How to keep listening (even when they go on and on)

Super-listening is one the many superpowers I’ve been expected to develop as a parent of autistic kids.

This blog is about my baby who didn’t talk. I have other babies that did. And, oh my goodness, they talk. Easily thirty minutes without pausing on whatever is their ‘thing’ at the current time. Briefly throwing out a question like ” who is your favourite Pokemon” to check you’re listening, and then monologue again. Here are my top tips for how I surf it:

  • Whenever they get a new craze, invest twenty minutes to read a wiki on it this means that you can bring in a little bit of reciprocal conversation on the topic they’re interested in, to model good conversation skills. Also means that you can quickly come up with plausible answers to pop quiz questions, even if you tuned out.
  • Make listening face and noise It doesn’t actually matter if your attention wanders. I find that they don’t expect much of you beyond a chance to unspool their mental narrative
  • Mirror their reactions. Laugh when they do even if you lost track of the joke. Look concerned when they look concerned. It’s about nurturing joint attention and emotional connection – rather than the facts.
  • Give them thirty minutes to talk about their thing, and then insert the question you really want the answer to. For example “why were you upset after school yesterday”. The pay off for an hour of listening to Pokemon is that once they’re talking about one thing, they’ll be on a talking roll sometimes.
  • Take them with you when you have driving errands primetalkingtime without eating into your free time.
  • Enjoy the fact that they want to bring you into their world. It’s a compliment. And it’s setting up the idea that you care about their ‘stuff’.

Do you say what you see?

When you ‘see’ something on another child – do you mention it? Does it make a difference if the family are struggling or not?

“She won’t speak to anyone … or even make eye contact” my friend confided in me “she behaves well at school – but when she comes home, her rages are unbelievable”.

So what do I say? I take a breath. They are distressed and I should be brave. I tell them my stories. Explain that I have no qualification to armchair-diagnose – but that our story ended up titled ‘autism’.

My friend listened politely. Very politely. Sympathised with the painful parts of our journey. The conversation was never referred to again.

I wanted to reach out to my friend to not withhold information, but in her eyes I saw a flicker of … lost innocence in our friendship. That she felt judged and watched on her kids behaviour, when before she’d been able to believe it didn’t see because there was nothing to see. When she left, I went straight to see my daughter. My own conscience wasn’t easy. I had to ask her if she minded me sharing her story with people who were strangers to her over coffee morning chit chat.

Did I do the right thing to speak?