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Why words really do matter

“What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other word would smell as sweet.” 

On this occasion I am going to have to disagree with Mr Shakespeare! Sometimes if one word seems wrong it can change the entire outcome for an autistic person.  

I was talking to a friend recently. Their child had gone to physiotherapy and the therapist mentioned that they were going to give the child some “homework”. Instantly the introduction of the word “homework” made the child refuse to engage.

Thankfully my friend suggested that they would do some physio tasks at home and this was acceptable to her daughter. Homework meant something very specific to her daughter and not something that was appealing. 

I find the same with my autistic music students who struggle with the word 'practice', but will happy play the piano or sing their songs at home. To them 'practice' is quite negative as it implies that they are overcoming something that is wrong or something that needs to be improved. 

Last weekend, Danielle’s son was going to "Saturday Club” at his school. There was a time when he was extremely anxious about going there so he instantly linked the words to a negative experience. He cried and screamed for 45 minutes. He then asked Danielle if he was going to "Autumn Club” instead. He had really enjoyed his "Summer Club" and has a positive association with the season name. Immediately Danielle said, "yes". Not only did he go, he had a great time and had several achievements which would not have been possible had he not changed the name of the club. 

I have also used this change of name for some medical procedures. Some names for medical procedures sound quite daunting and they very rarely explain clearly what they are going to do. When my son has his blood pressure taken we say “the arm hug machine” and ultra sounds are “jelly belly”. This reminds him that it is something that he is familiar with and also gives a quick prompt to explain what it is going to entail. 

Obviously changing the name isn’t always going to work, but it is always worth a try to see if it makes it easier for your autistic child to do certain things.  So in answer to Shakespeare, a rose my smell the same regardless of what it was called, but for many autistic people the name of some activities is very important. 

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