Weekend Archives: Socially Awkward Days…

[I first published this story on May 10, 2011.  Reading it back now, the only changes are that he no longer fits in the grocery store cart so we have no more cash register problems.  We now have grab the laser scanner problems and hammer the debit card scanner with the attached “pencil-stick” thing problems.  He still asks me who someone is in front of them.  He still talks the ear off an adult but fails to initiate any conversation with children his own age.  Luckily, the kids in kindergarten still like him and seek him out to play with.  If only that stage could last forever…]

Everybody wants to be popular.  Go ahead and deny it if you dare.  The reality is that there is a certain sense of joy that comes from other people acknowledging you, if only to say hi, to friend you on Facebook, to follow you on Twitter, to read your blog and best of all leave a sprinkle of social exchange, in the form of a comment.  There is something about being liked that makes us feel better about ourselves.  It validates us.  It gives us self-esteem.  It boosts our ego.

Social acceptance is part of human nature.  It is no less so with my son.  Well, it is a bit different but I would not say it’s less.  The boy loves praise.  He covets attention.  He smiles and giggles, will get all up in your business if he knows you, and you don’t give him attention, and he will beam like a 1000 watt light bulb if you spend time watching him do any of his favorite activities.

As to his peers, my son is basically socially indifferent to them but talks about them at home.  He will follow his fellow students’ moves during circle time songs at school so he can keep up. He covets his time at the gym class where he shakes bells and runs around the gym floor with people his size.  He talks about the boy in his social skills class often.  He refers to his friend “B” daily (even though he sees him – on average-  once or twice every couple of weeks).

When he is with people his age, he simply initiates no conversation.  Absolutely none.  I have never, ever seen him initiate a social contact with a person his own age.  Weird that.  But true.  Never.

On the other hand, every single adult in his life is someone he will seek out and talk to without prompting, on his own terms, in his own language.  He talks to all his therapists.  He loves Jessica and Billy and has opened up to a couple of my friends I see on a semi-regular basis although when our conversations last more than two minutes, he often tries to conclude them for me by saying “Bye! [insert name here]!”  and then proceeds to try and physically drag me away by grabbing my hand.

Sometimes, he will go so far as to see a stranger, walk up to that person (dragging me by the hand) point to the person, look at me and ask, “Who is that?”  Ninety-nine percent of the time the person singled out for attention will smile or laugh at the inquiry and some people actually introduce themselves to my son, then asking his name in return.  He gives them an expression of stone, looks right through them or completely ignores them.  I then, have to prompt him to say his name which he will then whisper ever so softly, requiring me to repeat it.  Often, it is awkward, when we are standing in a line, and the person has either been rebuffed, is uncomfortable, or embarrassed that my son will ask who the person is again.  Yeah, I don’t think Miss Manners will give us a thumbs up on that one.

Another social interaction, I have come to dread is the small talk chit-chat of the grocery store clerks.  Sometimes, I use the self-check line with 165 items in the basket including a case of water which I have to lift out to scan, just to avoid the chit-chat the checkers will attempt to make with my son.  Other times, I get sick of him trying to scan, punch buttons and get me to ring up my groceries in Arabic or some equally perplexing language that is not my native English on the self-check.

This is when I suck it up, and stand in the regular line, always warning the checker that he/she has to watch my son because when they pull him through in the cart (yes people – I still use the kids seat in the cart for him because it’s easier) he will reach for their cash register buttons.  Some think it’s funny.  Some think I must be Attila the Hun’s daughter and some don’t listen and he, inevitably punches as many buttons as the register has, causing the drawer to bust open on occasion.

The checkers at my grocery store, always try to talk to the little guy.  What are you going to eat?  Are these Oreos for you or your fat mommy?  (Okay they don’t actually say fat mommy out loud).  How old are you?  (Oh yeah, that’s my favorite).  He never answers anyone who asks him this question.  He looks away.  After prompting and modeling the answer, he may, on occasion whisper it.

The checker is thus, lulled into this belief that he’s a shy, reticent type, forget what I warned them about, and then see the Tazmanian Devil go wild for their keypad as they nonchalantly push him through. This is followed by the five minute delay as they check to make sure my son did not ring me up for a new car along with my groceries before submitting my debit card for approval.  And yes, my own social standing for those in line behind me through these events, drops ever so slightly during these escapades. Even after all that, the checkers or courtesy clerks will reward him with a sticker of some cartoon vegetable grocery shopping at their store which he covets as an acceptance of his social skills.

Yes, my son is socially awkward but he doesn’t know it yet.  He only knows that he gets applause, a laugh, a sticker or hug when he does something good.  He works the audience for that.  He’ll dance, repeat something for a laugh or seek approval.  So, no matter what you hear about my kid with autism, I know that my son, who is supposed to be unable to reach social signals, is reading and working them, every single day.

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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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22 Responses to Weekend Archives: Socially Awkward Days…

  1. C... says:

    My son seeks no one’s attention. He often hides from my attention because he likes almost total self-absorption in his own little world. He used to hid under a blanket and talk to his toy trains. Now he has favorite spot to the left of the couch where I can’t really see him without leaning forward and then he tells me to sit back so I can’t see him in his hide-y hole as he likes to refer to it. My son growls at people and gives them dirty looks if they get too close and he might hit them if they touch him. It is really awkward.

