When I first married my husband, many moons ago, I had my fair share of sister-in-law interaction with his younger brother. My brother-in-law is a really, nice person. He’s the youngest of four kids in my husband’s family. He’s very quiet and always appears genuinely interested in whatever topic is brought up in conversation. He’s very sneaky that way.
No matter the topic you bring up, my brother-in-law will ask pointed and detailed questions, express seeming interest, add his own take on the subject matter, and bits of trivia, and leave you feeling how genuine and nice he is. And really, he is. He’s Tootles’ godfather and we would not have it any other way.
But, my husband has a different take on all that “niceness”. He says Uncle M “Johnny’s” everyone. When I first heard this term, I had no idea what my husband was talking about. I came to learn, that what he meant, is that Uncle M will act like he is interested in what you are talking about, but he projects this “image” just to be nice.
He “Johnny’s” everyone.
What do I mean? Well, before you know it, in a conversation, he will turn your topic of choice into an “interview”. He will listen, sometimes repeat, express some comment that is complimentary, leans in, nods knowingly, even if you are telling him what a grueling experience it was to clean the toilet. He leaves you feeling like a celebrity. Thus, “Johnny”, “Larry” “Dave”, “Conan”, what-have-you…
This is a great skill. The person who is the “interviewee” (including me for the longest time) does not know he or she is being interviewed. You just leave the conversation feeling good about both of you. Uncle M might forget the conversation you had the last time you saw him, but he’s so good, you forgive him and get on to the next one.
So, why am I bringing this up?
It comes back to social skills. In California, Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is funded, in part, by the State Department of Developmental Services, in addition to the funding provided through the IEP. These meetings occur on a quarterly basis and involve reports.
The requirements of reporting by the ABA staff to the state funder have just changed. In addition to discussing the goals, the reports now list the expected developmental age at which neurotypical children have mastered the goals to be taught to my son. Look at couple of these:
Transition with a peer between three play activities in 70% of 20 second time sample intervals during 1:1 play sessions with typically-developing peers.
Age at which this is mastered by NTs: 24-36 months.
Be able to initiate greetings to one peer per day in an academic placement.
Age at which this is mastered by NTs: 36-48 months.
Be able to ask 3 questions across 10 statements a tutor makes (e.g., in response to being told, “I went to the park” he will respond, “Did you go with your mom?” “Did you play on the slide?” “Did you have a snack?”)
Age at which this is mastered by NTs: 3.1 to 3.6 years.
My son will be six years old two months from now. He’s about half a NT child’s lifetime behind the NT kids in the area of social development. I don’t say this for pity or because I’m sad. It’s just a simple fact. He’s making progress and I’m very happy about how much progress he has made. But the reality is pretty sharp, isn’t it?
This is autism. You cannot see autism. It isn’t in the pictures that are snapped at his school or out in public. This is part of the “core” of his disability.
That last one about being able to ask questions of his peers in response to hearing something someone else did, just reminds me of Uncle M. Even if Uncle M is not interested, he’s a great “Johnny”. He asks the right questions. He repeats and expands on the highlights and throws in a bit of trivia. Tootles just needs just a bit of Uncle M’s “Johnny” skill to rub off on him.
Someday, when he’s a little older, maybe we will pretend play “Johnny”, “Oprah” or “Ellen”. After all, he doesn’t have to actually be interested in the person or the topic. It’s just pretend… oh wait, I forgot this goal:
Engage in three age-appropriate pretend play activities with tutors for a minimum of two minutes.
Age at which this is mastered by NTs: 12+ months…
Someday, we’ll get there. It’s just going to take a little longer. And a lot more visits with Uncle M…
Who could forget when Kramer found the Merv Griffin set in the trash? I couldn’t help myself…