Wednesday, November 25, 2015

To Speak or Not To Speak

Lately I've been trying to be mindful that I shouldn't always force Ethan to make small talk. Ninety percent of the time, he thinks it's a chore and nothing more. He's already got to deal with practicing this social stuff in his group at school (never mind all day at school in general). There are times when he very nicely, very bluntly, stops answering my questions and says, "Mama, I just want to be quiet right now." How can I say no to that? Especially when there are times when I myself don't feel like being interrupted from my thoughts to start gabbing.

But then this is usually the way things end up going (from a conversation last week in the car)...

"So, Ethan, which special do you have today, gym or music?" We were driving to school.

No answer.

"Eeth? Which special?"

Nothing. Then -- "Mama, I just don't feel like talking right now. Can we have silence in the car?"

"Okay. Is the radio all right?"


Thirty seconds of silence later: "Mama, did you know a whale is the largest animal alive on earth?"

"Really? Where'd you read that?"

"In something for school."

"Hey, wait a second." I decide to call him out. "I thought you said you wanted silence."

"I do. Mamma, stop talking."

"But wait! Are you saying you only want to talk if it's something YOU want to talk about?"

"Mamma! I said silence in the car!"

"But..." My voice trails off and the car grows quiet again. For thirty seconds.

"Mama, I kept winning in soccer every day during recess!"

"Good for you." I glance at the clock. "Rrrgh, it's late. We're cutting it close."

"Mama, I don't want you to comment about us being late or saying we're close."

"Why not?"

"I just don't."

"Is it because it makes you nervous?"


Back to silence again. Then I ask, "Ethan, did you just see the crossing guard with the turkey hat?"

No answer.


He's back in his own world.

"Why is okay for you to talk about something but not me?" Silly question. More silence. And so it goes.

I can't really complain. He does initiate conversation. It just usually has to be on HIS terms. The only thing that concerns me, and I've written about it before, is how this carries over with other kids. After a while they're going to get annoyed with someone who rarely answers them or comments on things that they bring up. And while we understand his need for peace, I'm not sure how kids his age will respond if he says, "I just don't want to talk at all right now. I like silence."

Recently we told Ethan about this conference that autistic people like to attend, put on by and for people on the spectrum, where there are people with signs that say things like, "You can talk to me" or "I want to be alone." He liked that concept a lot.

At first I could picture it: Ethan attending the conference with his little sign, reveling in whatever he wants to enjoy, and the power that comes from stating that you don't want to talk and you don't have to. But then, I couldn't really see it, because I know. As much as he hates the boring small talk that comes from typical people, and as much as he wants to live in his head, he actually enjoys people a lot. As far as autistic people go, he's an extroverted one.

When we've asked him: "Which do you prefer more, things or people?" and "Which do you prefer more, being with people or being alone?" He used to say things and alone, every time. But lately, without fail, he always says, "Both." I totally get that. I feel the same way.

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