Building on repetitive conversations

We have found ourselves very fortunate that both of our boys on the spectrum are verbal. There were times in our life, most specifically with our older son Damion where we didn’t know if that would be the case. Damion can get his point across for the most part using just words, but how he communicates verbally is still not that of what you would find from other kids his age. When I say he is verbal, that doesn’t exactly mean that I can have a real and full conversation with him. He has made great strides in his communication skills, but there is still plenty of work to be done.

Much of his communication involves scripting, echolalia and constant repeating of the same phrases over and over. He uses functional scripts, which are helpful, but also continues to be limiting. Lately it seems like he wants to talk more and more with us, which is great, but his lack of communication skills leads to limited and very repetitive conversations. Honestly to the point of which I feel like banging my head against the wall as I have to hear the same question or loop of questions asked over and over again. It can be taxing to say the least.

It also seems like he has wants to have the same particular conversations only with certain people. For example, when my husband (Adam) gets home, Damion likes to strike up a conversation about what the horses that live on the farm a few roads down from us are doing. He requests often when we are set to go somewhere to drive by and see what the horses are up to at the moment. We know that he likes seeing them. So, his conversations about them often start with him asking one of two things, “Drive by horsies?” or “Is horsies are out?”. You can see here by how he sometimes phrases things that grammar is still a work in progress as well.  Adam will give varying responses to these questions, and then the same questions will be asked a handful of times more, which occasionally leads to not a large feeling of love toward those horses on my husband’s end.

I understand the frustration myself, as Damion has his own questioning to me that leaves me answering the same question over and over and over and over again. It’s like when toddlers go through their “why phase”, only you are answering only one “why question” a hundred times in a row. Many times for me, it revolves around wanting to do something, so I feel like he just keeps asking the same questions as a means to eventually wear me down into saying yes. But then there are other times, I think he really just wants to talk to us, but he just doesn’t quite know how to expand our conversations into more.

 I first realized this after one of the horse dialogues between Damion and Adam. So often Adam had just been in repeat mode himself, consistently answering yes, or no, or I don’t know to the age-old question “Is horsies are out?”. But one night, my husband instead answered, “No, horsies ate dinner, they read bedtime stories, and now horsies are in bed.” The smile on Damion’s face grew so big. It was a new answer, one he had never heard us say to him before. I heard Damion repeat the answer back to himself a few times and then drop the conversation for the night.

Since discovering that Damion’s conversation may not just be another form of repetition, or at least repetition is not the only objective for him, I have started trying to do better. I have started trying to not just answer his questions, but really “build” on our conversations, just like my husband expanded on their conversation about the horses. I will admit that some days this works better than others, and choosing one of those topics that is a real “want” for conversation and not an attempt to get a “yes we can do this” answer is key.

The realization that Damion may actually be trying to have conversations with us has been hopeful to say the least. I am sure that our efforts to “build” on conversations will be a slow process, but finding any way in feels like a victory and building on what he already likes to talk about seems like a great way to start. I am so thankful that my boy has gotten over a hurdle that many autistic children do not overcome and that he can verbally communicate with us. Now I sit here and dream of the day when I can have full conversation with him, even if it is only about the horses down the road.