How to Communicate with Autistic Adults and Children (When You’re Not Autistic) – 4 Powerful Tips

Having different communication styles and making it work anyway is part of being in a family. But what if it's not working? Collaborative problem-solving can be a life-saver for learning how to communicate with autistic adults, how to communicate with an autistic child, or how us autistics can better work with neurotypical folks. Here are 4 real-world tips to help!


🎧 Rather listen than read this post? This post is based off of Episode 3 of the Neurodiverging Podcast! Listen on Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts | Spotify


 

Book Recommendation

The book I mentioned toward the end of the cast is Transforming the Difficult Child by Howard Glasser. It's amazing and I cannot recommend it highly enough. (This is a Bookshop affiliate link, and if you purchase through it, I may receive small commission at no cost to you.) 

Check out 3 Books That Will Make You an Expert on Collaborative and Gentle Parenting for more reading ideas.

How to Communicate with Autistic Adults and Children (When You're Not Autistic) - 4 Powerful Tips

Welcome everyone to Neurodiverging. We're an ongoing podcast series exploring different aspects of neurodivergence within the family. My name's Danielle. Thanks for being here.

This podcast is still getting started. We're on our third episode, so we're still a little babies, but I would encourage you to check out our first two episodes. They were on neurodiversity and my autism journey. To give you a sense of what we're starting from, you can find everything at the website, neurodiverging.com.

Today I'm very excited about this episode and hopefully that excitement will not translate into too much rambling. But this is an important topic for me and one I find myself asked about a lot when I go to support groups for parents of autistic kids or any group that has a mix of neurotypical folks and neurodiverse folks. This is a topic I think that applies within families with kind of mixed brains a lot.

And it's a good topic both for adults and for kids to work on. So I think it's very much in line with parenting neurodiverse kids but also being a neurodiverse individual with maybe neurotypical kids.

So the question I’m often asked by usually neurotypical parents is, are there tips for how to communicate with autistic adults? Or how to communicate with autistic child? And I think we can broaden that question to, how can neurodiverse and neurotypical people solve problems together?

Basically, how can we work together effectively without trampling over each other when our points of view, our goals and sometimes our concerns can be so different? Because I will say as an autistic person, neurotypicals can be confusing. And I am told that the reverse is often true as well.

So it's, you know, on both sides, and I'm not saying, you know, we're totally alien from each other and we can never work together. But I'm saying that the thought processes can be different and the goals can be different and that's also important to take into account.

So like I said, this is important in the family setting when we're trying to support our young people who are still growing and developing and often are growing, developing in completely different ways than we did or that we are now, to know how to communicate with autistic children or ADHD children or anxious children, etc..

So I'm an autistic parent. I have one kid who's autistic, but they’re very different than I am. I have one kid who's not an autistic brain at all, but is an ADHD brain. And again, totally different methods of parenting for each child, which took a long time to figure out, and it was really hard.

And now we've got systems in place that mostly work for this age for these particular individual kids. But you do have to be flexible as a parent - the child you got is maybe not the child you expected, in all sorts of ways, but your parenting has to match the kiddo.

You can’t just blindly do what your parents did or what your sister or best friend is doing and assume it will work. You have to try to find a system that works for you as the parent and for the kid. I think that's in all families, but perhaps especially in families where you have lots of different brains doing lots of different things all the time.

So this can definitely be important when it comes to communicating with a partner or a spouse. You and your partner see the world differently. You have a disagreement about it. It turns out that each of you is arguing about a different thing.

Has that ever happened to you? Because it happens to me and my partner all the time. Autistic, ADHD brains trying to get across and communicating very differently, and thus sometimes ineffectively. And then, we can have a fight about whatever topic because one of both of us weren't clear about our expectations.

So my partner has had to learn how to communicate with autistic adults, and I’ve had to learn how to communicate with ADHD adults, as well as ADHD children and autistic children. 

Communication is really important in general, but across different kinds of brains it becomes trickier. So let me give you four tips that you can use to solve problems together.

These are starting points to engage or things to think about, to make sure you're putting effort in the right places. So these are not, you know, going to solve all your worries. But especially with kids, a lot of parents start too high level and, and are too picky. And you gotta start a little bit more basic. So here we go. Let's review my four tips for solving problems with your kiddo (or sometimes spouse).

1) Remember, neurodiversity is the norm.

2) Listen to neurodiverse people. Hear what your child is saying or your spouse.

3) Please reconsider your expectations. Are they reasonable? Do they match your goal? Do they match what your child is able to do?

