Monday, April 18, 2011

Autism Communication: Emotions and Non-verbal Communication Help with Behavior

Emotions and children with Autism is such a source of heart ache and confusion. We all wonder why our child loses control in line or while waiting or whenever. Over the years I have learned a few things about emotions and a child with Autism that have helped us. As close as I can tell, emotions help us make sense of the world.

For example, if we are good at doing something, like work or fixing things, we feel calm. Children with Autism stim with objects like the wheels of the car or lining up dolls because it makes them feel calm. Stimming is also like a nervous habit.

Twirling our hair or popping the plastic packing material from a box calms us. It works the same for children with Autism, they feel anxious so they stim to calm themselves. The only difference is that we are aware of the world and why we are doing what we do.

The world always seems to be changing and intruding for a child with Autism so they are more anxious. It helps to keep our faces calm and peaceful. Babies react if our face looks upset. They cry. It can work the same way for our children, but we have to tell them to look at our calm face.

They do not learn to do it automatically like babies. We have to tell them. It can help them feel less anxious. Getting my daughters to relax and be calm was also done by slowing down. I would slow down everything so my daughters would have time to notice and react.

I focused on one reaction at a time. For example, I would smile if everything was ok. Then I had to teach my daughter that a smile means it is ok. Next it might be shaking my head meant something was ok or it might even be the pitch of your voice that you could teach your child to react to.

One of my daughters did learn to read. We were able to match non-verbal communication or cues to text too. Just like anything else in life, if it does not work, stop it. Maybe go back later. Just spending time together is an important activity too. It teaches your child even when you do not do anything else.

You can do the non-verbal stuff with little games too. You might want to pass a toy around. The fun part is to pass the toy only when the next person smiled or whatever was the isolated non-verbal cue you want your child to notice. This also helped her to learn to wait. I could gradually increase the amount of time before I smiled. My daughter enjoyed learning to do the same.

One day I was cooking I had trouble getting the microwave to work. I am not sure why. My daughter started to get upset and tantrum. When she looked at me I had a blank look on my face and told her it was ok. She immediately calmed down.

Another time we were picking up medication. It was not ready. She started to cry. When I looked at her with a calm face and said it was ok, she relaxed. Years ago she would have had a serious tantrum over things like that.
Sometimes when all else failed and we had to wait somewhere, I let her verbally stim. In the scheme of things I prefer to play with her by verbally stimming than tantruming.

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