homework if it had been set out differently.
I can see perfectly well why opting for a simple “No” was preferable for Edward.
If you are working with an autistic child and their work output is limited then it’s worth having a good look at the input you’ve provided – have you been specific enough? clear enough? Have all your exact instructions been written down so that the pupil can go back and check that they are on track?
Sometimes you have to use more words to make sure that your instruction is as clear as possible.
If you want some more examples of how to modify your own language so that you communicate as clearly as possible with an autistic pupil I have written a few related posts here: