Thursday, August 26, 2010

Social Skills

Some people are born with an innate sense of social awareness. I have always thought of myself as a people person. I tend to get along with most people and generally like most people. Social situations don't usually scare me, I just go with the flow. So when your child, who shares your genetic make up, has trouble in social situations, it is sometimes hard to understand how they could just not get it.

Most of us are born with the ability to adapt to social situations naturally. For instance, A little boy (Bobby) wants to play with another little boy's (Johnny) toy. The first time, Bobby goes up and takes the toy. Johnny then shoves Bobby and takes the toy back. "Hmm", Bobby thinks, "that didn't work". So he adapts and tries something different. He may not get it right the second or maybe even the third time, but he finally figures out that if he asks or waits his turn then (usually) he will get what he wanted: the toy to play with. This is a social script.

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have trouble with these social scripts. Since every child is different, the breakdown comes in multiple different places. For my child, it is the deviation from his plan. He thinks he has a solid plan, so why isn't it working? He tries it again and again. His results are always the same, but he still doesn't change his actions unless there is extreme intervention by teaching him the correct social scripts that will give him his desired result. Is this making sense? So something that another child figures out with trial and error, my child needs direct supervision and extreme support to learn. He gets it eventually, and he excels at that specific situation once he figures it out.  But, oh dear, here is another situation that is a little different, and we are back to the same sequence all over again. He won't be able to carry over what he learned from the last situation, or if he does, it won't be appropriate to the new situation.

So if we use the same example, Isaac sees a little boy playing with a toy. He wants to play with the toy, but this time he also wants to play with the boy. So he goes to the boy and asks to play with the toy. The boy either says "no" or says "sure" and then walks away. Well, now Isaac is frustrated because he didn't really get what he wanted. So, I have to specifically say, "Did you ask to play WITH the boy?" He couldn't adapt to the change in the situation.

 The interesting thing about this process is that every parent goes through this. We have to teach our children these social skills. The unique thing about children with ASD is that Parents have to continue to do this for a much longer period and repetitively. Something a three and four year old should be learning to master, my son still struggles with at six.You could maybe see how this could become tiring for me, teachers, and for Isaac.

As a parent you hope that as you raise your children, that others will understand that it is a learning process for the child and for you as well. I went to the playground for a play date with one of Isaac's classmates from his PDD classroom, and unfortunately, the little girl had a classic "Autism" meltdown. (If you have not seen one of these count yourself lucky, they are intense.) The little girl wanted to swing on a specific swing, and another child was currently using it. She could not change her plan to swing on another unoccupied swing or wait patiently till the other child was off. So she began kicking wood chips at the other child, stomping, screaming, and then eventually hitting her mother when she tried to intervene. She could not be reasoned with, and the tantrum escalated. If you have tried to wrestle an out-of-control six year old you will know how hard it was for this mother.

This sweet mother was, of course, horrified and embarrassed, and it was really interesting for me to watch this as a bystander. Usually I am the mother taking a screaming and kicking child to the car as quickly as possible. The interesting thing was to see how the people around us reacted to such an abnormal meltdown. Most mothers looked on with sympathy and tried to ignore it so this mother wouldn't be embarrassed, but a few looked on horrified or disgustedly. At first I had a desire to say something to these few about how they had no right to judge, but then I thought it's too bad for them that they will never know this sweet mother who is so strong in her fight for her child.

I have become a better person from getting to know other mothers who struggle with their children whether they have special needs or not. Thank you to all of you who have supported and sometimes held me up when I thought I couldn't do it anymore. That, to me, is a social skill that only wisdom and experience can give a person. I hope someday I will have both, and use them to help others.

On a side note, today at the playground Isaac went to someone and asked him what his name was, how old he was, and generally went about the introduction ritual without a flaw! You should have seen my puffed chest and proud face. We've come a long way baby!


Andy, Mary, Nate, Lizzie said...

My Lizzie is 4, and we are now facing "The Look" when she has a meltdown. I've had to just block them out and focus on helping my daughter through to the next moment. The moment that won't be as bad as the last (I hope). It is emotionally hard for her as well as me, and physically, it is very rough on me (she's broken my nose and bashed in my teeth during meltdowns), but it is the life we live every day. She is my daughter, and we work on the meltdowns, and the correct actions/reactions as many times as it takes. As frustrating as it all gets for her and us, she is such a JOY in our lives! She is more than her symptoms, she is our sweet, delightful Lizzie.

Okay, I'm rambling, lol...


Heather said...

I have so many thoughts on this. First, we love your boys and don't see them for any labels, but for the sweet human beings they are.

Second, as a parent seeing other parents with kids who are "melting down" or just being disagreeable little brats, um kids, I both relate and respect them for doing what they need to do for their kids regardless of the public eye watching so closely.

And, I promise lastly, I feel all the things you do. My kids can't follow the typical "social script" and honestly, does it matter what the kids' name or age is? Not really. What matters is if the kids can build a castle in the sand together and figure out who is going to take on what role, kwim?

Okay, I lied, there's more spew from my brain. :) LeMira's talk of grieving hits home even for parents of kids without any labels or differences. I think very few people end up with the child they *want* or expected. I always envisioned an outgoing, devil may care child with mutiple trips to the ER causing me grief. I have timid, shy, non-agressive kids causing me grief instead!

Thanks for sharing.

The Perkins Gang said...

Hi, I am a high school friend of Lem's, and she has directed me to your blog a few times--love to read it--I have a son with a very aggressive form of ADHD and totally know and sympathize, it took me several years of constantly feeling judged and finally learning what it was that was causing the meltdowns before I was able to get over my guilt, frustration and sadness over what I felt was A LOT of judgment from others as to why my kids didn't behave better. I now am able to pass by those who judge with out the worry because I know they just don't understand and yet there are so many who are willing to support and love and try to understand. I recently read a book by S. Michael Wilcox--What the Scriptures Teach Us about Raising a Child, and I loved a lot of what he had to say--these personaltites, these traits, we can only help shape and direct because they were already born with them--a full-grown spirit in a little tiny child and then we as adults think that we can change or control that! HUH! So, thanks for sharing, and know that there are so many who do see and understand even when so many don't!