Saturday, July 25, 2009

Autism - Family Excerpt (Socialization)

"You don't give him enough credit"
Declared my mom, speaking about my protectiveness during this last family vacation and the rantings I had about summer school inadequacies. I'll admit to my increased awareness and facilitation during social opportunities, though it is NOT due to my lack of faith in my son. The vacation allowed for much observation and has strengthened my reserve.

I am certain that many of my friends think the same as my mother and my mom is the only one that feels comfortable enough to say it. It is hard to explain (to the "outside" world) how much social interaction is a learned tool. Most of us inherently understand and quickly adjust. We recognize non-verbal ques, understand slang language, and have developed the skill to put ourselves in someone elses shoes (at least theoretically). We comprehend what someone may be thinking or feeling. These things are not quite so easy for my son. I need to teach him the intricacies of communication, reactions, and defense tactics, and I need to teach in very specific ways. Below is an excerpt of my niece's birthday party while away on my family vacation:

As the party was in full swing, the kids ran to the swing set to play on the monkey bars. My son (proud to be part of the group)was swinging on the swings but this prevented the others from using the monkey bars:
Young family member to my son: "Stop swinging! Hey c'mon, STOP SWINGING (inflection louder), we want to use the monkey bars!"
Young party friends begin addressing my son: (they get on the band wagon and begin to yell my son's name) and "STOP SWINGING!"
Son: (in his thoughts) Oh, they are yelling my name. This is fun. I'll keep swinging. I like it when they cheer me on. He smiles (a bit devilish I admit) enjoying the attention.
Young family member: GET OFF NOW!

We interjected upon seeing the growing conflict and had our son get off the swing. This move was not without its issues. In tears, he stopped swinging, then ran to us because he couldn't understand what he did or why we came to get him. I never like to create any public displays that might end up making my son out to look different, especially to his peer group. I worry that it may be embarrassing to him and try hard not to take any chances that his self-esteem be compromised.

I was disturbed to see how little tolerance the other kids had. The time frame between the request and expectation of action from the request was almost immediate. It was an eye-opener for me. Kids are very straight forward and can be callus. (Typical) kids will be (typical) kids. They are still learning the virtues of patience, so the burden is on me to find and give my son what he needs to survive in such an environment: A.C.T - Acknowledge, Communicate, Talk.

Acknowldge with a rote, verbal or non verbal response - Processing takes longer for my son. He understands requests or replies, but it takes him a bit longer to actually process the information. In a society that reacts and expects immediate gratification, this is detrimental in my son's ability to keep the peace. Peer frustration occurs. Solution: Teach my son a nod, wave, or immediate response that will work for most (if not all) circumstances and allow him the time to actually process the information, yet provide acknowledgement.

Communicate back: "You want to go on the monkey bars?"

Technique/Talk - Use words as a defense tactic, like HOLD ON! WAIT! and some slang that other kids may use in almost mocking fashion, like "Let's see you do it!, I'll stop when you come close". I plan on observing the more common defense expressions used by children, then putting together a song and social stories as teaching tools. It would be impossible to cover every situation he may get in, but it may be generic enough to use in multiple situations.

Most of our spectrum children are taught early on to take the lead from their peers. That is one of the benefits of inclusion. My son has successfully mastered the art of laughing when others laugh and to go along with the crowd to blend in and become part of the group. Though I don't believe this is all together wrong, there is a danger. My son may not decipher between when there is a true joke to join in the laughter or if the laughter of his peer group may be one of mocking. I am concerned that he may actually laugh in spite of himself. So, once again, there is a double meaning in something most parents don't have to give a second thought to.

For now, off I go to discover ways to teach my son the expression of laughter versus the expression of something more sinister, like mocking....


  1. These situations are tough...I experienced a few of the same while my grandson was here for three weeks and we went to the public pool each day. He likes to join in and play with other kids (he's 12) which is good, but although he can do it for awhile, he does not know when or how to stop. Kids started out splashing each other, but it soon turned in to 'taunting' my grandson 'to see if he will chase us'. I tried to stay out of it and see how it would play out, after speaking to the children about 'gentle playing' and letting them know he did not always understand. Most backed off a little, but one didn't. Finally had to intervene and 'steal' M, pulling him away from the kids and to deeper water, where he could calm down before moving into a full-blown melt-down. But what I like to do, and what I did on the playground as a teacher, too, is to model to the kids how to ask (my student or my grandson) to stop swinging so that he would actually do it...maybe like ask him if he would give them a turn in two minutes, etc.

    When I was teaching, I had developed a program of conflict resolution similar in nature to yours...T-A-L-K

    Take a deep breath and count to ten (or otherwise calm down)

    Agree to work it out.

    Listen to and UNDERSTAND the other's point of view (reflective listening)

    Keep it win-win.

    Developed a whole curriculum around it.

  2. Love it, Judy! Thanks for sharing. If you don't mind, I will do a follow-up with your technique (w/ full credit to you, of course). I'm on twitter now and the blog gets picked up through my twitter posts sometimes.
    Thanks again.