Secrets To Communication With Your Child With Autism – BookClub

Secrets To Communicating With Your Child With Autism

Think about it when it’s hard to verbalize, what else is your choice to communicate?

Behaviors!

So let’s get into this book…

This month’s book club is:

Secrets To Communicating With Your Child With Autism

-Maria E.R Schafer, and James Schafer

Great title.

My favorite part of the book is how the subtitle is “Your child is trying to communicate with you.”

Yes, I fully agree with that statement. Oh, my goodness. I see it all the time. Autism behaviors are so misconstrued in their communications when it’s hard to verbalize. Think about it when it’s hard to verbalize. What else is your choice to communicate? It’s behaviors!

The First Secret of Communication

It takes all the way until chapter three till they get to the actual secrets to communicating with your child with autism.

And they say here how communication is something that children with autism struggle with. Yes, totally agree. They can find it challenging to relate or connect to other people and are generally slower to develop language skills, have significant difficulty understanding and using spoken language. Some of that I agree with some not so much.

So using spoken language – yes. There is a difficulty for some with autism.

“… and they’re generally slower to develop language skills.” Umm… I think that’s a little bit too much of a generalization. And I also think many people don’t understand the different language skills that people with autism are using. And the one statement I really disagree with here is how they have significant difficulty understanding. That has not been my experience.

Typically, in the beginning, many times parents struggle to kind of quantify what their child understands, and as we work on resolving health issues, the parents then see Holy Cow, and wow, you really understood everything all along. So that statement I don’t particularly agree with. I have a very different experience than many in the autism field. I’m working with children who are healing, right! So you’re going from one experience with autism to a completely different experience with autism. So I do have a different experience with this. And I definitely do not agree that children with autism have a significant difficulty understanding language. Nope.

Teaching to Cope With Anger

Okay. So another secret they’re revealing here is teaching your child to manage and cope with their anger. This is definitely something to master, something to work with your child on and also with yourself. So you’re teaching your child how to cope with anger. But you can also reflect that on yourself and say, “How am I coping with anger? And how is my child watching me deal with anger? How are they learning from me?” Because your child with autism is totally learning from you. So I’ll read here from the book…

“Some of the underlying characteristics of autism can lead to behavior problems, like frustration and angry outbursts and children.” Yes, definitely.

“One such characteristic is the inability to communicate and express one’s thoughts and feelings to others, which often leads to frustration and feelings of being ignored or misunderstood.” And that’s where the anger would come from.

“Another may be the tendency for a child with autism to require sameness with no changes to alterations to their routine. Any changes to the familiar surroundings or daily schedule can provoke anxiety and lead to upset.” That little last part the sameness typically is related to health and certain gut infections. So the unfortunate thing with this book is it’s one perspective, so they’re not really taking into account the health of the child with autism. The book goes on further to say, “If you want to deal with your child’s anger effectively, you will first need to determine where it’s coming from.” Very good.

“And this can be quite a challenge, especially if they struggle to communicate their feelings and desires to you.” It’s hard. They say here, like, ask your child what’s wrong. That is going to be difficult, right? Because if they’re struggling with language skills, it’s going to actually frustrate them even more- the fact that they can’t tell you what’s frustrating them and then that just frustrates them. And then you as a parent, what is that going to do? You’re going to be like, oh, man. Now I’m even more frustrated because I know my child’s frustrated, but I can’t figure it out. They can’t tell me. And it’s just like this cycle of frustration, and it just builds and builds and builds every day. And this is why sometimes children with autism get deemed as having really bad behaviors many times. It’s because they’re so misunderstood. And I have to say also, many of them are so brilliant, and they’re doing, like, prekindergarten work for like, a decade that is really going to wear on someone.

So it would be hard for someone with autism who is like, Listen, I’m really smart in here. I just can’t organize all these motor skills to actually verbalize or point and communicate that way. And the frustration level just builds and builds and builds. So this can be a very difficult area for the parent to try and figure out. It’s not easy. So their solution is to use a communication strategy or device.

They say here “You can develop a kind of visual representation or board of triggers, emotions, and consequences to help your child express themselves. Once you have identified the trigger, you have the opportunity to avoid it in the future.” Now, this, I have to say, is a little bit of a slippery slope, and it’s a slippery slope because if you identify the trigger and the whole strategy is to avoid it, that makes life quite stressful, right? And that’s not technically coping that’s avoiding. Avoiding is not coping. The book further goes on to say, “When rage becomes unavoidable, it is essential that your child have a safe place to vent their feelings where they will not be able to harm themselves or anyone else. You can try directing their anger by offering them a soft object, like a pillow to scream in or use as a punching bag.” This definitely is a strategy to develop. So when your child gets frustrated when they get angry, how can they release that emotion? So maybe they go do some physical exercise, right? Maybe this is when you take them for a walk.

