This is a short list of expressions that cause Sweet Girl untold and unforeseen pain.  All those innocent little expressions we adult use to “help” children who are struggling to do something – those with special needs and those without.  In Sweet Girl’s case, this is one area in which her autism comes to the fore.  She misinterprets the words you use, the tone you use, the body language you use.  Add in her extreme desire to do the right thing and please, and her severe anxiety, and you have a recipe for disaster leading to a little girl in extreme mental distress…  I hope this helps her, and I hope it helps some of you too!

What you say What Kesia hears Emotional consequences What you might say
Come and help me do … I must go and help or else… Kesia takes on responsibility for your emotional and physical welfare I’d love to share this activity with you OR Would you like to help me with…
You can do this I don’t feel I can, but the teacher is telling me I can, so I must be wrong and I must somehow do this The strength and will power required of Kesia to do this will leave her feeling exhausted and deplete her resources for the next day. Each time that same activity occurs, she will put herself back into this state and long term will simply be unable to continue with anything. The exhaustion will also impact on every other aspect of her life. Well done for getting this far… OR How do you feel that went? OR I think you can do this, how do you feel about it?
I can give you this help because someone else is doing my job Because of me and my failure, you can’t do what you want and should be doing Guilt mixes with her initial anxiety and plunges her deeper into an emotional state over which she has very little control Nothing. Any suggestion that your support comes at a price will result in Kesia not accepting it. She will only see that she is an obstacle in your life and will become more and more upset. IF you are able to, try transferring to someone else, but otherwise the only safe thing to do is call home
We must get a move on because… (time restriction) I hear you are in a rush, but can’t you see I’m trying my hardest to do what you want me to? I just can’t!! In addition to her starting anxiety she is now feeling that she must at all costs do what is needed. Her body and mind won’t allow her to, so she adds guilt and self blame. Left in this state, she will start to hurt herself. Don’t put time restrictions on her. If you need to hand over to someone else, do. If you can’t, then we are back to the reality that school can’t meet her needs. I am on call as much as I can possibly be because her safety both physical and mental are my priority
What you say What Kesia hears Emotional consequences What you might say
You are so clever, I’m worried that you may fall behind and that would be a shame I’m falling behind. You are worried. Being worried is awful, and I’ve made you feel that way. Guilt comes once more to sit on top of an initial anxiety about her environment. Her concern for you is so great that she will sit with that guilt for days after such a comment. She will also stew in worry about her own progress which will heighten her anxiety, making it even harder for her to access learning. This piece of work shows me how clever you are, well done. OR I’d love to see a piece of (type of work) from you. If you feel you can’t manage to do it at school, would you take it home to do?
I’m worried… OR a worried look, frustration, anger… any negative emotion displayed orally or physically I’ve made you feel worried, and I know from personal experience how awful that feels. It’s really important to shield Kesia from any negative emotions. She will don them like a second skin and live them for you, to a far greater extent than you probably feel them. She doesn’t have the ability to survive that. Kesia spends her whole time analysing facial expression, tone and body language. She frequently gets them wrong and has very little idea of intensity of expression. She takes full responsibility for your emotions. It’s really important to try and stay as calm and neutral around her as possible.
You really should… It’s going to be so much fun!! I really should… I’m supposed to have fun. If I don’t, I will have failed both myself and you. Fun is a subjective thing. Kesia may well feel more frightened by a “fun” activity than you, but will feel compelled to push herself extremely far out of her comfort zone to make your words true. If she fails, the consequences are long and severe. She will be utterly convinced that she has failed you, and that will last a long time. If she succeeds, great, but the adrenaline rush afterwards will be so large that she is likely to be exhausted and will require extreme support, calm and tolerance of the ensuing “high”. I really enjoyed doing this even though… OR He didn’t like it, but she had fun OR Do you think you would enjoy it? – leading to a conversation in which Kesia is able to air any concerns she may have