4) Collaborative problem-solving. Figure it out together with your person. Where's the bottleneck? What is stopping this from working? And how can we address it? Brainstorm. Don't get stuck on your idea. Hear everybody's idea.

💌 If you find this post useful, please consider supporting Neurodiverging on Patreon! For just $1 USD, you’ll get special access to sneak peeks, rough cuts, opportunities to help select upcoming podcast topics and guests, and other perks!

So now let’s discuss all of these more specifically. First: Neurodiversity is the norm.

Hopefully you were around for the last podcast and the first one on neurodiversity. But neurodiversity is normal. That means there's no right way to solve an issue. There are likely many right ways.

So you as a parent, sometimes we'll have this idea that your kid needs to do X, Y, Z to get to where you want them to be. Sometimes your kid has an idea, sometimes a very strong very entrenched idea that they need to do X, Y, Z to, to be happy the way they want to be.

The parent and the child can have these sort of stubborn streaks even though sometimes it's not stubbornness. This can be attributed to differences in personality alone, but often I find it is also a difference in the way you are thinking where your priorities are, what is most important to you and just cause something's important to you as a parent doesn't mean as important to your child.

And just because something's important for a child doesn't mean you understand as a parent why it's important. So we need to be thinking broadly. Neurodiversity is normal. What your child is doing is normal. What you are doing is normal. There is a way to cross the bridge, okay?

You can't assume that either you're doing it wrong or your child is doing it wrong. Okay? You are both correct. There are lots of right ways to solve a problem. It's, there's hardly ever only one right way to solve a problem. Okay? So neurodiversity is the norm.

Second thing, please, please, please, please, please, please, please listen to neurodiverse people.

We know our abilities and limitations better than you do and there may be a good reason we're disagreeing. This is also applying to children. Okay. Even nonverbal children. Even whether they're older or younger, even children before they develop any kind of logic centers, they know something about the interior of their mind that you don't know.

They know something about the interior of their mind that you can't access, being not in their body. Even young children know their abilities and their limitations to some degree and they may have access to knowledge that you don't have access to. So please do your best to listen to them, to hear what they're saying.

I'm not saying that you always need to agree and I'm not saying you've always need to compromise on everything. I'm saying, make sure you are hearing their concern. Make sure you are understanding their concern to the best of your ability across whatever communication you have together.

Please check yourself. It might be that they don't need to change what they're doing, but you do as the parent. And that can be hard, especially for some of us rigid thinking folks, like perhaps myself, especially when my second child was born.

My first child was pretty flexible for an autistic kid. We could work together. We thought similarly, our brains worked similarly so we could generally figure it out together. My second child is much more, they have a lot more sensory processing issues and just a lot more of that procrastination streak and feeling overwhelmed and it was really hard before they were verbal to figure out why everything was a fight.

A lot of times it was, there was a real reason. I mean, sometimes they were just over tired and having a tantrum, but a lot of times it was like, this feels too sticky. I don't want to touch this kind of thing. It's too cold outside. You know, I don't like the way my socks feel on my feet.

Those might not feel like good reasons to you, but they were very good reasons to them. And it was my job as a parent to check my feelings and say, okay, they are overwhelmed by the sock on their foot.

That feels kind of not a big deal to me, but it is a big deal to them and we needed to address it in order to build trust in the relationship and to make them able to handle anything else I'm throwing at them as part of the day. So please listen to your neurodiverse people and consider whether what you are asking is something that they can actually accomplish.

And please be flexible if you can, and take time to think through the options. Please don't assume that your child is just being difficult, because most kids are not just being difficult. Most kids are doing their best. 

Number three, please reconsider your expectations. This sort of goes in with your "listen to neurodiverse people," but whether you are neurotypical or neurodiverse, you have a set of assumptions and expectations that ground your approach to the world.

It's really valuable for you to sit down and maybe get a journal or write a blog entry or do something and think through, what are your preconceived notions about the world and about how the world works, and more specifically about family and how family works?

What do you expect the relationship to be between child and parent? What do you want the relationship to be between child and parent, between siblings, between you and your partner? What do you want that to look like, and what are you doing to make that happen? And then think through whether your expectations match what you want. 

I know a good friend of mine this happened to, they were raised in a very kind of militaristic environment growing up where the parents said do this and the child did that. And if the child didn't do that, there was a pretty significant consequence. But the parent, if you ask them, wanted a close relationship with the child, but the style of parenting didn't match the goal of the relationship.

So please consider your expectations of what you want your home and your parenting relationship to look like, and then compare that to what you were actually doing - is what you're doing, going to match your goals?

Also, your preconceived notions about parenting might be garnered from sources that are written for or made for neurotypical people.

