As a mom and I were talking in the grocery store, her 10-year-old son diagnosed with autism started rocking, putting cans of soup in and out of the grocery basket, and making repetitive sounds. His mom said, “Oh, this is so frustrating. I wish he could just learn to wait patiently.” Red flags were flying as mom and son grew more agitated. Not wanting to try the patience of this youngster any longer, I told him goodbye, and told his mom I would send her an e-mail. As I left the store, I saw mom talking to another friend. The youngster was rocking, biting his arm, making louder sounds, and generally trying to communicate that he was ready to hit the road.
In situations like this, the needs of two people are conflicting. First, the mom has a need to spend time visiting with friends. Secondly, the youngster needs to avoid situations where he is required to wait patiently while his mother converses for more than a few minutes. In reality, nearly all moms enjoy talking to friends, and nearly all children grow impatient waiting while mom carries on long, boring conversations. So, short of mom just cutting off contact with friends she encounters, how can this problem be solved?
The first step is, of course, to acknowledge your son’s impatience when you talk. Depending on his age and language comprehension, say something like, “Son, I know that it is irritating to stand and listen to me talk to my friends. If I were you I would be VERY impatient! Let’s make some plans so you don’t have to wait so long.” Then consider these options when developing your plan.
SHOP ALONE. Since the patience of nearly every 10-year-old boy is sorely tried when grocery shopping with mom, the best option is to head for the store when kids are in school. If you must shop on weekends or school holidays, do your best to make plans for leaving your son with a trusted family member or friend when you go shopping.
MAKE SHOPPING AN ADVENTURE. If shopping alone is not an option, take some steps to get your son involved in the shopping process. You can let him check things off the shopping list, or let him put items in the basket. He can be “in charge” of selecting some items, or he can select a treat at the end of the shopping trip.
TALK BRIEFLY. When you encounter a friend while shopping, greet them and say something like, “My son and I have made a deal. He has agreed to help me with shopping today, and I have agreed to avoid long conversations with my friends. You know how boring girl talk is to guys!” Then say something like, “I’d love to have a chance to visit with you. Send me an e-mail or give me a call when you can.” Then hand them a card with your name, e-mail address, and phone number along with an invitation like, “I’d love to chat!”
Granted, these three options are rather idealistic, but you might be able to adapt them to your situation. The basic idea is to take time to nourish friendships without pressing the patience of your son beyond reasonable limits. We welcome challenges you have encountered or ideas you have for addressing the issue of helping individuals with autism learn to wait patiently. Just click on the comment button or send us a message to talk@FAQautism.com
NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At FAQautism.com we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. Send email to talk@FAQautism.com And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. http://FAQautism.com