There are lots of influences in life. Every social interaction is a chance to influence another person. As parents, we look at these interactions for our children in terms of whether they will be good or not. Then, in the role of gatekeepers, we allow them to occur or cut them off. Gatekeeping is not easy.
My child is, in a lot of ways, on a border. It’s weird. Sometimes, more often now, he is able to interact with others. Someone will greet him. Instead of being oblivious to their existence, he is getting better and better at giving an immediate greeting in return. With eye contact. Much of the time, he is still off inside his own head, apparently lost in thoughts and conversation with himself. He will self-talk and laugh and repeat.
When my son is deep inside his own mind, it takes some prompting to have him rejoin me out here. Unless you have experience with an autistic child, like my son, it is difficult to understand. It’s like when someone is so distracted, they don’t hear you at all. It’s almost like I’m trying to get him out of a dream sometimes. I have difficulty with this concept myself, even though I’ve heard many autistic people talk about going to their own place, where they can be safe and comfortable.
But, at the border from his world to ours, he is choosing more and more to stay with me. He’s staying here for longer durations these days. It’s not like he’s becoming “normal” or neurotypical, but his “stamina” is slowly increasing probably from 40-60 percent of the day.
As he works on staying away from his own world each day, I must be looking out for things that could exert unproductive influence on him. Things that might cause him to slip backward. There are so many things that could disrupt the gains he is making or that might cause a setback.
Honestly, what I’m getting at is this: I want my son to be able to play with a regular kid so both of them can have a good or at least a “not bad” time. I want him to be able to have a conversation. I want him to integrate into a neurotypical classroom. I want him to blend, just enough to get by.
I don’t view integration as something for everybody. I don’t even know if integration will be best or work for my son. What I do know is that the world is dominated by neurotypicals. My son must learn to cope and deal with them for the rest of his life. The more exposure he has to them the better, even if it is hard.
This all came up because my son returned from an absence of about a month, to a social skills class. He’s been missing from this class since my mom went into the hospital. He’s been in social skills for some time with another autistic boy who is very bright and polite and a little older than him.
Today, they added a new boy into the social skills group. I did not see the boy. He was in the back, away from the waiting room. Nor did I see a parent for the boy. The other regular mom and I were there with our kids. The therapist told us the other child was in the back.
Again, after the 45 minute session, our two boys came out. The other child did not. The information I got was that the new boy was rambunctious and changing the dynamic from the routine between my son and his older, more subdued friend. The new boy was running around, not listening and disruptive which, in turn, made my son want to run around and social skills was a bit chaotic.
So, can you see my hypocrite showing? I want my son to integrate with a neurotypical child or a child that is higher functioning than my son, like his usual social skills classmate. I do not want my son to integrate with a child who is more socially challenged because of the influence that child can and did exert on my own son, even though that child might benefit from interacting with my son.
I don’t mean to be a hypocrite. Truthfully, my son is just too malleable at this age and level of development. If he was secure in who he was and was older, I would not be reluctant to have him participate in this type of setting. But he is not ready for this kind of interaction. He will model whomever he is with at the moment. If he spends time with the older child, with better language skills and ability to sit and participate, he will learn those skills as well. If he spends time with a child who is wildly running around and uninterested in listening or following directions, he follows that child.
At this point, my son is a follower. This is how he is learning skills through behavioral therapy. He is actually in a program that teaches him to “follow your friend.” Knowing all these things, I can’t let him follow the lead of a child who is behind in the skills he is learning himself.
In the end, I am responsible for my child. This may not make me popular but it is my ultimate concern right now. I cannot let the child who is the bad influence, teach my child things that must be undone. If that makes me a hypocrite – so be it. I will still fight to get him where he needs to be and that is not backward. Maybe I’m misunderstanding that child’s level of functioning and I will give it a chance, but rest assured, I will not let it continue if I see any kind of setback.