    • solodialogue says:

      Your son is a doll (just like his mama) and is in the perfect class setting. And the growling thing (like to the CFO) has to make you nervous. I hope they have a program that is enhancing him socially. My son is quiet until he gets comfortable. That means he has to be around you for quite a while with you peacefully coexisting and then, eventually, he will approach you. The hide-y hole thing sounds great to me. Sometimes, I wish I had one too! For a boy who has a sweet personality and smarts like he does, as long as he has a program to work on his skills, it seems that he should be alright, yes?

  2. Lizbeth says:

    He’s a cutie! And yeah, he’s working on social cues, situations and events and processing them. Alex still prefers adults over children as they are more accepting of his behaviors and personality. Wherever he gets it from he’s learning social acceptable behavior. Honestly, the last thing I want right now is for my son to be around kids–they’re teaching him all sorts of odd things right now!!!

    • solodialogue says:

      Thanks, Lizbeth! It’s so much fun to watch them have socially acceptable behavior when it happens! And yes, how’s that Valley Girl talk going for you? I couldn’t bring myself to teasing you more about it… 🙂

  3. Tootleslady says:

    Tootles is socially awesome in my book!!

  4. Flannery says:

    The fact that he seeks out any attention from others is progress, and that’s awesome! I have never had that problem of mine not seeking attention, it’s trying to get him to do it appropriately that is the challenge. Probably always will be…*sigh*

    • solodialogue says:

      I think it’s a great problem to have -regardless of a few social blunders as children (who doesn’t have those NT or autistic). The trick is getting them to recognize how their actions are blunders so they can grow. 🙂

  5. Wow. Some of the tidbits you’ve shared here sound SO MUCH like my Little Miss — it’s actually kind of freaky! Instead of “who’s that?” Little Miss will make eye contact with strangers and shout “HI!!” As soon as the stranger starts paying attention to her, she clams up and won’t give even the most basic answers (age, name, etc.).

    And while we don’t have to worry about her touching the actual cash register buttons, she has done a number on those credit/debit key pads! LOL. I never know what we’re in for and try to slide the cart past them as quickly as possible AT ALL COSTS! I can TOTALLY sympathize with T on the key pads — if stores were smart, they’d save the old ones just to let kids bang on ’em while the frantic mothers try to get their groceries paid for! 🙂

    • solodialogue says:

      Ooh, what a great idea to let the kids bang on the old ones. Wait a minute! My son would probably only want to bang on it if it was a new one and he could cause havoc! (haha!) It’s a good feeling to know I’m not alone on this one! 🙂

  6. Our grocery store routine is nearly identical. A. nearly falls out of the cart trying to mash the buttons on the credit card sliding machine, and I always avoid the friendly-looking cashiers who will try to start a conversation with him. The only other thing I do is try to avoid the checkout aisles with candy bars on the side- A. grabs them and tries to eat them right then and there, wrapper and all.

    It’s interesting what you wrote about interacting with adults and not kids. Sometimes I think kids are so hyper and unpredictable that it’s just easier to be with adults.

    • solodialogue says:

      Lol! A. sounds just like my son falling out of the cart to get to those buttons. My son will lean way over to get there. It’s quite the contortionist act! Candy bars have not yet been a problem (knock on wood)… It’s definitely easier for my son to interact with the adults.

  7. Grace says:

    I see a lot of hope in this post! Lots of good signs from Tootles!

    My Ryan loves to push all the buttons on the credit card machine. He’s never tried to actually reach the register, but I’m sure that’s only because the credit card machine is closer. I laughed at your son making the cash drawer fly open. Sorry. Haha. Sorry. 🙂

  8. eof737 says:

    Progress takes time and, you know, not everyone is a cut up in public…. There is room for the great, deeply reflective types too. 🙂

  9. Jack says:

    I’ve always felt a little more comfortable with those older then myself. If I want to learn or copy something from someone I find usually its easier to get someone older to demonstrative the behavior. Often easier if I put them into the situation to catch what I am looking for. (Their are limits to that however)
    I do have a few friends my own age these days. I still greatly value those friends older then I too.
    As for socially awkward, try behind behind the counter and screwing up. I hide the mistakes by doing some deliberately. But a bad night where I’m really not following everyone else can really suck on sooo many levels. Finding I prefure to deal with some kids these days. At least they don’t judge me for my social screw-ups.

    • solodialogue says:

      Interesting that that you get someone older to demonstrate the behavior because it is easier to get their help. Having friends of all ages is a wonderful thing, especially when it is not an easy thing to accomplish. We all make mistakes and have that same feeling of being judged. It’s good to know you have support, despite mistakes from people who know you, kids or not. 🙂

  10. Brian says:

    I don’t like to interact with adults or kids, most of the time. Yeah, never mind. I’m a bit of a nutjob.

  11. Kara says:

    Oh Karen, he’s a major squeezy. How’s that saying go? “One step forward two steps back”? Don’t you think for parents with kids on the spectrum it’s more like, “One step forward, a hop to the left, one toe tap to the back, a half-spin gallop stop to the right, and then kind of a twirl with a leap over the couch. Then do it all over again, but with different steps.”?

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