So a lot of parenting books, for example, and parenting methods work really well for certain types of kids, whether they're neurotypical or neurodiverse, but some of them are really really geared towards neurotypical styles of thinking. Not that there's not diversity among neurotypical people, but there are some common denominators, right?

And those styles of parenting and those parenting methods may just not be a good fit for your autistic kid or your ADHD kid or your SPD kid, anybody. So you're not only looking at personality type, but you're just looking at what can your four year old with ADHD really accomplish in terms of sitting down and playing an unstructured game by themselves.

What can your autistic kid accomplish in terms of social interaction on a given day? And remember again from previous episodes that what your kid can do one day isn't necessarily indicative of what they can do the next day or the next day or the next day.

Everybody has good days and bad days. Everybody has more energy some days than other days. And you definitely want to give everybody, neurotypical or neurodiverse, time to recover from things that are difficult for them.

So just because your kid was able to tie her shoes yesterday and today, she's having a huge fit about it, doesn't mean she's just ... I mean, she might just be throwing a fit about it. You're the parent, you know, but sometimes she's telling you the truth. She really can't tie her shoes today. It's overwhelming. There's a sensory issue with how they feel.

The shoes are uncomfortable on her feet. There's a weird thing going on with her sock (that's a personal example). So I'm just saying, please think through what your expectations are, why you have them and you know, consider your priorities as a parent.

Is your job today to continue to create a close and trusting relationship with your child, or is your job today to get her shoes on? Some days your job is going to be to get her to get her shoes on regardless of anything else and that will happen and that's okay. No judgment there, but make sure that the majority of the time, your actions and your expectations of your child are matching your parenting goals.

And number four, collaborative problem-solving. So collaborative problem-solving is a style of problem-solving or parenting where you are working with your child. You are both on the same team. You are working together towards a common goal. Okay. You're on your child's side.

I'm not going to say it's the easiest parenting style to get used to. There's a big learning curve for it because I think in our culture you know, in America, there is this idea that children, especially very young children don't know what they want, don't have a lot of abilities yet, aren't very independent. And they can't make decisions for themselves.

And it can be really disconcerting as a parent when your idea is to be this authority figure. It can be really disconcerting to have a 20 minute conversation with your two year-old about how we can solve the problem with their sock. We can feel sometimes like a waste of time, especially if you're trying to get out the door, you gotta go do stuff. And why are they making such a big fuss about the sock?

Anyway, I'm just going to keep coming back to the sock example cause I cannot tell you how many hours of my life I argued with my youngest over how their socks felt on their feet. Between the ages of one and a half and three, hours of my life devoted to arguing about socks.

But let me tell you, spend the 20 minutes here and there helping your child figure out the socks, hearing what they have to say about the problem, brainstorming ideas to solve the problem, giving critique in a positive manner and hearing their concerns and letting them decide as many things as they possibly can, and see how much faster communication starts to happen overall. 

And sometimes this means as a parent letting go of things, like you really want them to have matching socks, but that's just not gonna happen today because their right foot does not like this kind of sock and their left foot does not like the other kind of sock. So we're going to have non-matching socks, a small example, but this works for big things too.

Collaborative problem-solving is hearing your kid, working with them on the same team. You are not fighting each other to get to the grocery store on time. You are acknowledging that your kid is more important than getting to the grocery store on time. Okay. You're figuring out where is the bottleneck, what is this problem from there, the kid's perspective and how can we help them figure this out.

I will tell you that although it takes more time initially, the more you practice, the better it gets. The more you do it, the more your child trusts you to help them solve the problem and the less they tantrum or stall on the problem and the more they come to you ahead of time and say, I was thinking about this and I perceived this problem might occur and what can I do about it?

Which ends up saving you time later because you're not arguing about the sock while you're trying to get out the door. You already have a plan for the sock because you both thought about the sock ahead of time. Other examples that I came up just in the past week with my children. One child did not want to wear pants.

I was not having a great week. It's been a hard week. My initial response was like, you got to wear pants. It's cold. It's winter. You can't not wear pants. People will see you through the window, whatever. We had a big to do about the pants. And I finally was like, well, you know, I'm really concerned about you not wearing pants because of how cold it is. And because people seeing you through the window.

And they said, well, I'm itchy and I don't really want to wear the pants cause I'm so itchy. And also they said that the pants felt really tight and it was uncomfortable.

So we figured out that, oh well if we wear a skirt, is that itchy? No, that's not itchy. And there was no pressure from wearing a skirt, solving the problem. So shifting my brain from, "They don't have anything on their legs and they’re naked and they’re going to be freezing" to "What is their problem and how can we work around that problem?"

