Those of us who are long-distance grandparents have to rely on remote methods to communicate with our grandchildren: snail mail, audio-only telephone, and visual methods such as FaceTime. The visual methods can provide the most rewarding interactions.
It is important that we realize that children on the autism spectrum often have challenges interpreting cues such as tone of voice and facial expressions. Nonverbal children may use sign language and/or language devices that we don’t know how to use. BUT it is possible for us to have meaningful FaceTime interactions.
Just three rules:
PLAN THE CALL IN ADVANCE. Just the normal “How are you doing?” or “Tell me what you did today?” or “When are you coming to see me again?” types of random conversation often don’t result in engaging conversation. Our job is to plan something that is immediately engaging. (More about this later.)
HAVE LOW EXPECTATIONS (but high hopes). Our call may well result in zero interaction, so we don’t want to set ourselves up for major disappointment. We should understand that it often takes time and persistence to develop a strategy for meaningful FaceTime interactions.
MAKE IT SHORT. A one-minute happy and engaging interaction is cause for celebration; a five-minute, one-sided silent “conversation” isn’t cause for celebration. Once we establish a strategy for meaningful engagement, we can expect future conversations to be longer and longer.
How do we plan for a FaceTime call? It’s often best to base the call on something that our grandchild likes: a favorite movie (”Frozen”?), a favorite topic (dinosaurs?), a favorite activity (bowling?), a favorite celebrity or group (the Wiggles?), a favorite relative (his mother?), etc.
My granddaughter loves Peppa Pig, so I gain her immediate attention and interaction when I begin a FaceTime session while holding a Peppa Pig figure and having Peppa “talk” to my granddaughter.
If your grandchild likes cooking or helping you cook, perhaps the following would be a successful 3-minute FaceTime experience. “See this carton of eggs? I need your help. How many eggs should I crack so I can cook scrambled eggs? Ok, now watch carefully so you can give me advice on how to crack them . . . And I want to add some milk. I’ll start pouring and you tell me when to stop . . . You tell me when it’s time to scoop them out of the frying pan . . .”
Making silly faces can be a way to both entertain and engage our grandchildren. “Let’s see who can make the happiest face.” “Let’s see who can make the angriest face.” “Let’s see who can make the silliest face.” You get the idea.
At the bottom of this article is a list of ideas that you can consider when planning for FaceTime with your grandchild. But again, it is important to MAKE IT SHORT.
You may also want to consider making your FaceTime interaction a part of your grandchild’s ongoing routine: “FaceTime with Nana” – Thursday afternoons at 4pm. Or “Silly Faces with Nana,” or “Peppa Pig with Nana,” or “Storytime with Nana,” etc.
OR, perhaps you have a grandchild who is a talker, but who likes to talk about his own special interests. This may well provide your opening for wonderful FaceTime interactions: “Hi Devon! I’m calling because I need you to give me an update on your dinosaur collection.” Or, “I called to hear your latest song.” Or, “I need to find out what your dog has been doing.”
You’ll likely find that once you find a successful strategy, you’ll be able to gradually increase the length of the call and make it more and more interactive. The important thing is that you and your grandchild will have ongoing and endearing interactions.
Additional topics/strategies for FaceTime:
ARTS/CRAFTS – “Cut a Snowflake With Nana”
FAVORITE TOYS– “Toy Time With Nana”
PACKAGED GIFTS – Fill a box with a toy or toys and wrap and address it on FaceTime. Then FaceTime again when he receives and unwraps it.
STARING CONTEST – Sometimes children on the autism spectrum enjoy staring back and forth with the other person on FaceTime. You can have a visible timer or clock to help count how long.
FUNNY NOISES – See who can laugh the loudest or make sounds of farm animals or make clicks and gurgles etc.
EXERCISE OR YOGA – My granddaughter likes to copy my wife’s yoga exercises (often engaged for as long as 15 minutes).
DANCING – You can copy each other’s dance moves.
TEA PARTY – Get out your cups and saucers at both ends of the line.
MEAL – Eat together.
I SPY – Move your camera around your residence to “spy” things.
PUPPET SHOW – Use toy animals or figurines.
STUFFED ANIMALS DANCE TO MUSIC – Favorite songs.
And finally, if you’re not successful at first, keep trying. Don’t give up after one or two or three tries. Often it takes several attempts before arriving at a successful strategy for meaningful FaceTime. But it will be worth it!