If that’s their level of physical exercise, maybe they go to the batting cage, right. Maybe they go do some kickboxing. Maybe there’s just like an area in the house where they can go and just kind of beat the heck out of it so that they can release it and release their frustration. And you can use this as a way to connect with them and be like, yes, I understand you’re frustrated. I’m sorry, I don’t know what the problem is, but let’s get this frustration out and encourage them to release it because you don’t want that to build and build and build.

That’s very stressful for them.

Journaling

Another strategy this book offers is to Journal and to write down their feelings and their thoughts. That’s not appropriate for every child with autism. But if your child loves writing and can write or type – that definitely is an option. That would be great.

And so here the book talks about if they are angry because they can’t have or do something that they want at that moment, try to reach a compromise. And it goes on to say how you should not just give in to your child’s demands to stop their bad behavior. That I 100% agree with because then you’re just teaching them to use that behavior to get what they want. So let’s say they want soda in the fridge, right? And you tell them no. And so then they throw it. And so then you’re like, oh, my gosh. Okay, fine. I’ll just give you the soda. The only thing they learned in that situation is “Okay when Mommy tells me no, I’m just going to make it miserable. I’m going to do whatever I can in my power to annoy her. So she just gives me what I want.” So that I agree with 100%. That is not a good strategy at all to deal with behaviors and many times these behaviors are just communicating “Hey, Mom, I really want that soda!”

And the unfortunate thing here with autism is it’s so binary, right. So they either get the soda or they don’t. And so that’s what early in the paragraph. They’re talking about a compromise. So it could be like, “Oh, yeah. Do you want a soda? That’s not too healthy for you. Remember how it makes you feel and how you get all giddy and then you have mood swings and all that stuff? Yeah. Let’s not do that.

How about we have …” and you present them something good, which is a substitute. So different kinds of flavored seltzers or. I mean, it’s endless. Right? You can compromise.

And that’s where the fun part is in that compromising that also decreases a lot of that frustration and that anger and increases communication in a way that is actually fun. Right? You’re teaching your child to negotiate to handle a situation where he’s told no. Okay. What do I do?

It doesn’t mean the end of the world. It doesn’t mean I throw myself on the floor. It just means. All right. Let me think about something else and compromise.

So I do really like that section of the book.

Violence

Here it goes on to say how if your child’s anger leads to physical violence, you will need to talk to them about the possible consequences. There are serious consequences for violent people, such as juvenile detention or jail. And this is where this kind of behavior if it’s not addressed early in life, can lead to very scary situations when they’re bigger and when maybe strangers have to interact with them. So we as parents can be very kind and compassionate and understanding.

Strangers are not going to be that to a 16-year-old who might punch them. They might actually press charges. So this is definitely a very serious topic to work on. If your child is younger and they’re having extreme violent reactions, definitely look into their health. Many of these behaviors do have a health component to it, so really try and understand your child’s health, but then also work on improving their communication. So they don’t resort to such extreme behavior. And it’s something really to address when they’re younger so that when they’re older, you’re not dealing with that.

Love Languages

For anyone who loves love languages, there is a discussion here about love languages, which is kind of surprising in an autism book. And if you don’t know what love languages are, just Google it. I’m not going to go into too much detail about this, but it’s a good, interesting perspective.

Attention Seeking Behavior

Another part of communicating for children with autism is attention-seeking behavior. And oh, goodness, I actually love when children are showing these kinds of behaviors. Yes, it’s usually in an inappropriate way, but it means that they want to connect. They want to have attention from people they want to interact with. It’s just really good behaviors, but they have to be modified and nurtured and funneled towards something that is beneficial to everyone in the situation.

So the book goes on to say, “The primary reason that your child performs attention-seeking behavior is, of course, to get your attention. However, this behavior can also be the result of a number of other factors. Attention-seeking behaviors may help your child avoid doing things that they do not want to do. They may also perform attention-seeking behaviors out of sheer boredom.”

Yes, yes, yes. Very much in school boredom, and it gets misinterpreted as bad behavior. Oh! You’re just being bad. You’re trying to avoid something because it’s too hard. No! Many times it’s too easy and they’re bored. So it’s really important to analyze why is this behavior happening and think of behavior as communication!

That’s really the takeaway of this entire book.

That behavior is communication.

So think about it. What is your child trying to communicate by doing that? If you have that frame of mind, Oh! behaviors, they actually become fun.

