I was having a chat with a friend this morning, who was telling me about her daughter. “She has gone on and on about going to a party tonight – it’s driving me mad”. When I asked gently what “going on and on” meant, she said that her daughter had mentioned it 3 times. I had to smile!! I remember back to the first time we took Emily on a plane. I created a social story around it and I read that story to Emily 30 times a day for 3 months!!! Questions, repetitive language and echolalia are all part of family life, when you have a child with autism. Family members and friends are often perplexed when our child asks the same question over and over, or repeats the last few words they say. As Emily was growing up, I used to think other autistic children spoke so much more than her. As I engaged with them, however, I realised that their language was repetitive and they asked me the same questions each time we met. In a way, it is no different to your child wanting to, watch the same dvd over and over, wear the same clothes, drink out of the same cup for breakfast. It is the repetitive nature of the language that calms them and makes them feel safe and gives them a feeling of control. Your child may find conversation difficult, even if they find language acquisition easy. Children with autism find it difficult to initiate or maintain a conversation and so they may use the same language as the last time they spoke to you, because it worked out ok. Autistic children also have a need for certainty and control, so they may repeat themselves or want you to repeat information over and over again, to feel reassured. They may be anxious about a particular event or activity and be trying to work it out. It may be a way of getting out of situation they feel extremely uncomfortable in, or which is boring or unpredictable.
So, how can we help? CREATE A SOCIAL STORY If it is a particular event that your child is repeating, you could create a social story to read with your child several times a day. Of course, the story never changes (unlike our responses to their repetitive language) and so this may calm and reassure more quickly. DO A LIST You could write a list of everything that is going to happen and then your child can tick things off. This is a good idea if they are feeling anxious about a certain thing really happening because they can see it getting nearer, e.g. how many days until the school holidays. WRITE THE ANSWERS DOWN If your child asks you the same thing day after day and it is not really related to an actual event (what colour is the dog? Where are my red socks? Am I having a sandwich for lunch?), write the answers to all the questions, cut them out and stick them on the fridge. That way, when your child asks you the question, you can refer to the answer which never changes. The reason your child asks you the same question or tells you the same thing over and over, is their need for knowledge and certainty. It is this outcome that keeps your child feeling secure. I just smile when friends complain about their children asking questions all the time. Emily has never asked a question in her life. Gosh, how I am looking forward to that day! However, for my daughter, echolalia is massive. Echolalia means your child repeats language they have heard. It may be what you have just said, or it may be a line of a song or in a film, or it may be something Grandma said two weeks ago. It may seem strange to have your child echo things that you say, but echolalia tells you two very important things. 1. 2.
Your child has the ability to communicate – they can physically say the words. Your child has the desire to communicate – they want to talk to you, but find it incredibly difficult to initiate their own unique sentences.
So, how can you help your child move from repeating what the world says, to initiating their own speech? GIVE A CHOICE Instead of asking your child - “would you like a drink?”, when they could respond “like a drink”, you could offer choice - “would you like a drink or a book?”. Make sure you don’t place the item they want at the end of the sentence. If your child just echos “book”, even though you know it is the drink they want, give them the book. Try this a few times, but if it doesn’t work and your child is getting stressed, switch it round, so “drink” is at the end again and give them the drink. Try again tomorrow! USE OPEN QUESTIONS
Try asking your child an open question - â€œWhat would you like?â€?. Then give them at least 30 seconds to respond. In order to answer an open question, your child needs to listen to the question, understand and process the question, think about what they want, work out the answer and give you the answer (and we thought answering questions was automatic!!!). Again, if your child gets too stressed doing this, revert back to GIVE A CHOICE. PAUSE AND WAIT The final idea is to perhaps go to the fridge, open the door, look at your child with an expectant face and WAIT! See what happens! If your child gets too stressed, revert to USE OPEN QUESTIONS and if that does not work or your child becomes more stressed, go back to GIVE A CHOICE. Have fun and take care.
THE AUTISM NANNY www.theautismnanny.co.uk