Susan's Blog

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Meaning of Silence

Nat is in a phase where he is very quiet and seems to loathe talking more than ever. He has never been moved by communication books, because for him, the issue is not about an inability to speak or communicate; it is about not wanting to. So I do not use communication devices with him, or visuals, they only seem to make him withdraw more.

I catch him staring at me, and when I look at him, he looks away, almost like a boy looking away from someone he has a crush on. I smile at him, but then I always wonder, what does the smile mean to him? Does he get it, or does it go over his head. If he gets it, does it move him?

This seems to be a period of declining ability, which saddens me. I am at a loss as to how to stimulate his interest in something, other than the usual insisting that he try it for a certain number of minutes, and then he gets some sort of reward of his choice, even if it’s just a cessation of the activity.

This inertia is similar to what I find with Max, however, which makes me wonder, to what degree is it based on something related to autism, and to what degree is it about being a teenage boy, or even being a member of our quirky family? None of the males in the family is particularly communicative or expressive, unless it is about his particular (often odd) area of interest: for Max, he will talk at length about cartooning or the game Uru Obsession or Myst, or about his computer. Ben will talk about his cartoon characters, the story he is working on, but try to ask him about his day and he clams up, or gets mad. Ned will give me brief snippets about the goings-on at work, but nothing very deep that I can connect to. And just forget talking about anything technical he is working on. I just don’t get it.

So I know that Nat’s silence is complicated, but it worries me, because I fear regression, and the loss of skills. Nat needs to be able to initiate, just like Ben needs to be able to answer uninteresting questions without getting mad. And Max needs to branch out. I guess. Or they will just have fewer friends, and maybe that’s okay (?) But in Nat’s case, my biggest fear is how this will have an impact on his ability to live independently, still a dream of mine, but ever more distant.


Your motherly instict is probably the correct one. Nothing scary is likely happening to his brain. You can call it “regression” but he’s probably just finding it hard to talk at the moment. Trying to get him to talk probably doesn’t help in such a situation. It seems preferable to offer encouragement, and to let him know that he shouldn’t feel bad about it.

— added by Joseph on Friday, July 28, 2006 at 12:31 pm

Chance(my 7 year old with autism) seems to be going through something similar. He is doing a ton of hand flapping and pacing lately. Two years in a row now his team at school has expressed at his spring IEP’s a sort of fear of him going backward during the summer. I too have a hard time drawing the line between autism and “normal” kid behavior. It is, perhaps, their own unique brand of boredom. Are you maybe looking forward to school starting again? I find myself doing just that…longing for the routine.

— added by mrs. gilb on Friday, July 28, 2006 at 1:03 pm

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