Reflecting on “How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen” Chapter 5: Tools for Kids Who Are Differently Wired
Reflecting on Chapter 5: Tools for Kids Who Are Differently Wired- Modifications for autism and sensory issues
Parenting or teaching a child who is strong-willed or neuroatypical has its own challenges and rewards, but the inability to reason with them in a way you expect makes many think that these tools wouldn’t work for them. In this chapter, the authors give us tools to use specifically for children with different needs. Even if you have an easy going or neurotypical child, this chapter has a few useful tidbits so be sure to not skip this one!
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The Tools for Kids Who Are Differently Wired
Tool 1: Join Them In Their World
Tool 2: Take Time To Imagine What Your Child is Experiencing
Tool 3: Put Into Words What Kids Want To Say
Tool 4: Adjust Expectations
Tool 5: Use Alternative to the Spoken Word
Tool 6: Tell Them What They Can Do, Instead of What They Can’t
Tool 7: Be Playful!
How I Use The Tools At Home
How I Use The Tools At School
Tools For Kids Who Are Differently Wired Infographic- Check this out if you’re short on time!
With many parenting books, the author has no real experience with children who have special needs. They’ve never gone through the fight you might be going through to get your child’s differences taken seriously while still being treated like the capable human beings they are. But this book is different.
One of the authors, Julie King has not just one, but two special needs children. One son with a sensory processing disorder and another with Autism Spectrum Disorder (formerly Aspergers). So she has experienced a wide range of challenges that have helped her in writing this book and helping other parents, and teachers.
When I’m reviewing this chapter I’m picturing my brother and all my students. As so far my son seems to be neurotypical… Though I know this could change, and am preparing for it with my husband’s family history of anxiety and my family history as well.
My little brother has ASD and wasn’t diagnosed till he was 8… despite my mother fighting for answers for years before that. In my classroom, I have students ranging from mild ASD to selective mutism, to ADHD and a wide gamut of everything in between. So while I’m not living every day fighting for help, understanding, and acceptance as you might be, I have been touched in both my personal and professional life by these circumstances and so have a glimmer of understanding. Plus, I myself need these tools in order to help my students.
The Tools For Kids Who Are Neuro-atypical
This seems so obvious and easy. And maybe it is for someone that isn’t being told by everyone around them that they need to help their child widen their interests or if you haven’t been listening non-stop to the names of every type of airplane there is and why each is special. However, you do live with all of that, and more, and so it’s exhausting sometimes just to think about joining in something that might seem mind-numbingly boring to you. But if you can take a breathe and gather the patience and genuine interest in your child’s world (this is so hard when you personally view it as inane and unimportant- like video games) then you’ll find you connect more.
Some examples of showing genuine interest in their world:
- Asking genuine questions about their interests. For example, sit down next to them and point to a dinosaur on the page and say “What’s this one called? What does it eat?” and then let the conversation happen.
- Ask to play with your child. Remember that with Neuro- atypical children they might have very set ideas on ‘playing’ so you don’t usually want to just barge into their world, you want to respect the way they have things set up and ask to be invited. Be patient.
- Help them create their dream worlds. If they are fascinated by caves then maybe build a cave out of pillows or cardboard and go on a caving adventure.
This really goes back to Chapter 1 and the Tools for Handling Emotions where we empathize and acknowledge our children’s feelings. However, it can still be hard to remember to do because with a special needs child, especially one with ASD or a Sensory Processing Disorder, it can seem like EVERYTHING is a problem to them and you just want to move on with your day! So it might take more effort and patience for you to do this.
Basically, when your child starts ‘being difficult’ and the reasoning seems completely ridiculous, take a breathe and imagine a situation where you would feel the same way. Put yourself in your child’s shoes. This doesn’t mean you always give in and fix the situation to their liking, but instead, you’re able to empathize and give words to their feelings for them which helps them build resilience over time.
Some examples of visualizing what your child is feeling to help you empathize:
- When your child insists on the same food textures day after day and refuses something new, think about the food you hate and how you’d feel if you were being forced or pressured into eating it.
