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Two Children, One Spectrum: Social Skills

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two children part 9

 

I hope everyone had a great holiday season and found the time for some rest. I guess I wasn’t ready for the holiday break to be over, because I’m a week late in getting back to this!

 

Today is the last topical post in the series, and next week we will have a final wrap-up post.  If you’ve missed any part of the series, you can find all previous posts on the tab at the top of the page. Today Jen, from Anybody Want a Peanut, and I are discussing social skills.

 

Connor:

Social skills are really damn hard. They always have been for Connor. Hell, they’re hard for me. But because of the ADHD, he is very outgoing and always looking to play and interact in some way. Unfortunately, he’s always had a difficult time getting attention from peers in appropriate ways.

 

Although he’s been attending a weekly social skills play group for five years, the skills are slow to acquire. It takes so much practice to generalize the skills to the “real world.” He is so great at being friendly and asking others to play. Things become challenging when the other child wants to do something different from what Connor wants to do. He doesn’t get mad, he just doesn’t understand the give-and-take of friendship. He’s not yet learned the concept of reciprocity. Sometimes I remind him to show interest in his friends by asking them questions like, “What did you get for Christmas?” or “What’s your favorite movie?”

 

He’s just not there yet. But I see him growing and maturing and he is getting closer.

 

Another challenge in playing with peers is that he gets upset if he isn’t winning. Whether it’s playing ball or a game, he will often get upset or, worse, resort to cheating to win. We work at home on being gracious when someone beats you at a game, but it’s definitely proving a hard concept to master. Worse, when he does win, the self-congratulatory procession is excruciating. He screams out, “I WIIIIIIIIN!!!” He then does a victory dance, a few laps around the living room, and sometimes a cartwheel or two.

 

Yes, there are challenges. But more importantly, there are successes. Connor is open to every kid he meets and will play with anyone. He’s also drawn to smaller children and children with disabilities (kids in wheelchairs or on crutches). He’s almost always happy and smiling, and no matter how many times he’s been in trouble for some infraction, he keeps going back and trying again. That’s the quality I admire most about my boy, he doesn’t give up.

 

In fact, the other morning I dropped him off at the all-day after-school program and had to run home and come back because I’d forgotten something.  When I arrived I was surprised to find him sitting next to Aiden, playing his DS.

 

We’ve been hearing about Aiden for two years. “Aiden’s mean to me! Aiden pushed me! I can’t stand that Aiden kid!”

 

Since I know it takes two to tango, and my kiddo is no innocent when it comes to disagreements, I’ve continuously advised him to just stay away from Aiden. So this morning was quite a shock to see them together.

 

“You guys getting along?” I asked.

 

“YES! And I finally got a DS for Christmas,” Aiden replied.

 

“Yeah, now we can trade games on days when we can bring our DS,” Connor chirped.

 

I was content as I drove to work this morning and thought about the trial-and-error that is friendship. It occurred to me that, although there are challenges, it’s a learning process for all the kids, not just mine.

 

Moe:

Moe likes other people but doesn’t know how to interact. When he gets excited, he can be aggressive so he doesn’t get a lot of opportunity to just be with other kids. He doesn’t play games, and tends to just grab things. With one on one support, he will play simple games like rolling a ball back and forth.

 

He likes interaction, though, so this is something we struggle with a lot. How do we give him appropriate opportunities to interact with the world while keeping him, others, and property safe?

 

Join us next week as we wrap up the series with our thoughts, fears, and hopes for the future.

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Equality and All That Goes With It

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When we talk about autism, we also talk a lot about equality.  We want our children to have equal rights and opportunities.  We want them to get an education that is equal to their peers, by receiving support and accommodations.

Even though my son is categorized as “high functioning,” he will need the tools and skills to make his way in society when he is grown.  His disability is invisible in that it is not easily distinguishable.  It’s my job to prepare him for the world, and teach him social rules.

Equality is a two-way street.  Of course we want him to have the same opportunities as anyone else.  But we also have to expect him to understand basic rules of social conduct.  If he is truly to be “equal” then he must also be prepared to be called out for his actions.  Just like the rest of us.

Just like the rest of us.

Social skills are important, and we’ve been working on them for a long time now.  We work on them because he won’t be wearing a sign around his neck that says, “I have autism, please excuse me when I’m inappropriate.”

Some social concepts that we’ve been working on:

1.  If you bully someone (and it IS possible for someone with autism to bully others), they will eventually stand up to you.  Or their friends will.

2.  If you call someone names, they will usually respond in kind.

3.  If you put your hands on someone, eventually they might get mad enough to hit you back.  And if you do this when you’re grown, you can get in trouble with the police.

4.  You are responsible for your words and actions.

5.  Your words and actions affect other people.

6.  Your challenges don’t excuse your behavior.  That’s why we practice coping skills.

7.  You can’t call someone else out for doing what you have done yourself.  If you shoot a Nerf dart at me, I will shoot one back.  You don’t get to have a hissy fit when it happens, otherwise you shouldn’t start the play-war to begin with.

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When he is grown, people will presume competence.  That’s important because we don’t want people assuming that, because someone is different, because they have special needs, that they are inherently unable to be an equal, contributing member of society.  To presume competence means that someone will be treated as an equal, with equal expectations.  To lower or alter one’s expectations of someone because of autism is not treating them equally.  It’s one thing to provide accommodations to someone so they can complete a task, but one cannot expect accommodations for social skills and behavior, because the golden rule applies to us all.

But we worry.  We worry that he will want to hide behind his label and use it as an excuse for not learning or being accountable.  Temple Grandin didn’t achieve all that she has by waiting for someone to accommodate her.  That’s why we work hard at teaching these concepts, and we teach them in many different ways so he can grasp them.

Yes, it is possible to be autistic and a jerk at the same time.  But we will work our butts off to try and make sure that’s not our son’s outcome.

Let’s face it, there’s no shortage of jerks.  The world doesn’t need one more.

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