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Autism – Family Excerpt (Socialization)

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….

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4 thoughts on “Autism – Family Excerpt (Socialization)

  • I do really hope that helps, and I’ll have to think on that.
    My brother has Asperger’s, and he’s always had trouble. I just wish I had known more about it when I was younger. I remember one time in particular that sticks out in my head, and it makes me feel horrible thinking about it. I was about ten at the time, he was about eight. My brother and I were hanging out with a few friends at a neighbor’s house, and one of them calls him a fag because he wouldn’t do some stupid dare. Now, everyone starts laughing, and he laughs too because he isn’t sure what else to do. Now, I freak out on the kid, and here I am about to beat the crap out of him for what seems like no reason to my brother. He runs home crying, and after landing a punch that probably breaks the kid’s nose I’m pulled off of him by the other kids. What I wish I had been able to do was explain what they had done wrong instead of all that.
    Now, we’re not so little anymore, but it isn’t like we’re adults, either. (I’m about to be sixteen, he’s fourteen) But still, maybe your idea could help.

  • Hmmmm….interesting. I don’t really socialize much at all, still, not because I can’t, but I choose not to. It’s interesting though, and I think that inclusion education is the best thing that could have ever happened. The “LRE” (or least restrictive environment as we call it in Texas) I think serves these children the best. 

    Thanks for the insightful post. 

  • I think that feedback is probably one of the most important things you can give an Aspie kid. Half the time, even as an adult, I find myself wondering, “What did I do wrong?”

    A relatively recent example: I was out having lunch with my mom’s friend Carol and was telling her the story about what was going on at my husband’s job. His boss was 27 years old, still living at home with his parents, and was slacking off, calling out “sick” (hungover really) every other day or two and leaving most of the work to John. John was 28 years old at the time. (Age is important here.) I commented in frustration that having a degree should not be the only qualification to make one person a store manager over another, and that other factors should be taken into consideration. At 28 years old, having been married for eight years and having three children, John was a whole lot more mature than Jim and would make a better manager. I then said, “People who still live at home with mommy and daddy should probably not be in management positions.”

    Carol looked at me absolutely horrified. It took me a few minutes to process why. Carol is in her 40s. She lives with her parents. However, it never occurred to me that she would include herself in my statement. Carol does not fit that statement (at least in my mind). Carol lived in Africa by herself for 5 or 6 years. Carol’s parents are elderly and need care. She is not living at home mooching off of her parents, she is taking care of them. I did not realize that the generalization of my statement would offend her. Thankfully, she was willing to listen as I explained what I meant, and I asked her, “How could I have said that better?” We eventually came up with something like this, “In my experience with managers who are still living at home with their parents… and that has been at least four or five of them…  they have been total slackers because they are not financially responsible for even themselves.”

    Eventually, it got straitened out, but I am still a bit frustrated that she never did quite get my point…LOL

  • Reading this post is like reading an excerpt from my own family story. It seems that the older my son gets (he is seven and has Asperger’s), the harder it has become for him to blend socially. I think it is absolutely the time for response issue as you suggest. At first, my son is basking in the attention he is getting, never mind that it might be negative attention. He doesn’t see that at first. When he fianlly sees that there is a conflict, someone else has most likely intervened and he then feels embarrassed. That’s when he lashes out, runs away or begins to cry.

    Social stories help a lot. What helped us even more this last school year and I intend to do it again is a presentation to my son’s class on his Asperger’s. He created a power point presentation and together we went to school and talked about Asperger’s and what it means for him. The kids were very receptive and participated with questions and anecdotes about what they notice about him. It was really neat to see their eyes open and understand why he does some of the things he does. There were even kids who offered to be a helper to him in situations that are challenging for him.


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