Parenting a spectrum of girls

Posts tagged ‘social skills’

Who needs social norms?

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My sweet M enjoying a weekend cookout

We “neurotypicals” make life so stinkin’ difficult. Life is so full of social norms, we don’t usually think of most of them and could never list them all.  Of course, that isn’t how most people on the spectrum live.  In fact, that is a big part of the diagnosis criteria, the social difficulties.  But really, why do we say there is something “wrong” with someone who does not understand or observe all of the inane little rules we make for ourselves?

Personally, I hate small talk.  I never know what to say and think I sound…well, lame.  I am happy to talk (to an individual or small group) on any topic I understand well, but I don’t want to stand around trying to come up with a question about a family I’ve never met or the weather.  I think a lot of that stems from my anxiety, since on a related note I also despise talking on the phone.  E-mail and text messaging were made for people like me.  I have a mini anxiety attack just calling to make a doctor’s appointment or order takeout (which is why I always make my husband order takeout, unless it is for Mexican then he makes me because I speak and understand some Spanish and can understand accents well).  Although it may throw me back for a second when I experience the openness of conversation with an autistic person (due to the directness and lack of “filter”) I really find it refreshing and liberating.

Today M was telling me that now that she has learned to tie her shoes she thinks she is ready to live on her own.  Not that she wants to be away from me, she clarified, but she thinks she will soon be ready and she likes to be alone.  (This is the same kid who often tells me she will never go to college and wants to live at home forever).  My solution is that when she grows up she can live next door.  (I don’t want to think about any of my kids ever leaving me!). To which she replied (very matter-of-factly) “well, if you’re still alive.  You might die before that.  I hope you don’t, but you never know.” I gave the automatic response “of course I will be alive”.  But then, I have to be very direct and honest with M, with her concrete thinking and distaste for anything even seeming like pretend or not real most of the time.  She told me “you don’t KNOW that, you could die any time”.  Hmmm…true. 

It is still kind of funny to me sometimes that she can talk about things like that with no emotion attached.  It is factual, black and white, not emotional.  Which is not to say she doesn’t love me or would be any less grieved than her sisters if I were to pass away, it’s just that we are conditioned to not want to think about or talk about these things, where M needs to be correct and factual, not to be told what we think sounds nice.

It definitely makes me think twice about my interactions.  I really dislike how so few people are capable of handling someone really being true with them.   We automatically get defensive at anything we don’t want to hear and tune out the possibility that the other person is just speaking truth and not attacking us.  And so we are often fake with each other, even people who we are close with probably “nicer” and less “truthful” than we should be.  But so many autistics I know just tell it how it is and take truth from our mouths (true, maybe I won’t be alive but hopefully I will be) rather than our socially acceptable fake speak (of course I will be alive). 

I am still getting used to it, but I like it.  She gets the information she needs and moves on.  So tell me why it is we think the social skills aspect of Autism is so wrong?  I think maybe these people we want to treat, the square pegs to fit into the round holes, are more right than we are.  Maybe we need to fit our round selves into square holes once in a while.  I think Neurodiversity is wonderful and can teach us all more about ourselves and what is really important, social skills or honesty?

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Social Skills

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M and her best friend

When M was younger (2, 3 even 4 years old) she was petrified of other people, even children.  She got along well enough with the other kids at daycare, and had been with almost all of them since they were infants.  But if there were new children in Sunday School, or if a child tried to talk to her or play with her somewhere like the playground or the zoo, she would scream loudly and hide behind me.  I never knew what to say to the child and parent, I always felt so bad that she hurt their feelings, and at the time she did not yet have a diagnosis to explain her behavior.

Adults always wanted to say hello to her and give her little trinkets because she is so pretty (petite blond girls get a lot of attention) but she would run away from them and hide, or cry.  I always graciously accepted the necklace/coin/etc on her behalf and say she was very shy.  Once she was in OT the therapist noticed if some other child was in the same gym she ignored them completely and didn’t even look at them or acknowledge their existence.

At the beginning of school this year, standing outside waiting for the school doors to open she would hiss at the other students, growl at them and hide behind me.  She had no friends, no one played with her and she stood alone by the para pro and cried for me during recess.  After she started the Risperdone in late October she stopped hissing, growling and hiding.  Around the same time we had her first conferences.  Her teacher told me that all of the other children liked M and wanted to be friends with her, but she refused to play with them.  Sometimes she would play with one child but when two were playing together she refused to join them.

Eventually M got better.  Her social skills are still not great, but she does have a few children she enjoys playing with.  Her difficulty reading social skills really feeds into her anxiety, and simple things such as losing a game or being touched can make her very upset.  She does a lot of parallel play but she loves to play games and can sometimes follow other children’s’ leads and play together, especially if it is her best friend, who she got to have a play date with today.  She still prefers to play with the para pro at recess but also will play on her own or play a game with one or two other children.

Also today, M had a “meet you there”, where her class got together (those who wanted to) at the movie theater for a free movie.  She sat next to one girl who she likes because they have a lot of similar difficulties and because this girl’s mother and I have become friends.  They talked some and enjoyed sitting together.  She also called out hello to the other children as they came into the theater.  It was good to see her interact with other children, even if much of it was superficial.

The center where M attended OT does have social skills classes that they recommended for M, but at least for right now we are not going to go that route.  Many children with Asperger’s, especially females, want to make friends but don’t know how.  M does not have the desire (most of the time) to have friends.  She wants people to be nice to her, but other than her best friend she is OK with ignoring people most of the time.  She cries for her best friend when they haven’t seen each other in a while.  Since her social situation does not bother her, we are happy too.  She is very good at using her manners unless she is too anxious to talk.  The rest of it is just who she is and I love her the way she is, I have no desire to “fix” her or change her.  If some day she wants to know how to make friends, read social cues or be able to “appropriately” respond to people in public then we may go the social skills class route.  In the mean time, I am very nappy to have a quiet girl who does not hiss at people anymore.

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