Last night my head was swirling around with ideas, but as always when it gets time to write them down, I’m a blank. So, I’ll do what I always do, write. Write down the strands of thought that surround my head like a maiden’s soft, light hair that moves with the breeze in a surreal kind of way. Yes, I’m awake and hope you have the inclination to stay with me.
When we first leaned that our boy was autistic, I was devastated. For him and for us. We were new parents, well not “new” exactly, but he is our first and only one, which will probably remain that way since we are in our early and mid fifties. We didn’t think we’d have him (if you’d like to read those details, you can look here) in the first place, so after seven years, I’m not so sure that God has another one in His plan for us. In a way, I’m relieved as it would be a hardship, both financially and probably physically; but I do wish that our Gabe could have a brother or sister. Not too long ago, he’d ask for one, almost constantly; and even now, he looks at my belly and asks if I’m pregnant…. oh boy. Which reminds me of a most embarrassing couple of moments over this weekend at a hotel we were staying at for a wedding. We walked by the hotel’s lounge and there was a man there with a huge gut. Quite out of the blue, Gabe said, rather loudly, “Hey MOM, that guy’s PREGNANT!” Well, I tried to ignore what he said which was a pretty bad mistake as he kept repeating himself all the louder because he didn’t think I heard him the first time, “MOOOM….” It was all I could do to muzzle him and get him out the front door. I tried to explain to him that saying things like that were inappropriate and tried to explain the concept of being insulted… think I failed with that, too. This has not been the first time he’s brought the concept of men being pregnant as he has frequently expressed his belief that HE was pregnant just because he ate more than usual, gaining a pretty big belly. He’d lift up his shirt, pointed to his belly and say, “MOM, I’m almost pregnant~!” Now, THAT was funny. Still, I had a hard time explaining that men and boys do not get pregnant, only women. He’s not asked me what exactly that is “yet”, and I’m grateful. After I thought I did a decent job explaining that men do not get pregnant, I was validated because the next day, we saw that man again and Gabe said (all too loudly), “MOM, there’s that man with the BIG belly~!” Um… Yep.
Still, the incident, not surprisingly, had me pretty upset even though I tried not to impress that upon him, I’m sure that I did. I’m maybe too obsessed about weight, or looks being singled out for laughs. I’m quite positive that wasn’t the intent, but I’m still pretty sensitive to that and don’t want Gabe growing up, insulting people no matter what the intent. He needs to learn this very differently than most kids do. Even though we know that autistic children can learn social manners, it’s not so simple. They do not pick up on social cues like the rest of us can, instinctually. They need to be presented with the concept and they learn it much like an academic lesson in school and they need to practice it over and over. They may never empathize, but they can learn to understand intellectually how important it is to learn and practice; but they may never truly “feel” that importance. I’m not even sure that Gabe will ever learn to walk in anothers shoes, which has always been important to me, in my learning. I always felt the need to REALLY understand things and, indeed, I’ve rarely followed through with anything unless I truly understood to my own satisfaction the importance of whatever it was.
WHAT ARE SOCIAL SKILLS?
Social Skills are a set of behaviors that allow a child to get along better with other people. A child with adequate social skills can adjust well to changes in his environment and can avoid verbal and physical confrontations with other people. A child who has poorly developed social skills, however, may have poor self-esteem, may display conduct problems (fighting, arguing, defying adults), and may have difficulty developing peer relationships.
WHAT IS A SOCIAL SKILLS GROUP?
Social skills groups focus on teaching children a variety of social skills to help improve their ability to make and keep friends, develop more self-confidence, and behave more appropriately. Role-plays and group interaction will give the children opportunities to practice these skills during the group session. The therapist will utilize behavioral reinforcement to promote rule compliance, participation, and use of appropriate social skills, while also encouraging and reinforcing the children to practice these skills outside of the session. Objective information regarding the children’s behavior will be gathered before and after the group to measure the children’s progress and parents will be provided with written feedback at the conclusion of each group.
We are truly blessed to have gotten Gabe into a social skills group. Please see the above for a good description. This is where they learn behaviors which are so-called socially accepted behaviors. The problem is that though they may try to interact with their peers, they never learned how to do that, as other children have learned and that is by picking up on the silent social cues and body language. They don’t intuit what is the appropriate, recognizable response or non-response to what the other child/peer displays. Also, Gabe’s group is a group of peers. They see it as play and I’m sure Gabe thinks it’s a play date.
Gabe is seven years old now and maybe that’s too young to learn about how/why a person can be insulted. I ended up repeating myself about the man maybe getting insulted, but then I realized that he probably has no what that would mean. I am dedicated to keeping open communications with him. He knows that whatever his question is, I will listen and I am frequently urging him to share his thoughts. He knows that I will urge him to just tell me his thoughts. Most times I’ve got to admit that I don’t really understand what comes out of his head, but I’ve learned to ask questions so that he’d have to elaborate on what he’s thinking. I’ve also had to learn when to just let it be when that doesn’t seem possible. Sometimes I grieve for the lack of communication and understanding. Lots of times I feel a total disconnect. I grieve because I’ve always dreamed of being a mom much different from my own mom. She was totally unapproachable and I never opened up to her or she to me. My dream was to have a totally different relationship with my children. Open communication all the way. If you can’t do that, what the heck kind of relationship IS that, anyway? I am learning that Gabe conveys more to me than words ever could. He is my teacher and has been from the first moment he took his first breath. That is a post within itself. So, Gabe is teaching me that not all relationships are the same. Huh? Didn’t I know that already? Apparently not.
One last paragraph. There are so many facets to Autism. Just like the disorder, itself, there are so many areas of specialty, so many areas that really need to be improved, that really need the attention of the professionals and people just like you. It’s totally overwhelming, so I take it in little bites. The area I find myself focusing on lately is how badly our teachers NEED to be educated about autism. Yet, our schools will fight to the death to stay in denial. They refuse to acknowledge that intervention services are needed for the autistic child to get an “appropriate” education. Forgive me, but mention the word “quality” and “education” together and you can kiss any intervention service good bye. Does that make sense? I have to ask because I’m not college educated, you know. Total idiocy! No matter how much compassion a teacher has, if he/she is not trained to recognize and deal with any problems that arise, not given the strategies they need to handle the tough situations, they will just end up feeling frustrated and might even label a child with a negative label, even… YES… even the label of BULLY. This of course, would most likely stem from ignorance, but does anyone want this to happen? I know I don’t. My own son could be labeled as a bully because he tried, in his own “socially unacceptable” way, to make friends with another boy or just trying to get someone’s attention, again in his own way. Maybe that need for attention was misinterpreted as bullying…. and I do see how that can happen. I can see my son being confused and feeling rejected and may be even push the other kid in an attempt to gain their attention and maybe friendship. Nobody and I mean nobody would see it that way in the mainstream world. I’ve been through a rough patch lately with a mainstream mother verbalizing in front of me that she would not want her typical kid in the same class as my little guy. That hurt a LOT. It was only after a lot of hurt that I realized that she was probably severely uneducated, maybe misguided even as she strives on a daily basis to project her highly educated personality. The sad fact is that EVERYONE is in dire need to be educated, teachers, typical children, typical moms and dads. So, maybe my focus should be on wholesale education for everyone… you can’t be overly educated, can you?