Another example is, I have a child who does not like to touch metal and will not touch hardly any kind of metal. I think it's an issue with it feeling cold, but I'm not really sure. We have had to do so many workarounds for this, but it has been overall really worth it.

So that kid has plastic flatware, reusable plastic, that we just bring everywhere. We had a friend cut out the zipper from their winter coat and put Velcro there instead so that they can still be warm and wear their winter coat. Before that they would not wear their winter coat at all. It was just a nonstarter. Now they will wear it.

Was it sort of annoying to figure out, to find someone to replace a zipper with Velcro? Yeah, totally was. And is it annoying to wash a Velcro coat? Yes, but he wears his coat, so I'm gonna take it.

So those are two big examples of places where collaborative problem-solving really works. You don't expect the problem to be, "Oh, I don't want to touch metal," or "Oh, my pants are itchy," unless you also deal with sensory processing issues.

There is a tendency, I think, for parents to expect that the child is just testing. Some kids do test. It's a thing. I'm not saying testing doesn't exist. I'm saying that it's not always testing, especially with neurodivergent kids. Sometimes it's testing, sometimes there's an actual problem, and they may not have the resources to solve it by themselves, and they really need you to provide some resources for them.

All of these kinds of issues, I also want to point out, like the zipper and the itchiness can be difficult to communicate, especially for very young kids, or kids with limited words, limited verbal skills, or kids who are communicating with alternative methods.

Just coming up with the sensation of itchiness, and then translating that into verbal or typed out words, translating sensations into symbolism through language, it can be really hard for some of us. And not all of us by any means, but give your kid the benefit of the doubt and help them.

Sometimes you have to help them brainstorm the problem too. Like, I see you're having this problem with your pants. I think it's because you're cold. Is that true or not? Okay. It's not true.

Here are some other problems I can think of about the pants. Do they feel weird in some way? Are they too tight? Are they too loose? Are they itchy? Are they too soft? Are they too rough? You need to work with your kid to help them fill in the blanks.

Also, ADHD kids sometimes aren't particularly able to generate words or free associate. Sometimes they need a more "fill in the blank" approach to get there a little faster, or a multiple choice approach. Don't be afraid to offer some support if they seem open to it.

And help them verbalize what they're going through. I think, at least in our household, we found that if we have an initial issue and we're able to work through it, especially if part of the problem was that the child was having trouble speaking toward the issue, that next time they remember some of the prompting my partner or I did.

They can use those words from the prompting to tell us about the issue the next time. Sometimes giving them a script initially and letting them just reuse that same script over and over again can really, really, really help with collaborative problem-solving approaches.

If your kid has trouble generating words or linking words to feelings, then give them a script. Make it a little bit flexible, give them fill in the blanks for that script, but give them something they can reuse next time and prompt them to reuse it next time you're having a problem. It can really help.

I also just want to quickly mention that I do have a series of posts on the blog at neurodiverging.com all about collaborative problem-solving in parenting - how to use it, what kind of work you need to do before implementing, and some examples of collaborative parenting in action. I also strongly recommend if you have not read Transforming the Difficult Child by Howard Glasser

This is the OG book on collaborative parenting for kids with autism, ADHD, executive processing issues, or any kind of challenging behavior or condition. - Especially if you have a child who is prone to tantruming for long periods of time, you're having trouble communicating with them, they're a staller or they get overwhelmed easily, Transforming the Difficult Child can be a fantastic read.

Howard Glasser is the author, and the book does a really good job of explaining the collaborative problem-solving approach, which is why I recommend it. The collaborative problem-solving approach fixed so many of our problems. Not everything, but a lot. So I really do recommend it.

So let's review our four tips for solving problems with your kiddo.

1) Remember, neurodiversity is the norm.

2) Listen to neurodiverse people. Hear what your child is saying or your spouse.

3) Please reconsider your expectations. Are they reasonable? Do they match your goal? Do they match what your child is able to do?

4) Collaborative problem-solving. Figure it out together with your person. Where's the bottleneck? What is stopping this from working? And how can we address it? Brainstorm. Don't get stuck on your idea. Hear everybody's idea.

I hope that those tips will help you. They are general, but they are a great starter to just working through problems in your family and especially child parent relationship issues. Please go back to these basics and look at them.

💌 If you find this post useful, please consider supporting Neurodiverging on Patreon! For just $1 USD, you’ll get special access to sneak peeks, rough cuts, opportunities to help select upcoming podcast topics and guests, and other perks!

And remember, however we communicate, we are all in this together.

Leave a Comment

s2Member®