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.
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?