Autism: What the books don’t tell you (3)

Part three of my lecture notes.

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I think I might be right in saying Ireland is a nation of talkers, hmm?  And waiting for someone else to speak may not be the highest thing on the agenda.

So what does this mean for the child with special needs?

More than once, I have heard my son greeted like this:  GoodmorningIanHow’reyoudoing?Yougood?GrandLet’sgo.”

I’ve written that as one long string of words because that’s how the autistic person hears it.  A blur.  A continuous stream of sound.  Nonsense which requires neither acknowledgment nor response.

And my response to it is this:

I didn’t spend hundreds of hours helping my son to speak for you to ignore the possibility of him speaking!

The autistic mind needs time to: (count them off on your fingers)  —

1) hear what you say,

2) process what you say,

3) search for the correct response,

4) find the correct response,

5) and breathe in, prior to speaking.


So, if we generously give him a clear second for each of those things, what does that look like?

By way of demonstration, I say out loud “Good morning, Ian” and count off the seconds on my fingers, before answering myself “Good morning, Mummy”.

Five seconds out of your day.

Of course, because Ian is used to being asked, and knows there is an expectation of a response from us, there is no pause.  He answers us straight away because he’s had lots of practice.

But why might the autistic person need this time?  Well, we all know they may experience processing difficulties.  And if everyone knows this, the notion of giving an autistic person time to process should not be revolutionary.  After all, do they or do they not have special needs?  And if we acknowledge that, should we not be modifying our behaviour just that little bit to assist them?

However, that’s only one way of looking at it.  What if we look at it this way instead:   What if the autistic person sees everything?  Hears everything?  And remembers everything.  That’s a lot of information to sort through to find the answer to your question.

So you wait.

The way in which you wait is important, too.  There’s a saying that goes with dealing with horses:  “If you think it will take 15 minutes, it will take all day.  However, if you’re prepared for it to take all day, it will only take 15 minutes.”  It’s about finding that space in which nothing else matters but that moment.  A space in which ‘time’ does not exist.  Where there is no agenda.  No ‘what comes next?’  No ego.  No impatience.

There is only waiting.

Because if you can find that place, THAT is where the magic happens.  THAT is where you connect with the working mind.



There is an obvious question here, of course:  What if I wait, and nothing happens?

Well, you have several options —

  • You can repeat yourself, and wait again and see what happens.
  • You can repeat yourself, and model the correct answer (“Good morning, Ian … Good morning, Mummy”) and pray for some echolalia.
  • Or you can smile, and move on, sure in the knowledge that the autistic person has noticed. Because, whether they’re looking at you or not, they notice everything.  And if they noticed that you waited, they may wonder what you were waiting for, OR, better yet, the next time they may fill the void with something of their own.


And how exciting would that be?


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3 thoughts on “Autism: What the books don’t tell you (3)

  1. I wish that anyone who comes in contact with any child who has a disability would do this as it gives the child time to processe what has been said to them


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