This has been a difficult subject with various family members for a while, now. If you're not familiar with the term echolalia, its basically repeating just about anything you hear, over and over (a form of perseveration). A phrase can "get stuck" in either your short term or long term memory, and you keep repeating it, often in exactly the same tone or sing-song pitch. My son has to fight this urge on a daily basis, both short term and long term. This can be a positive thing in that at least he's showing a desire to communicate (which is difficult for most on the spectrum). The hard part is that its even more important than "normal" for parents to monitor what their children are exposed to.
There are members of the family that I grew up in who tend to gossip (specifically rehashing old dirty laundry, or making speculations about each other, who's talking to whom, who's not talking to whom, etc.). This has gone on for years, and it's gotten to be so "normal" that they don't seem to be able to recognize when they're doing it. This isn't healthy in any family, but when you have children on the autism spectrum who suffer from echolalia, ... well, "dangerous" is putting this lightly. A while back, I tried to get my children out of a room before this started, but my son caught a phrase that he shouldn't have been exposed to. He would perseverate on that phrase even 3 months later, and he would get just as upset as he did the first time he said it. I don't know how much of it he understands, but we've found that he usually understands more than people give him credit for.
I had to set some boundaries (although its been very frustrating that some in my family have no idea what that means,...if this is new to you, please read the book "Boundaries" by Cloud and Townsend, ...its not specific to autism, its a way for everyone to have healthier relationships). After talking numerous times about what is not okay to discuss in front of my children (and still having those moments that we couldn't leave the room fast enough), my spouse and I decided that we would take a break from visits with certain relatives for a time. I don't want to keep my children from knowing their relatives, I just want those relationships to be a positive thing for my children to experience.
These conversations are not easy to have with family. Its frustrating, I had my 8th talk with them today and the understanding just isn't there. We're getting to a point where they're wanting to resume visits, and they don't understand why I'm insisting that the first time be just adults without my children there. I need to make sure that we're able to talk without toxicity before I can bring my kids back into the equation.
This is doubly hard, because this is a new role for me. I was the quiet peacemaker in the family I grew up in,... the one who listens, who makes as little demands on her family as possible (if you don't expect a lot, you usually don't get disappointed). Its been strange to realize that some relatives aren't able to hear my words, if that makes any sense. Our relationship is fine, as long as I don't speak. When I say something they don't like to hear, the conversation just continues like I didn't speak at all. Part of me wonders how much of my being a listener is from my own disposition, and how much is just because my words aren't heard, so why speak them?
I can't play this role anymore, it isn't healthy for me or my family, but especially not for my immediate family. There has to be role models for the children, for them to grow and develop. When autism enters the picture, the need for a healthy role model increases exponentially. So, we set our boundaries for what is healthy for our immediate family, and leave other's growth up to them. I can't do their growing for them, no matter how much I want to. It prevents them from growing (and it took having children on the autism spectrum for me to finally see that, go figure,...).
This might sound selfish (or relatives may tell you its selfish and not Christian, laying guilt on you thicker and thicker), but its not. Its protecting the good things that God's given you, and creating a safe place for your children to grow. Dysfunction is a term thrown around so casually these days, its almost lost its meaning. There's so much broken-ness in this world, it makes me sad that what is clinically (and biblically) healthy looks so weird to us lived out.
Just some thoughts,...
8 months ago