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’.

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.

Funeral Etiquette

Funeral Etiqutte on What to Do:

1. Go. Attend the funeral in person. Miss weddings and baby showers if you must but attend the funerals. People never forget that you attended a funeral and you will bring them comfort and care even if you stay a little while.
2. Wear strictly black
3. Express your sincere condolences directly to the immediate family.
4. Share a story or a memory with the close family. You will be adding to their treasure “box” of memories.
5. Be on your best behavior. Take along your best manners of greeting and conversing.
6. Contribute to the charity or foundation of their wishes or else take flowers. The amount does not matter. It matters that you do not show up empty-handed.
7. Follow the wishes and traditions of the family. I am not religious but for weddings and funerals of those that I care about, I would gladly spend any necessary time in their house of worship.
8. Perform any favors that is asked of you, be it to sing, to read a poem, to fulfill any other action to fulfill their wishes.

Funeral Etiqutte on What Not to Do:

1. Wear flip-flops.
2. Bring up sensitive issues
3. Laugh unnecessarily loud or God forbid, tell jokes.
4. Discuss your body aches and pains
5. Draw attention to yourself. Change the conversation if you must, especially when you don’t want the attention.
6. Say much if you have nothing useful to say. Words, once outside the mouth, cannot be taken back.
Adapted from Prolific Living

This is the list that I edited for my autistic teenager. I find it works best if I explain behaviour expectations very clearly, particularly given that funerals are formal and don't happen very often.

She seemed to appreciate the list and coped well with the day. In hindsight, I would have maybe built in a break and a recap of the rules half way through the day. Right after the service, the body language became more dramatic, and we sat in the car for half an hour so as to not be a distraction while people grieved.

The instruction that she found the hardest was to share a story about the deceased. She just did not feel confident in being able to judge the correct tone. She chose to just be largely silent for the entire afternoon, which was fine.

Pony role models

Squid’s Dad found this excellent little activity book – which had a helpful page with each pony’s special friendship skills. She doesn’t know any of those words – but she knows all those ponies – so it was a nice hook to chat about what makes a good friend.

The great thing about doing ‘social skills’ through the ponies is that it is one step removed. There is no personal judgement of her or her behaviour – she can be the external observer with a birds-eye unemotive view of the ponies. And I’m hoping the theoretical lessons will translate into practical friendship skills. And the darn blighters are so cute it was a nice rainy-day activity in any case.