Teaching my son to deflect uncomfortable personal questions

I’ve met the headteacher this week, dealing with an incident which started with my eleven year old son sharing some private information with a close friend, and snowballed into him being the subject of hot gossip and persistent, intrusive questions.

School have thankfully promised to clamp down hard. They told me to keep him home this morning while they spoke firmly to all of the children about what had happened. I wanted to use this time to teach my son some strategies to protect himself from these kinds of things. He wasn’t at fault, but sadly this is likely to happen again and again – with potentially more serious consequences as he gets older. With his tendency to be quirky and trusting, he’s an easy target.

I looked around for decent resources that he could connect with – a lot of what was there (understandably) focussed on schools reducing bullying, rather than bullyproofing kids. Other resources were just a bit too mature. What connected was How to avoid answering personal questions . It links with a current special interest in the house – being legal TV dramas. It’s always a win when you can connect learning to their special interest!

Here’s a potted summary of what we learned:

  • Spot “information hounds”. We discussed how he’d experienced examples of manipulation, psychological tricks and shock tactics to encourage him to share more than he was comfortable with.
  • The power of the pause to engage your lawyer brain:
  1. who might be harmed by this information
  2. Who might benefit
  3. How can this information be used
  4. Why do they want to know
  5. Do I need to answer
  • How to deflect. There are lots of suggestions on the list. The five that my son thought he might actually use were:
  1. “Wow, you do ask a lot of personal questions, don’t you??”
  2. “No, I won’t answer that” (or the softer “that’s private”)
  3. Blink and totally blank the question
  4. Answer ambiguously and immediately change the subject
  5. Redirect to a subject you feel more comfortable discussing.

Overall I think he’s learnt a lesson about telling an adult much earlier when things are going wrong. He kept thinking it would go away if he answered the questions, and instead it just made it a bigger and bigger story.

Can anyone recommend any other resources to protect aspie kids from being socially manipulated like this? Or give me any tips what worked for them! I’m so sad for the poor chap.

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’.

And the look that you gave me made me shiver

Cos you never used to look at me that way. And I thought. Maybe I should walk right up to you and say: “It’s a game we like to play”?

Look into her angel eyes. One look and you’re hypnotised. She who must take your heart and you must pay the price.

Look into her angel eyes. You’ll remember when they were paradise. But now it wears a disguise.

Don’t look too deep into those angel eyes.

Now I’m lonely I sit and think about her, and it hurts to remember all the good times

And I wonder does it have to be this way? When I see you, can I take away all the pain?

Look into those angel eyes.

She said she was sick. I said she wasn’t. We both cried. I’m sitting in a corner on my own feeling like I let her down. Two miles away, she probably agrees.

Angel Eyes

It’s depressing when no one understands you.

This article describes what I instinctively feel.

Autistic people’s rate of depression is strongly linked to acceptance/non-acceptance by their family and social circle.

And masking might help with daily functioning, but comes with a mental health cost.

https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2Fs10803-017-3342-7.pdf

Basically – we’re not intrinsically broken. We’re just breakable if we’re barraged with enough negative feedback about ourselves…. You know, like any other human….

Name-calling and sibling alliances

“Idiot”

“Ugly mug “

“Poo poo Troll Face”

“Fatso”

“Skeletor”

I’d been ignoring the rising volume on the back seat while navigating tricky motorway traffic, but it really wasn’t getting better. Time for parenting.

“Don’t call your brother Fatso”

“He called me Troll Face”

“Don’t call your brother Troll Face”

“Trolls are beautiful creatures. What have you got against trolls??”

“That’s not what he meant. Muuuuum. And why is he…”

Not winning really. I turned the music up extremely loud, drove them home in enforced silence and sat them down to write essays.

One was titled: “Calling my brother an Ugly Mug: What did I expect would happen? What did happen. How did he feel? How did you feel?” . It was returned saying “I expected him to stop namecalling. He called me a troll. We are now both angry”.

The other one was titled: “Calling my brother Idiot: What did I expect would happen? What did happen. How did he feel? How did you feel?”. It was returned with two A4 sides of grievances about sibling alliances and lack of appreciation for efforts made for other people.

Wish me luck sorting that out.

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?

My parenting failures #516 – uncompetitive sport 

“If your family are slow to get going in the morning – why not turn things into a fun race?”

<bitter hollow laugh>
Squid’s brother was ( …  is … )  epically, hysterically competitive. In a world where ‘last one out is a rotten egg’ leads to screaming tantrums – a fun kick around at the park just didn’t happen. 

I never did manage to moderate his response. As soon as I got some traction on ‘winning and losing is part of the experience’ – I was facing violent vigilante behaviour at anyone not following the rules of the game.

Now I have marvellous older sons who have missed out on the civilising influence of sport and a little girl who has to win at everything. Any ideas for how to involve that kind of temperament in competitive sport?