Sunday, April 3, 2011

Guest Post by Apples and Autobots: The Social Skills Superhighway

The Social Skills Superhighway

To say that 'Bot has a hard time with social skills is like saying skunks smell a little unpleasant--it just doesn't quite cover it. Children with Aspergers Syndrome tend to see conversation as a way to relay information. They do not generally see the point of conversation just for the sake of talking. The best analogy I can use is a long car trip. Most of us don't mind taking the scenic route through the beautiful countryside. We might stop and take pictures. We will remember how lovely that drive was for years to come. On the other hand, if he is given a choice, 'Bot will take the interstate every time. His conversation highway is fast, straight to the point, and you only stop if you really have to pee.

I've been trying to teach 'Bot some basic conversational expectations. Right now we are working on saying goodbye before walking away from someone. To him saying goodbye is completely pointless. Why tell someone you are going to leave? They can obviously see you walking away. I chose this as a starting point because I have actually seen 'Bot walk away from another child while that child was mid-sentence. He just turned and walked away. As for other social skills, well, lets just say our house is one big learning experiment, and some days, those experiments go straight to hell. Today was one of those.

It started in the van on the way home from school. 'Bot heard a joke at school today. Now, you have to understand that 'Bot doesn't get most jokes, because they usually involve a play on words, and his autistic brain doesn't process those kinds of language details. However, his classmates thought it was funny, so he decided to share it with Princess. Usually we are able to explain jokes to him. He still doesn't quite "get it," but he does at least understand why others were laughing. However, Princess didn't want to deal with that today. On the other hand, 'Bot was determined to tell his joke, paying no mind to Princess's eye rolling, sighing, and ear covering. (Social cues like facial expressions can be hard for him to decifer.) Finally, she told him point blank to stop talking to her, he got mad, and it was on from that moment.

They fought the rest of the way home. They fought after we got home. Princess knows exactly which buttons to push to send 'Bot over the edge of insanity, and today he wanted to play with Tinkerbell and completely ignore her, so Princess got Tinkerbell to play with her instead of 'Bot. I tried to get them all involved with hide and go seek together. No dice. 'Bot chased Tinkerbell around, trying to get her to play with him instead of Princess. Of course, he was screaming at Princess the whole time, which made Tinkerbell definitely not want to play with him. Princess was running through the house saying, "Come on Tinkerbell, this way!" Tinkerbell was running behind Princess, crying because 'Bot was chasing her. 'Bot, who didn't realize that he was scaring Tinkerbell, was furious and chasing both of them. On the upside, Tugboat thought all of the running and screaming was hysterically funny.

Finally, as a last ditch effort to get what he wanted, 'Bot came to me and told me that Princess wouldn't let Tinkerbell play with him. I explained to him how he should apologize to Tinkerbell so that she would play with him. Instead, he chose to pick up a ball (a soft one filled with air) and throw it with all of his might at Princess's back. It hit her in the back of the head. So, now I've got three crying kids, all in their underwear (though I can't tell you why), and a laughing baby. I'd rather have had a crying baby and three laughing big kids. I also had parent calls to make. Swell.

I decided to talk about apologizing to Princess later, and instead I explained to 'Bot how to get Tinkerbell to play with him. Thankfully, he followed my advice, was forgiven, and everyone settled down. Later, I told 'Bot he'd have to write an "I'm sorry" or give Princess a hug. We try to give 'Bot concrete consequences when he does something wrong. He can't usually see connections between abstract things and his actions. So, saying I'm sorry mean little to him, doesn't help him understand why what he did was wrong, and when he's upset, his words always sound a little mean. Therefore, his I'm sorrys don't sound very sorry at all. And yes, I admit that for him, hugging anyone is a consequence, and so is having to write something. Princess had to do time out for her part in everything. By the time it was all said and done, poor Tinkerbell decided to play by herself. The whole thing could have been avoided if 'Bot had understood to give Princess some space this afternoon.

I realize that I can't follow 'Bot everywhere for the rest of his life. I can't explain to his boss, his wife (if he gets married), or anyone else in his adult life why he misses social cues that are obvious to everyone else. All I can do is pray that he finds, in adulthood, a group of interstate drivers that won't mind when he chooses not to go the long way.

Posted by Apples and Autobots


Big Daddy Autism said...

I for one am an interstate driver, and I am not on the Spectrum. I am so with 'Bot on the purpose of conversation. Small talk kills me, unless I am the one doing all the talking. Then it's awesome!

Unknown said...

Careful, Big Daddy. Your comment inspires sympathy for your Autism WTF radio show!

Unknown said...

co-host....I had babies crawling on me while typing!

Life as the mother of 4 said...

Isn't that what we all hope for our children? A little understanding

Trish said...

Sounds like you are on the right road - you just may have a few extra rest stops along the way! My son now loves to figure out what jokes mean and learn about different idioms that people use.

Of course, the idea of being responsible for your own actions and not saying mean things just because you think of them is a whole other story, but I'm glad we are at least still driving in the right direction!



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