They become beautiful because you can see how much your child is really trying to communicate. And they have a great quote here

“To start discouraging attention-seeking behavior, you need to make sure that you aren’t letting them get the better of you.”

Yeah. All this kind of strategy and analysis of behavior takes time away from the actual situation.

So you can’t do this planning “in the moment”, right?

Because I don’t know if your child is doing something that’s kind of annoying or whatnot you’re going to get annoyed and you can’t react the way you want to. So I would definitely take some time. You could read this book or another book or just reflect on your child’s behaviors and say, Why are they doing that? Am I somehow reinforcing it? By the way, I react to their behaviors.

Best Strategies for Teaching Your Child to Communicate

Okay. And now they have a chapter here that they say are some of the best strategies for teaching your child with autism to communicate.

So I’ll just name them here.

Encouraged social interaction and play.

I will say that this can be sometimes very hard and very frustrating. It sounds very easy, right. I encourage socialness. Yeah, How?!

It is a strategy, but it’s not something that you can just do with ease. Again. It takes more planning, maybe hiring someone for them to look at the situation. Not quite as straightforward.

Focus on nonverbal communications. (That is very true.)

Imitate your child.

Yes, definitely. That’s the best way to start connecting and the easiest, right. Because there’s no question as to what to do. You just follow what they do if they’re jumping, jump along. It’s actually kind of fun, and it’s a lot of exercise.

Follow your child’s interest

Functional communication training.

Now, this topic is really where you would work with someone because it’s a very professional type of approach. Let me explain what functional communication training is. So here in the book, it says “…Functional communication training involves using positive reinforcement to teach children about communication and language to improve their proficiency and effective interaction with others to meet their needs.” Great! And so it goes on to say how does that work…

“The therapist..” (and usually again, this is done with a professional)

“The therapist and you would identify something that the child is highly motivated about, like a favorite toy or things like that. And the object will serve as a natural reward for using a picture or sign that represents that thing.” And so the example here is if the child really loves Thomas the Tank Engine, then you would have a picture of that and you would have the actual object when they touch the picture, they would actually get that.

So you’re really just teaching them a communication of “Okay, I can understand in 2D – this is what I want, and I get it in 3D!”

And then you build upon that strategy more and more. So it’s not using a verbal approach. This is more using text.

Replacing Self Injury with Language

And here’s a topic. It’s about replacing self-injury with language. “Like all behaviors, self-injury serves a function. Usually to get attention to escape an undesirable task or to serve a sensory need.” This is so important in school or in any situation where your child does not feel good, and all of a sudden they have this self-injurious behavior. It is communication. It is not something to be solely thought of as behavior. The behavior is communicating. “Hey, something is just not right here with me. I don’t like being told to do this or that” or anything along those lines. So the book goes on to say, “When face slapping or head hitting results in a child receiving attention, receiving something they want or escaping an uncomfortable situation.” I think school, maybe some demand was placed on them. They start banging their heads. They have to be brought to a separate room and have the whole calm down procedure. They just escaped whatever they did not want to do. And it could be boring because it might not be the appropriate level. So there are so many layers here.

But again, if they receive attention, they receive something they want or escape an uncomfortable situation. The behavior is reinforced. If your child headbangs in order to avoid a task at school and the teachers take the child away from that situation and the task is stopped. The teacher has just reinforced that communication. So the next time the child is being asked to do something they don’t want to do, whether it’s too hard, too easy, they’re bored.

Maybe they don’t feel good. They’re going to say to themselves, okay, last time I headbanged and everything stopped. So I’m going to do it again. And then that’s what they’re using to communicate. And the teacher is reinforcing that communication because the child got what they wanted.

They just learned. Okay, I have to sacrifice my head in order to communicate what I need. And that’s a very difficult cycle for everyone to be in. The teacher certainly does not want to reinforce that behavior. Right.

But if they’re reacting in the moment and they don’t have a good strategy, that’s probably what they’re going to do. The child, they’re banging their head. That’s not a good situation. And for you, as the parent who gets told all these things that are going on at school and you can’t see and you can’t observe. And it’s really frustrating. So it’s really important to understand that self-injury needs to be replaced with some type of communication, and it’s totally possible.

It just takes time, thought, and strategy.

Conclusion

So overall, this book has some benefits for sure. I’m not quite sure about the secret part. I didn’t find any secrets. There are certainly well-known strategies here.

But if you’re new to autism or if you’re new to trying to figure out what is my child saying with behavior, then this certainly wouldn’t be a good book. It’s a relatively quick read, and I think it gives a good overview.

Thanks for being here.

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