Every single day that I read a story about autism, I read about how social isolating it is. How autism prevents people from forming friendships and places the people with whom it afflicts in a type of quarantine. I have written a post of my own observations of my son’s isolation at a birthday party he recently attended.
But then I read the comments to that post. And what I learned, from all of the wonderful people who read and comment here, was eye-opening. How much do I enjoy going to parties myself? While I’m not the most socially outgoing person in the world, I do consider myself able to maneuver a crowd of people as well as the next guy. But, if it’s a room of people I don’t know, it’s no easier for me, than it is for my son.
And really, the social situations in which I have placed him, where I have made observations of his complete inability to enjoy himself, are only those in which he doesn’t know anyone in the room, except one or two kids. When we attended the birthday party, he knew only the birthday boy and his younger brother but there was a house full of other children. Most of them knew each other from school or because they are relatives.
So when I received that feedback, I paused. I asked other people. Yes, it’s true. Who wants to navigate a room full of people they don’t know? Unless you are a politician or public figure of some sort, I think it’s awkward for the vast majority of us. So, instead of me focusing on watching my son squirm, or leaving him to flounder in a room full of strangers and then label the social awkwardness “autism”, maybe I should see those situations for what they really are – socially awkward for everyone.
Here’s the thing. My son is in a school with a full time, one-on-one aide. The aides are not just “aides”. The aides are ABA trained tutors who know my son and know autism. They have training in promoting my son’s social integration into playing with others. And that integration has worked. The aides, and my sons’ two wonderful teachers, have taught all the kids to play with my son and everyone facilitates that play.
I understand we are at the very beginning of the journey. Maybe things go on that I know nothing about. I hope not. But what I have seen and what I know is that my son is in a class of very kind, caring wonderful children. They all want to help my son. They want to play with him. They seek him out. They are genuinely nice.
He’s actually a bit of a ladies’ man. The girls in his class outnumber the boys. And there are a few girls, in particular, who want to play with my son. They hold his hand. They pull him around the playground with them. It is pretty darn adorable.
The boys too, seek out his company. They play together. They learn together and they have each others’ backs.
In other words, what I need to do is let go of the definitions, of the stereotypes, of the fears and watch with an open mind. Autism affects language and behavior. It does not affect that my son is fun and that he is liked. For now. And I’m going to let him enjoy that. No forcing. No awkwardness. Just naturally. Because naturally seems to work.