Social Awkwardness or Awkward, Socially?

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.

Going to school with his "favorite"...

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.

A different kind of awkward...

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.

Holding hands...

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.

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About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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19 Responses to Social Awkwardness or Awkward, Socially?

  1. Jim W. says:

    Such a fine line between integrating and forcing. Most of the time I find I’m second-guessing whether I’m doing it for me or for her. When I see her struggle and get frustrated I worry that I’m forcing her to take on too much. When I pull back and let her go her own way, i feel guilty that I’m doing it for my own convenience.

    I need a drink.

    • solodialogue says:

      I think we all wonder whether we are doing the right thing and walking that line right along with you. Then, there are those moments that they get it just right and we wonder whether we had anything to do with it or if they just did it on their own! I guess that’s what keeps us on our toes, out of love. 🙂

  2. I LOVE the picture with your son and the two little girls!!! How ridiculously stinking cute!

    You’ve got a good point in this post — as usual. Everyone — at some time or another — has to push themselves to make the social connections. With our kids, the push includes not only that fear of rejection we all have, but also the disability — the language, the understanding that come natural for most.

    That is why there is hope. Language can be taught. Understanding can be learned. It may take our kids longer — heck they may never perfect these skills — and it will be a much more difficult journey, but it is essentially the *same* human journey everyone else faces.

    • solodialogue says:

      They do love him! Don’t worry – he still has plenty of time for Little Miss! 😉

      It’s funny isn’t it? We worry so much and then – if we step back, we can see that maybe they are experiencing what we all do in socially uncomfortable settings, language problem or not…

  3. Julie says:

    Our son’s behavioral therapist told us that the older he gets, the more female friends he’ll probably have – girls are more nurting and patient than boys at this age. I do see it but he still has boys who want to play with him too.

    • solodialogue says:

      Hmm… It appears you are definitely onto something, Julie! The girls definitely want to play more, but most of the boys want to play as well. (The girls are a little more – uh- up front with their requests for his time!) Any play can be good play and good social interaction, if you ask me. 🙂

  4. Lizbeth says:

    We have found the same thing here–A plays with girls, not boys. The boys want to beat each other up and throw balls and generally maim each other. And that scares Alex. The girls play tag and will often times do what he wants to do.

    • solodialogue says:

      Yikes for those boys! Maybe, by 2nd grade, that’s what we will find too. Right now, in kindergarten, it’s all easy going play. Trucks in the sand, running around playing Mr. Fox and Hokey Pokey. I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts!

  5. Grace says:

    Yeah, you’ve hit upon something here.

    I can only speak of my own son and my own experience, but I can say without a doubt he is much more social than I was at his age. I was terribly shy. He’s not. His problems come up when conflicts arise during play with other kids. Then things can get real ugly real fast. But the initial engagement part? He’s fine with it. And those times when he chooses not to engage? I just let it go and don’t worry nearly as much as I used to.

    • solodialogue says:

      It’s great that our kids have not expressed a shyness yet. I’m grateful for that and hope it continues. I think we have to take each day as it comes and always be ready to intervene on their behalf “as needed.” I guess we do have to let it go when they choose not to engage, the same as us. Sometimes, there are times when I just can’t do it either. I don’t think I’d take to kindly to being forced at those times…

  6. Same here, girls are safe and calm and boys are loud and unpredictable- so you can guess who AJ tends to hang out with… It makes for some pretty cute pictures of these little boys and their girlfriends though, doesn’t it?

  7. Teresa says:

    Sounds like a plan. Let it be, since you can’t control it anyway 🙂
    Love the pictures. Little Mr. is quite photogenic.

  8. I’m absolutely no the most social being in the company of strangers (though I guess I don’t see my bloggy friends as strangers;) ) so I’m more inclined to relax about these matters. Pudding isn’t anti-social though, she is social in odd ways, like wandering into people’s houses she barely knows. Admittedly, this is more endearing in a 4 year-old than a 14 or 40 year-old, but autism or not, we all grow, develop, and change. Sometimes it is nice to let our kids just be, and thank goodness we get a say as we age as to how social we choose to be, or not. 🙂

    • solodialogue says:

      Is there a post about this wandering into people’s houses? Because I’d love to read that one! I think we’re probably pretty much alike with our own socialization. For now, I’m letting him sort it all out with his school-mates – as long as he comes home with both arms intact after being hauled around the playground by the eager girls! 🙂

  9. ElizOF says:

    Well said and yet, you are a concerned mom and share you concerns honestly… We are with you all the way… Your son is a champion and those pictures are beautiful. 🙂

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