Pressure and how to avoid it – don’t make your child fear talking

Neuro-typical people are compulsive communicators. Even introverts talk. And in fact, one often finds that introverts, once they feel comfortable, deliver long monologues that actually comprise more expressive speech, than an extrovert might use.

The point we are making here is, it’s hard to understand, when you are neuro-typical, that someone really, really, really might not want to communicate.

We are not just talking about begin a bit shy, or not feeling like talking at a given moment. We are talking about really having no desire at all to express yourself to others.

This is not the same as not wanting to express yourself at all – autistic people do that all the time. But they do it in ways that are not familiar to neuro-typicals and we often miss the queues.

Again, if we study the semantics of the word autism itself, we have auto (the Greek word for the self) and ism i.e. a state of being. So if somebody has selfism and is locked within the self and really doesn’t have any desire at all to express themselves to you, then how on earth are you going to persuade them that it is worth the effort?

Again, there is a key word here – effort.

Do you want to start training for a marathon right now? Do you want to commit to becoming fluent in Japanese right now? Do you want to learn to do something that you really don’t want to do and be perfect at it, like digging fence post holes in the Texas heat through hard ground in such a way that the fence looks perfectly symmetrical and straight once you have expanded all this effort and sweat?

Chances are, you are not going to do any of these things that we listed above.

For an autistic child learning to be fluent in neuro-typical-ese is akin to these seemingly impossible tasks that we know you yourself are not going to do.

We say seemingly impossible, not actually impossible.

If you moved to Japan and your life depended upon you learning Japanese you would find it is actually possible, but you would probably need that kind of gun to the head motivation.

Now consider how if you did find yourself in this position, the learning of Japanese might be easier or harder. Let’s say you were in World War 2 and were a prisoner of war in one of the notoriously harsh POW camps run by the Japanese army. With the constant fear and therefore cortisol, would you learn as quickly as if – by contrast – you moved to Japan, fell in love with a very beautiful, very kind soulmate who did not speak English and whose world, whose friends, whose hobbies you wanted with all your heart and soul to share.

Might this second scenario expedite your learning?

There would be no cortisol, but instead a lot of oxytocin through the empathetic touch and social interaction. You’d be charmed, fascinated, filled with wonder and delight. You’d certainly learn Japanese quicker and easier than you would in the POW camp.

For many kids on the autism spectrum, regular types of therapy are not a million miles away from a prison camp experience.

We are not exaggerating here. Some programs have force feeding, other programs tell parents – insane as this may sound – to withdraw all love and affection from their children, unless a narrow set of behaviors are constantly demonstrated by their child, kids are put in “quiet rooms” – aka solitary confinement cells. Kids are restrained. There are a number of programs out there which are incredibly harsh. It’s also worth remembering that the early years of ABA under Lovaas who invented it, used physical force, coercion and fear.

It’s not surprising then, that kids who go through this sort of thing tend to withdraw into themselves. Even if the therapist is sweet, and affectionate, if the child feels a constant sense of not being quite right, never really doing the right thing, never really understanding what’s being required, always feeling they are somehow getting it wrong – and many adult autists report this as having been their predominant experience during their therapies while younger, then, again, why would that child feel motivated to speak.

So, if you as a parent, therapist, or teacher approach your child’s non-verbal way of being with frustration, angst, and a desire for fast results (aka pressure), then how successful do we really expect to be?

The trick is to make it feel effortless for the child.

Obviously, this takes some strategy. But you already have the necessary components: knowledge of the child’s sensory likes and dislikes, and knowledge of the child’s obsessive interests – with a sprinkling of knowledge taken from our Science of Learning Section on how different types of movement positively affect the brain.

If you can put the child into a sensorialy pleasing environment, all set up around his or her obsessive interests, with a lot of bouncing, running, swimming, riding, swinging, and other oxytocin producing movements then it’s not going to seem effortful for the child to show up.

And then if you are goofy, funny, engaging and empathetic, then it’s not an effort for the child to give or her attention to you, even if it’s just in little snatches.

These little snatches of attention gradually become longer and longer all by themselves, until after a month or three you look up and find that you and this child genuinely enjoy and look forward to spending time together in this way and seek it out.

This is when the magic happens.

You can have 25 PhDs in speech pathology and never be as successful as the person who knew how to build the right relationship, the right environment, and who followed the child’s interests almost as obsessively as the child themselves.

All of these components remove any sense of pressure from you or the child, because you are so busy enjoying each other’s company and the environment you are spending time in, that it never occurs to you to make it a chore.

Techniques are not enough.

But following the child in this way sets you up for inevitable communication because the child is now intrinsically motivated to do so, and you are not looking for some “result”, you are just genuinely interested in this super cool kid and the super cool kid responds.

Sounds like common sense? Oddly however, this is not taught deliberately in the training of therapists anymore than the Science of Learning and the brain are taught. You’d think they would be, but they are not.

The best therapists obviously work this out for themselves and are curious enough to learn the brain science off their own bat. But often it comes after a period of frustration and failure and realizing that their methodologies are limited. Our aim with this module is to accelerate your success by making sure you are paying deliberate attention to making sure that the process of being with you, let alone learning along side you, feel effortless and joyful to the child.

There are no gold stars, high fives, or other trophies.

There is no pressuring the child to “Use your words”.

There is simply a natural unfolding of communication that becomes gradually more verbal as you both explore the wonderful adventure of your child’s passionate interests.

Some parents have trouble identifying their child’s interests and we have modules on this to make it easier. However, be sure that all kids, autistic or not, have them – and if you don’t happen to share them, you have to learn to pretend, or rather you find an aspect of that interest that is interesting to you.

What do you mean by this?

Let’s say the child’s interest was binary code and you are not interested in binary code, but you are interested in good stories. Well, who invented binary code? Who did they love? Who did they hate? What was the Game of Thrones soap opera around that geniuses’ life?

Despite yourself, you will quickly find yourself getting jolly interested. The important thing of course is simply to cultivate your own curiosity. Once that is engaged, whether for you or the child, the pressure falls away and things become effortless.

Rather than thinking of your child – or even older person – as non-verbal, maybe start thinking of them as pre-verbal. Start exploring the whole world of that pre-verbalness and the ways in which they express themselves without words. Once you find yourself getting interested in that, again, the pressure to achieve verbal communication in a short timeframe goes away, and once the pressure goes, words, however slowly, tend to follow.