For a child with autism, my son really doesn’t have a problem speaking in public.
When he was younger and had to do an oral presentation at school, he did them. We didn’t go to the teacher and say, “Well, he has autism so…”
Instead, we had him practice. We helped prepare him.
I remember having him sit at a chair in the kitchen (as if he were sitting in his seat at school), stand up, face me and my husband, introduce himself, and launch into the topic. I tried to recreate what it was going to be like when he did it for real.
He practiced and practiced.
Also, I would ask his social groups to assist. I would ask if he could have five minutes at the end of a session or two to practice his presentation.
What other exposure did he have?
Well, it seems my son is a bit fearless. Not in the diving out of airplanes vain (not yet, anyway), but he will try things that might make him uncomfortable.
He tried IFly once, for example. He didn’t like the experience and (probably) won’t do it again.
But, he wanted to try.
At my nephew’s rehearsal dinner, he wanted to try the karaoke.
And, he did it.
Then, did it again.
He really enjoyed it.
When my brother plays his music live, my son enjoys going.
Now, he even wants to get up there and sing with my brother! (I discourage this just because the gig belongs to my brother, not my son.)
Standing before the public and speaking and singing doesn’t seem to bother him.
It bothers me. I very much dislike public speaking. It gets into my head and I feel extremely uncomfortable. Like I’m not me up there. I’ve done it many times, but most experiences I remember with a cringe. (Ugh, I must have looked and sounded so…dumb.)
I don’t think my son feels that way…which is awesome.
Especially considering that he has autism.
He gets up as himself, says what he needs or wants to say, and must not feel all that inhibited because he’s been fairly successful.
People tell me that they enjoy him when he speaks in public. And, he always got good grades for it.
So, what happened recently?
Another opportunity for public speaking.
This one, however, was a situation where the public speaking is typically a certain way. With a very specific tone, if you will.
Why was this one different?
Because it was at a memorial service for a family member.
After Thanksgiving, our family suffered a second unexpected death of a family member within two years.
This family member (my husband’s sister’s husband), like my own brother, simply died without any warning. Both were discovered by their wives. Both deaths were sudden and very sad.
At this second memorial service, my son asked if he could speak.
Three things happened:
First, I explained to him that sometimes a service doesn’t want anyone to speak (for whatever reason the family just wants a pastor to speak).
Second, if speaking was allowed, I instructed my son to wait for the pastor to invite speakers to the podium.
Third, I didn’t ask him what he was going to talk about.
In hindsight, yes, maybe I should have said, “Hey, son, just out of curiosity, what will you say about Uncle ______?”
These days, part of me often asks myself if I’m being too intrusive in my fourteen-year-old’s life. He’s fourteen and changing (seems like on a daily basis) and definitely becoming more independent.
He’s finding himself and there are many times when “Mommy” shouldn’t be involved. Those times seem to be happening more and more every day.
So, I didn’t ask him. Nor did his dad.
Well, what my son wanted to say about his uncle was just fine. He wanted to repeat a story about his uncle that he had heard in the past (a story that had been retold the night before).
No problem with content.
Was there a problem?
Um, yes. Because this was a memorial service. A sad occasion for someone who died suddenly.
Therefore, one should not giggle.
And giggle and giggle—while trying to tell the story.
My son got the giggles.
I could tell he wanted to get through the story, but the giggles made it hard. He didn’t know how to stop them. He got stuck—on giggling.
What did I do?
Again, I have an age-related decision to make. Not really an autism-related one.
Should his Mommy jump up there and stop him, quiet him down, say something to him, help him?
I really didn’t think I should do that. I didn’t want to embarrass him.
What did I do?
I moved a touch closer to him by changing my seat. I did this so that he could see me clearly.
Then, I gestured to him. I gave him a “tone it down” type of gesture. It wasn’t really an accurate gesture because he wasn’t being loud, but I needed to interrupt the giggles somehow.
My son got control of himself and wrapped up the story.
How did it go over?
People are very nice. They all said that it was fine. They said that my son added a bit of laughter to the sad occasion. Or, they kept any other thoughts to themselves. (Much appreciated.)
Even my sister-in-law seemed okay with it. (I might not ever know if she really didn’t like it, but I know her and I think she’s over it by now.)
Anyway, I talked to my son and said, “I love that you want to speak in public. You’re braver than I am! You did a fine job. Just one thing for the future, be careful of letting your speech get taken over by something like the giggles. Now, this was a memorial service, so you have to remember the situation as well. But, really, store this in your brain as a learning experience and try to remember to not let the story you’re trying to tell up there get too out of control.”
He did great, though.
Really, a child with autism who doesn’t mind get up in front of people and speaking.
I’ve seen young adults with autism do it and succeed.
I’m thinking mine will, too. Autism and Public Speaking.
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