Opinion, Editorial and the occasional Freudian slip

And now I know my A,B,C…

Communication- that all important thing that is analyzed, taught and tested all the time. Preparing for an interview? Make sure you communicate effectively. Your communication must convey confidence, enthusiasm and energy!

Going out on a date? Make sure your words convey the right mix of interest, courtesy and not to forget -distance to the other person, you don’t want to seem needy or too eager. And your clothes? Your clothes communicate so much about you. Make sure you get it right. And don’t forget the body language. Communication is that all important thing that can make or break lives or so we believe. 

Some facts about communication? It is a two-way process. Did you know that? The other person needs to understand and respond to your verbal behavior, else you are talking to yourself. At least 80% of our communication is non-verbal. That’s a whopping number. We initiate a large part of our communication when we need something ranging from information, objects to actions. And this is clearly a true statement.

Working with children with autism, makes communication a high priority of our work and it is stated by parents to be high priority too. But what is often missing is an understanding of what communication really is. Going back to a recent conversation with a parent, who commented that she and her partner believed that once their child started saying some words, they believed that he was on the road to normalcy and that their angst was over. Its only when they realized that their child simply speaks words and sentences but does not communicate at all, BOOM! The journey is far from over. Communication is not as simple as saying those words. We all can do that. But how many of us communicate?  Or are willing to communicate? At least the children are willing to learn!

Many times, we’ve had parents look at us in absolute shock when we bring up the word autism, in the context of their child, who to them seem like a walking encyclopedia. They are quick to say, “but my child talks, he answers questions asked of him and with an American accent to boot”. Our next question which is often “When did you relocate to India?” is met with “When I was a student and single”. Which doesn’t explain the child’s accent. 

You see where we are going with this? 

Here is a child who certainly talks and talks a lot, but is more often than not, repeating practiced phrases that he has heard from T.V. shows, intact with the accent or heard snatches of conversation at home. 

To a parent, it is easy to interpret any of these random words and phrases, that may be used in the right context but are still off-mark, as an attempt to communicate. Children who can talk extensively, about anything from plants to animals to what Clifford the dog says, still find it challenging to spontaneously ask for what they want, which is one of the basic building blocks of communication. The good news is that children can be taught to communicate even if not with spoken words. Well, when 80% of our communication is non-verbal, who are we to dispute this?

Let’s look at us adults as communicators. Every parent wants their child to initiate interaction with others, to wish another person when they see them, to acknowledge and respond to their questions, to make eye contact and smile and to carry on a conversation beyond two sentences. As a parent of a child with Autism, one of your primary roles is that of being an advocate for your child, you are the person who has the responsibility to communicate and be closely in touch with any service provider who works with your child. Strangely, many parents are pretty unsure when asked what a particular intervention can do for their child, never mind that they’ve spent countless hours ferrying their child back and forth from said intervention. 

As behavior analysts, we are mandated to discuss and understand with the family, what they want for the child. After all, every family is unique and their needs are very different, and remember we are looking at socially significant goals. It is also assumed that working with goals that matter to the family will ensure that they remain committed to the process. 

But this question, seems to throw many parents out of gear and they struggle to find an appropriate answer. From the perspective of service providers, one of the things that remain unfulfilled for us is the lack of sufficient communication between us and the parents. We spoke about communication being a two-way street but often the flow of information is completely one way. Feedback, data, reporting, anything at all is barely consistent and often frowned upon as being too demanding and too much of a task to do. 

The same parent who wants this perfect child who will talk, smile, and initiate interaction and be this complete social animal, is often a person who barely looks up and acknowledges your presence, who needs text reminders to respond to an email and text reminders to respond to a text, very often lacks the ability to be warm, courteous and acknowledge our inputs, with a small smidgen of gratitude (we can hope, can’t we?). We are waiting for that day when a parent will initiate a greeting on a festive occasion or spontaneously share something positive with us. Maybe the “communicate when you need something” rule is being stretched a bit much? Let’s get social, shall we?

The kids have learnt their ABCs, why don’t you?

Let’s communicate! Our children can learn and we believe you can too!