This week we have a guest post from Lizzie over at A Curious Journey. Lizzie is mum to two boys and her blog A Curious Journey helps parents of children on the autistic spectrum prepare for their next holiday or day out so that everyone feels confident to try new things and the family can enjoy their time together.
My boys LOVE to talk. My eldest, now 9, has always been noisy and even though my youngest didn’t say a word until he was three, at the age of 7 he’s now definitely making up for it.
They both have additional needs. The 9-year-old has an autism diagnosis and the 7-year-old is going through the autism assessment process. In addition, they both have learning difficulties and hypermobility.
For a long time, I remember wishing my eldest boy would ask questions and rejoicing when age 3-and-a-half he pointed at the clouds on a camping trip and asked why they were moving. It would be a few years before questions would be a regular thing.
However, despite their enthusiasm for talking, the conversations can get a bit repetitive, generally focusing on their special interests.
Often they will talk ‘at’ someone rather than have a back and forth conversation.
The KidCoachApp Communication App
So when I was approached by KidCoachApp to review their communication app, I thought it would be a good opportunity to add a little more to our conversations.
KidCoachApp is aimed at parents of children aged 7 to 11. It is compatible with all devices and features hundreds of questions to kickstart deeper conversations to encourage critical, analytical and creative thinking and empathy.
There are easy, medium and hard questions depending on your child’s capability.
Each question features guidance and prompts to help children think more and consider different perspectives. New questions are added every month.
You can score the conversation using a simple traffic light system and the app then makes tailored recommendations for your child.
I was sitting in the house with both boys, watching the rain outside when I decided to use the app for the first time.
Would chocolate rain be a good thing?
I don’t like using my phone while talking to them as it can be distracting so I’d memorised one of the critical thinking questions: Would chocolate rain be a good thing?
Immediately my 7-year-old said: “Yes!” but didn’t engage further in the conversation.
My 9-year-old thought about it for a couple of seconds. “No, because it would stain,” he replied.
Me: “What consistency do you think it would be? Sticky?”
9-year-old: “Urgh it would get everywhere.”
That was the extent of the first conversation. I was surprised at the nine-year-old’s answer. Given his love of chocolate, I would have thought he would be firmly in favour of it. It was a short conversation but a good starting point.
Over the next few days I tried different settings for the questions. The car, walking to school, sitting at the dinner table and waiting to go into hospital appointments all worked well as the distractions were minimal.
With each question I asked (usually one a day), came an answer I wasn’t expecting.
When I asked the question: “What’s the one thing you would take to a desert island?” as we walked to school one morning, without hesitation, my 7-year-old answered “a submarine”.
“Why’s that?” I asked, expecting the answer to be ‘teddy’.
“So I could see things underwater, like pyramids”, he answered. I suspect he may have seen this in a cartoon but all the same it wasn’t an answer I was expecting. He then decided that was the end of the conversation and starting running to school.
The longer conversations, even just to five minutes, are something we’re still working on as the boys tend to get distracted easily. However, the app is a great help.
It suggests follow-up questions to keep the conversation going. Sometimes it works and they talk about the topic for a bit longer, sometimes it doesn’t and they decide to do something else.
Either way, maintaining focus is something they are building and these little snippets of conversations will continue to grow over time.
The app wasn’t specifically created with the autistic community in mind but there are great benefits for verbal autistic children.
I was delighted to see that many of the prompts tie in with the boys’ speech and language targets. Encouraging critical thinking, seeing things from a different perspective and encouraging back and forth conversations are all things we’re working towards.
I’m definitely starting to see little improvements in the boys’ communication since using the app too. Asking me questions back, eg “what would your perfect day be, mum?” after they’ve answered the same question is progress in their ability to maintain a two-way conversation.
One-minute conversations have led to two-minute and three-minute conversations.
Using the app
The app is also very handy at the end of a long day. To have a ready-made bank of fun questions to ask the kids is more interesting than always asking them how their day has been and hearing ‘dunno’ as the answer.
I’ve also found myself using the prompts in games too.
The other day I wrote five questions from the app, each containing a word from their weekly spellings list, on post-its to put around their bedroom. They had to read the question and answer it before moving on to the next one. Once they had answered all the questions they had ‘won’.
The app has a two week free trial. You don’t have to hand over any payment details when you sign up so if you decide not to carry on after this time, no money is taken from your account.
If you choose not to continue with the subscription, you can still see content on the app, albeit a smaller selection.
If you decide to carry on with the subscription, it’s £5.99 a month or £49.99 a year.
Are there any downsides? As I mentioned, I’m not a fan of having my phone out in front of the kids all the time as they find it distracting. Having a printable version would be handy sometimes.
Is the app worth the price? For me, I would say yes. You could have the same conversations without the app but the convenience of having the prompts there without having to think up new questions all the time is a big positive.
Don’t expect dramatic results straight away, but with consistency, over time you will start to see those little communication blocks begin to build up, which can only help in the longer term, right?
Find out more about the KidCoachApp.
See more from Lizzie over at A Curious Journey.