- Imagine that piece of clothing with the annoying tag or button that catches your hair (true story) when your child refuses to wear any other clothing besides one type or when they tell you those shoes hurt… even when they just wore them yesterday…
- When your child gets upset that you moved something to dust and didn’t put it back right, imagine how you feel when your household doesn’t put their dishes or clothes in the correct spot.
This one is perfect for parents with pre-verbal kids, kids with speech impediments, and even just kids that are struggling to put their thoughts and feelings into words. I love the analogy that the authors use about trying to learn to speak a new language and you’re thrown into a world where they only speak that language. So you try to speak it, but you basically just get a whole bunch of words you don’t know back or they yell at you… I can relate, having lived in two foreign countries… How soon before you get so frustrated you scream or just give up? The same is true of our kids. So when our children are struggling to communicate we’re to help them either put it into words for them or at least let them know what we do understand, so they feel encouraged to keep trying.
- Your child points to a counter filled with items and grunts, or at best says “Please.” But you have no clue what it is they are wanting. You may even feel like they’re whining and it’s triggering some anger inside you. Take a deep breathe and say ‘You want something on the counter. Let me pick you up so you can get it’ (when possible). Then when they grab for it say ‘Oh you wanted the apple!’
- Grab on to any words you understand. “Oh, you’re saying banana! You want a banana.”
- While sitting at the dinner table your child starts screaming or crying and not wanting their food. You would say “You’re upset! You wanted mac and cheese and got rice instead!”
Man, isn’t that true of all children in general? Heck, even of adults sometimes. This is especially true though with very small children or children with special needs. Sometimes we feel they SHOULD be able to understand or do (or not do) something and so we get very frustrated when they don’t meet those expectations. It’s helpful to remind ourselves that it really may be too much to ask and it’s ok to admit they’re not ready and just manage everything else instead.
Some examples of adjusting expectations.
- Allowing your child to eat before or after everyone else so they don’t become overstimulated.
- Letting your child stand instead of sit. This c
Some examples of helping verbalize what your child is saying:
ould be at dinner, school, church… wherever is safe to do so.
- Not pushing a child to meet neuro-typical milestones. Letting them do things when they’re ready. For example potty training, going to school the whole day, or even reading.
Very Important Point to Note:
“Don’t expect new skills to be used”
Same is true for everyone. Just because we did something once, doesn’t mean we can be expected to do it again and again. It takes practice and building muscle memory, in addition to brain development, to make it a habit.
Verbal processing can be difficult for all children and even adults, but especially for those who are wired differently. Oftentimes, you’ll find you have better success and less frustration if you use other methods to get your message “heard”. Things like catchy songs, clocks with pictures, charts, and hand signals can have amazing effects on your ability to communicate with your child.
Some examples of using alternative ways to communicate:
- Teaching your child signs for objects before they’re ready to speak.
- Using a checklist with pictures of clothes to help a child remember how to get dressed when they are often too distracted to remember.
- Using a clock with an area marked in green to let a child know when they can wake you up.
- Making up a catchy tune to help teach a concept (like brushing teeth) or to relieve tension.
Again, this is true for everyone, but especially so for those who very literal and struggle to grasp the nuances of a command. We can’t expect that our children will know what TO DO when we just tell them what not to do. So instead of focusing on the negative action we redirect and help them know what is acceptable.
Some examples of positive redirection
- When your child wants to throw the remote you hand them a soft ball or toy and say “You can throw your ball/ stuffed toys”
- Instead of “Don’t climb the dresser!” Say “You can climb this mountain of pillows!”
- When your child yet again makes a dash through the parking lot, you say “I need you to hold my hand now.”
It’s sometimes more difficult for kids with autism to venture into the world of make-believe. However, if you can find the right combination to their world of fun you’ll find you have more positive interactions with your child. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it may take time to find what will engage them. So keep trying. Remember all kids love fun. They are more willing to cooperate when they feel connected and happy. Whether they are wired differently or not.
Some examples of using fun to help kids who are wired differently cooperate:
- Pretend that your child is a magician and when he eats he’s making the food disappear. When he gets distracted ask why the food is no longer disappearing!
- When your child doesn’t want to clean their toys, find an activity you know they like and turn clean-up time into that game. Like stuffed animal basketball or minute-to-win-it blocks.
