Autism Watch: 2007

Social Skills: What’s really “normal?”

Posted on: December 11, 2007

I love to watch my son play. I love to listen to him talk. He’s happy, he’s innocent, and he’s so trusting, it breaks my heart at times. I think about what I want him to do versus what he wants to do, and wonder why I worry. Much of the time, he’s oblivious to his differences from others. That’s good, right?

I want to be like him — I want to not worry what others think. I want to wear my flannel ‘softs,’ those flannel pants that I love to lounge in but would never be seen in outside of my immediate family, and keep them on for a trip to Target, not caring what others think..and I mean really not caring what others think, to the point of not just ignoring funny stares but not even noticing them. I want to wear my fuzzy ear-covering sheepskin hat, favorite purple sweater, those flannel pants, and flip-flops, with the only thought about my clothes being just how darn comfy I am. I want to sing a song I heard that day (heard one time, if I want to really be like my son) and smile as I sing it, not worrying if others watch me. I want to delight in the sight of a bird hopping along next to me, then giggle as I startle it. I want to just enjoy the world, at my own level, smiling at others as I need to, but otherwise just being in my own world, no worries about being accepted or being unsocial. Sounds ideal, doesn’t it?

The fact that I can’t do those things doesn’t make me normal — it makes me envious. I think about how different my son is socially, and I want to make life easier for him, but can I do that without making him more aware of it?

Take the case of his birthday party. I invited his whole class of 21 other kids. Two came. On one hand, only two RSVPd, so it wasn’t like we had people flake. On the other hand, two came. (In reality, three came, but one is our close friend and would have been there whether or not he was in ds’s class.) The day before, the kids were telling him they didn’t want to come, yet they didn’t seem to be mean to him or disinterested when we celebrated his birthday at school. Yet, when he went back to school today, in all likelihood bugging his classmates about where they were and why they weren’t at his awesome party, several said they didn’t come because they didn’t want to come. So no only did they not come, but they had to be mean. Am I wrong to be disappointed that kids are so mean so young?

Often, I run into adults that don’t require their kids to be nice to my son. They allow their kids to ignore him as he yells hello, and they give us a pacifying “hello” as they run to their car, patting their child on the back to guide him/her to move along, away from ds. Sometimes I have to say “Joey, xx is saying hi to you, I don’t think you heard,” which sometimes, and only sometimes, inspires the parent to nudge their child to respond. I guess this is real life — not just a by-product of my son being autistic and ‘different’ — but it is disappointing. I’m trying to teach my son social skills: manners, politeness, courtesy, compassion, love for one another, and it’s hard in a world where the bar is so low anymore. Yet, it’s expected of my son on a daily basis though some don’t want to return it to him, and if he doesn’t act the ‘right’ way, they complain. It’s one of those things I will never understand, and I need to let go of it but it’s hard. “Social skills” may be a misnomer, because they’re under-appreciated and over-rated.

In the end, ds’s day was good. He did receive four (count ’em, four!!) awards at his school’s trimester ceremony, and he’s so very proud, as are dad and I. And we’re on night #4 of sleeping in his own bed. Things can be great, especially when you put it on their level and not our expectations. Enjoy your child’s ‘normalcy’ and don’t compare it to others’, as their own uniqueness is a gift.

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1 Response to "Social Skills: What’s really “normal?”"

Your comments are so touching, as is the clear love you show for your child. For years I worked in a school as a therapist and running social skills groups, and I had many clients on the autistic spectrum, but I also got to work with the neuro-typical kids. One thing I found was that often the “mean” kids weren’t trying to be mean, they just interpreted my autistic clients’ different reactions and interactions as social rebuffs. In other words, the autistic child was thought to be “mean” and the other children reacted in kind. It’s still tough to see, but just may not be as cruel as it first appears. We’re all vulnerable in our own ways.

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