Autism Series Part 5: Overthinking Social Situations

group of friends

When a child is diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, it is easy to get down and discouraged, because as a mother you want everything to be okay. And, eventually, it is okay…once you jump over the main hurdles. One of those hurdles is acceptance, another is education. Educating myself about the disorder allowed me to know what to expect and how to handle given situations of erratic behavior. Most of the situations that my son faced were pretty stressful for me at first, but for the most part I knew (and my family knew) how to make difficult times a little easier.

Except for the social situations.

As my son grew older this was a very hard issue to cover. Oh my. Children in school (let’s say middle school-aged children) talk a lot, act silly and goofy, and are becoming little pros at reading each other’s body language and social cues. Not my son. He just didn’t (and still doesn’t somewhat) have the ability to read other’s non-verbal communications and have the gift of exchanging banter with his peers.

My biggest fear was that he would become an outcast, and his peers would think of him as the “strange one” or “weird one”.

His vocabulary and sentence structure was excellent, he just didn’t really know how to carry on a reciprocal conversation. I did have one thing on my side here, at least temporarily. My son went to school with these other students from the very beginning, and is very well-liked, and the students just seem to accept him for the way he is. But once he went into the eighth grade at the high school, he would be faced with more and more students that were from the other elementary schools…students that have never met him. What parent wants their child to eat alone at lunch, or sit with someone and not speak, laugh, and have meaningful conversation? I can’t think of any parent who wants that. I shudder to even think about it.

So, instead of overthinking my son’s social skills, I enlisted the help of my older son.

I also grabbed some social skills books from the special education teacher. It was time to fight this issue head on. The social skills books had many “social stories” in them, such as what to do in given situations throughout the school day (which is the chapter I went straight to). Social stories are actual acting-out stories that can be done with a child that has high-functioning autism, and they actually teach the child what to say and what to do during certain social times, like lunch, in class, in the hallway during class changes, talking to instructors, and much more.

And I thank God every day for my older son, who would sit with his brother and talk to him about what to do during various parts of the school day. And what NOT to do. We certainly knew we couldn’t go overboard here, because, honestly, my thirteen year-old really could care less if he sits alone in a crowded cafeteria of middle schoolers. He could care less if he cracks a joke that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever in front of other thirteen year olds. But, as a mom, I care because I don’t want others to make fun of him. I know…it is a fine line here. I am trying to abide by this.

The communication between my son and his idolized brother has done wonders.

I cannot describe how proud I have of my older son working with him, and my younger son for actually understanding and trying to observe more and be a little more social. Just a little. And, once again, this experience was a lesson, and I will always abide by this saying, “This, too, shall pass!”