Your Words Matter When Talking to Children and Teens with Autism
I am always fascinated when talking with my younger brother about different social situations he has experienced. One that always stands out to me is that he apologized for the way he acted in Kindergarten when he would run out of the classroom or other behaviors he would experience as a 15 year old! He can vividly remember certain actions or behaviors he did when he was in kindergarten, but was unable to talk to us at that time to understand why he was acting a certain way.
Fast forward 10 years and now he is able to verbally tell us and explain to us why he acted a certain way or what he can vividly remember from that time in his life. I am so blown away by my brother and what he is able to accomplish. He is truly an amazing person.
I wanted to share this story with you, because sometimes I think we forget that everyone has the ability to understand what we are saying or what they are doing, but they may not have the ability to communicate that with you at that time. That does not mean they do not understand you or the situation though.
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Be Mindful of what you say to EVERYONE!
We need to be mindful of what we say and how we talk to EVERYONE, but especially people who are non verbal or have limited communication skills. Even though someone may have difficulty verbally communicating with you, does not mean they do not understand what you are saying to them. They can very well understand if you are calling them bad names or even using a harsh tone when you are speaking with them.
Instead of using negative language, make sure you are ALWAYS talking to them as you would any other person. Please use positive language with them and talk with them as they are your best friend. Please do not change your tone of voice or how you word something to someone with autism.
Our Thoughts can become our Actions
When working as an occupational therapist and interacting with many children and parents I have learned how powerful our thoughts can be. When we start to use negative thoughts with things, we can start to treat those things worse than if we spoke positively about them. This can be true towards people, ourselves, or situations. If we start to think bad thoughts about a person or that they are stupid we will treat them as such. The relationship can begin to become negative when we think negative thoughts about someone.
Become Aware of your Thoughts
We need to become aware of when we are using these negative thoughts in order to make change. When you are working with a child or in a situation that you are frustrated with take the time to listen to your inner thoughts. How are you thinking about the child or the situation? Are you thinking negatively or positively? My guess is that you are thinking negatively.
How can we change our thoughts?
Reframe your way of thinking…
Think about different situations with the kids or teens you are working with.
“The child is not giving me a hard time. They are having a hard time.”
Give respect to the people in your life. Speak to them in a respectful manner. If I would not say it to a group of people than I should not say it to an individual.
Sometimes we need to Vent
I understand that there are times in our lives when we are overworked and frustrated and we need to be able to vent and talk through these situations to allow us to move on. I am a new parent and a therapist that has been in different situations that I just need to talk to someone about to help me get through the situations.
Be Mindful of who you Vent to
We need to be mindful of who we vent to. Please do not vent in public places where strangers could overhear your conversations. Find a safe person who knows you and knows your kids or a co-worker if it is a job related situation. Find someone who won't judge you and can be supportive of you.
Also how you vent is important too. Do not resort to name calling when talking about a person. There is a big difference when talking negatively about a child vs. talking about the behaviors a child is showing us. When we resort to name calling we are chaining our thoughts about the child and this in turn can continue the cycle of negative ways of thinking. If we can focus on the behaviors this can help us to get productive advice and guidance about how to help change a situation for the child to help them.
When venting, please make sure the child or teen that you are talking about are not around! This can devastate a relationship if a child or teen feels that you are talking negatively about them. Always remember, if you can't say it out loud in a group of people, you should never say it to the individual. We never want to label a child, especially a negative label.
“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice”-Peggy O'Mara
In conclusion, what I am trying to say here is be respectful of EVERYONE, but especially children and teens on the autism spectrum. Please be mindful of how you speak to them and never assume they are not listening to you or do not understand you.
Please never talk negatively to someone and we all could work a little harder at using positive words and phrases when talking with people. Here is a list of some positive phrases you can use when working with children and teens with autism. Grab your copy below!
This is not a comprehensive list of positive phrases, but it will give you a start and some ideas of phrases to use. Please be mindful of what you say when working with children and teens with autism. Your words can have a long lasting affect on them. Your words matter when talking and working with children and teens with autism.