What to Do When Your Child with Autism Keeps Talking and Interrupting
The struggle or inability to grasp social cues in social settings is something most autistic children (yes, and adults) grapple with. In some cases, the child will talk fast, screech/shout, and interrupt others on a frequent basis when they’re speaking. They don’t mean to be rude; chances are they don’t realize they’re doing it.
In this feature, experts share ways parents can help autistic kids work on their communication skills in a supportive manner.
Don't Feel Ashamed or Embarrassed
“First, the parent should deal with their own feelings about what's happening,” says Diane Gould, an Illinois-based Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and Board Certified Behavior Analyst. “Embarrassment is part of parenting. Even as a therapist, if I ran into clients in the grocery store when my kids were young, I’d think, "Oh my God, if a client sees me when my kids are out of control, they're not going to come to me for help with behavior…’ But it's part of parenting. Normalize it.”
Gould stresses the importance of not comparing yourself to other families. Easier said than done, of course, but, “a lot of people who look like they have their act together in the privacy of their own homes, do not. They're also embarrassed by their kids, and they're having issues.”
On extra challenging days with your autistic child—when you feel judged and stressed—surround yourself with family and friends who are also your personal advocates.
Explain Without Blame and Practice New Behaviors
Of course, autism presents itself differently in everyone who is formally diagnosed. Basically, if you teach your child to stop interrupting, they may understand; they may not.
According to Gould, consider casually apologizing for the interrupting (without apologizing for your child’s autism)— and advocate at the same time. "For example, if your child interrupts someone else, maybe explain what’s up with: I'm sorry my daughter is interrupting, she has difficulty holding things in her head."
That way, you’re explaining to someone else that your child isn’t intentionally being rude by cutting them off to talk—and they won’t take it personally. (Hopefully).
A behavioral, OT, or speech therapist can perhaps help your child practice ‘waiting’ for someone to finish talking before they speak. Again, every child with autism will learn and react differently, and if they don’t understand social cues to stop interrupting—it’s OK! According to Gould, sometimes kids are afraid they'll ‘forget’ it if they don't say it at the moment—which leads to interrupting.
Practice Patience and Reinforce New Habits
Parenting expert Dr. Reena B. Patel works with autistic children and says when it comes to interrupting, “the concept of waiting is very hard. But there are ways they can practice waiting…with objects, little visual cues…In my practice, with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, we both wait, I then put my hand on your shoulder—that is my cue for you to wait.”
When it comes to trying not to interrupt, Dr. Patel adds: “Identify that if it brings so much anxiety for your child, if you run into someone while out with your child, maybe just wave to them, but let them know you’ll catch up with them later; chances are they know your family. So, make those accommodations for your child if you want to. And practice those experiences.
Think of it almost as the opposite of teaching them not to talk to strangers. Example: “What do you do when you see someone you know?” Make this scenario relatable to them by saying, “Remember when you saw your friend? What did you do? And what did Mommy or Daddy do? They waited so you can talk.”
Try Conversational Turn-Taking
Dr. Henry Roane, Vice President of Clinical Services at Elemy, recommends practicing conversational ‘turn-taking’ with your autistic child. Have your child take turns talking about a topic they chose, and then a topic another person chooses.
“This kind of interaction can be structured such that the child talking about their area of interest is used as a reward for talking about something someone is interested in,” explains Dr. Roane. “Program very specific cues into a conversation such as teaching a child to ask questions to others.”
According to Dr. Roane, research has shown that this has been an effective way for autistic children to get assistance from others “and the same approach can be used to encourage turn-taking in a conversation.”
Of course, explains Dr. Roane, we wouldn’t want to reprimand a child for interrupting because that’s part of who they are; part of their autism diagnosis. “Instead, you want to encourage not interrupting and taking turns, or changing topics. Using praise and positive reinforcement is the best way to help a child learn in this sort of context.”
The bottom line is, you are the biggest advocate for your child—and if anyone gives you, or them, a hard time for their interrupting, work on building your ‘thick skin’ to protect your child—and make it a teachable moment, says Gould.
“Your child with autism comes ‘with you’; you’re a packaged deal and if someone can’t understand that, they’re probably someone you don’t want to be talking to anyway.”
Diane Gould, LCSW and Behavioral Analyst
Publicist: Jessica Siegel, email@example.com
Dr. Reena B. Patel, LEP, BCBA, Parenting Expert
Publicist: Jessica Kopash
Dr. Henry Roane, Vice President of Clinical Services
Elemy: Pediatric Behavioral Health Provider
Publicist: Audrey Jacobson: firstname.lastname@example.org
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