Respond!

Response: Not Always Spoken

I say this word a lot.

Some days, I feel like a parrot or a robot (a parrot-robot?), always saying and doing the same things over and over again.

But really, responding to a question, greeting, or random comment is actually important.  There’s a social connectivity that happens with comment and response.  It’s a validation.

For example:

Hi!  It’s good to see you again!

Crickets (*chirp chirp*).

Silence doesn’t work.  It’s isolating and off-putting.  It feels like a door slammed in the face.  And that’s not how we really want to treat people, and certainly not how we want them to feel.

But our kids don’t think about how they appear to others.  It’s not hardwired into them.  They also don’t instantly realize how their actions make others feel.  They feel no need to respond, and so don’t.

Of course, this can change.  People can, and do, learn by observation and through experience.

I remember when an Asperger friend of mine told me – at age 33 – that people like it when you greet them and use their name.

Thankfully, he didn’t notice my surprise at his comment.  My reaction didn’t matter, anyway.  The point was that he learned this tidbit in a Eureka! moment, and it has changed how he interacts with his co-workers.

Of course, I could have made a statement about how I’d just realized how some aspect of physics worked, and how it opened up my mind to new possibilities.

He’d have snorted and said about time!

In short, we all have different strengths and weaknesses.

While our kids are learning about social interactions, it’s good to urge them to respond.  And respond.  Accepting the silences does not help them to learn.  Neither does talking like a parrot – aaaark, respond!  respond! – but you get the idea.

We see this in little children.  We prompt them – “what should you say….?” – when someone gives them a treat.  They have to learn to respond, and not just grab the ice cream.

Before anyone takes offense at this, remember the physics comment.  I’d need to start out pretty slow in that department before I could learn to fly.  This is no different.

But allowing the silence is a tacit encouragement.

Nonverbal prompts are best.  It’s always great to find a way to spur the brain to think something through and respond without actually telling someone to respond.  We often use a tap on the shoulder or some such.  But then again, my son does not have an aversion to touch, as many others do.

Great people to practice with are friendly – and forgiving – folks like grandparents, relatives, and siblings.

It’s odd to say hello and not have it be returned.  And curiously hurtful.  Even a wave would be nice, especially if the brain freezes and words don’t come to mind.

Obviously, each person is unique and will learn things in their own time.  Some things, like working on eye contact, are very personal decisions.  Responding may fall into this category.

But I know that when I smile and greet a child with AS (or compliment them on an interesting shirt or nice haircut), and they do not respond to me, it’s painful.  It’s rejecting.  Even though I know they don’t mean it that way at all.

The real question is:  how does it make the other kids at school feel?

Note: Related Post –  Hi Hello How Are You Doing?

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About aspergerfamily3

Living in an Asperger's World, surrounded by a love of learning, interesting people, and daily challenges.
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One Response to Respond!

  1. capriwim says:

    I have Aspergers, and am constantly learning about how people respond to what I say and how I say it. I think for me what makes the most impression is not simply how people feel, but also the practical consequences of how they feel – on themselves and on me – and how they will interpret me. Being simultaneously aware of what I’m saying, of how the other person is feeling, of how the other person is interpreting me, and of the potential consequences of all these, is impossible. It doesn’t come naturally to me, so I have to consciously make myself switch focus all the time between these things. I think what would have been really helpful for me when I was a kid would have been if someone had explained it to me as follows:

    “If you don’t reply to someone when they say hi, they think you are rude, because in this society, not returning someone’s greeting is a code for not being rude. If people think you are rude, they won’t like you and they won’t realise you are a kind person. Then they might be purposely rude back to you, and try to hurt you because they feel hurt by you. So you make life much easier for yourself if you say ‘hi’ back.”

    I know that seems like it’s an explanation appealing to selfish motives, but it can be really hard for kids on the spectrum to switch their focus from their own feelings to other people’s feelings, and also hard for them to see the relevance of other people’s feelings. And I think everyone has a bit of a motivation of not wanting to appear rude because of social consequences -but non-autistic people are able to simultaneously have motives for themselves and for the other person, but on the autistic spectrum, you can only have one type of motive at a time.

    Thank you so much for your input!

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