While my child is, as far as we can tell now, neurotypical, these were still great reminders on how to connect with him more. While I am using all the tools listed, I’m just going to focus on a few big ones that I haven’t really talked about yet below.
Join Them in Their World
I’m really trying to be more mindful about encouraging his imaginative play and following his lead. Just last night I was resting on the couch when he pulled me up and began running so I would chase him. I joined in his play of monsters chasing and it became a whole family activity.
Other ways I try to join in his world is with joining him when he is observing something new or when he is drawing. As he gets older I will need to continue to let him explore his passions and to show genuine interest in them. This will help him to feel more connected and it will help me understand him better.
Take Time to Imagine What Your Child Is Experiencing
As this is very similar to empathizing with emotions, this is one I’m continuously trying to get better at. I really have been trying to notice if something may be uncomfortable for him and to understand when he may not be ready for some things. For example, at bathtime the last two days we’ve had to take away his brand new car that he got as a gift. I have to remind myself that he doesn’t yet understand that we’re protecting the motor inside and not just taking it away forever. So knowing that’s how he’s feeling, I’m able to empathize and help him through those emotions.
Put Into Words What Kids Want to Say
I’ve really been trying with this one, but I often struggle myself. But this past weekend I saw how this really can be beneficial. Boogie doesn’t use that many words yet. He’s improving every day, but it’s still a struggle for him to communicate what he wants… and he has very definitive opinions on what he does and doesn’t want lol. So on Sunday, he kept pointing at the kitchen and speaking his gibberish. I normally just say ‘I don’t know what you want’, but that day I tried to listen better and I heard what I thought was ‘bu bu’. Thinking about what was in the kitchen that he likes I remembered that he loves to eat peanut butter! So I asked, ‘Are you wanting some peanut butter?’ And his eyes lit up, his little fist came up for his excited version of “yeah!” He was excited I understood what he wanted and I was happy to finally know what he wanted!
Use Alternatives to the Spoken Word:
We’ve been using this tool long before I knew it was a tool. Probably because I’m an elementary school teacher and worked in daycares a good portion of my life lol. So we have many ways we use this tool. One way that I’m currently failing at, but has worked for us is sign language. Now I’m not knowledgable on how to use it with its full grammar and all, but it has been extremely helpful in this pre-verbal and early language stages. Once he finally started picking up signs (10 months after I started using them!) the number of outbursts dropped dramatically! Now he usually says the word and uses the sign at the same time! I just need to keep up with his ever-expanding vocabulary!
Now school is a different story than at home. I have numerous neuro-diverse students, often as many as 8 in one class of almost 30! However, my time and options are also more limited. I’m currently trying some new techniques out to help all the students and I’m taking this chapter into account. Here are a few ways I currently am using some of these tools.
Join Them in Their World
While I don’t really have the capabilities to fully immerse myself into their world, I do try and make room for it. In my art room, we are mostly student-led projects. This allows all students to follow their interests, but for those who are wired differently, it gives them a place of comfort to explore art from. I then do my best to talk to them about it and encourage them to try their ideas in multiple mediums.
Adjust Expectations: Manage the Environment Instead of the Child
This tool is one I feel like I’m constantly battling with. Almost 30 kids in a small space with lots of materials equals very little options. When I notice a student is struggling to focus though I try to talk to them about what is and isn’t working and we try to come up with joint solutions (Read more about this in Chapter 3- Tools for Resolving Conflict). Sometimes I allow a student to work outside in the hallway when I know the room is too overwhelming to their senses. And other times I just have to remove certain objects from the room to keep everyone safe.
Tell Them What They Can Do, Instead of What They Can’t
This is another one I’m working on. There is a lot happening at once when you have 30 students cleaning at once and my brain often goes immediately to what I need them to stop doing. It takes much more brain processing power to go from seeing them playing with the paint and thinking ‘OMG they’re about to spray the room with paint, stooooop!!!!’ to instead ‘Please keep the paint jug on the counter’. But again, if it’s sometimes difficult for me then it is for them as well and I think I get better results with stating what they can do instead.
Overall, while this chapter is technically for those with children on the spectrum, sensory processing disorder, and other neuroatypical scenarios, I actually found it to be great advice for all children. What tool was one that helped you the most?