01 March 2009

Social Skills Training for Autistic Children

I've been thinking of ways to do this, but I'm lost. My younger children don't go to public school because the staff isn't able to handle the children in a way that I feel recognizes their humanity. That being said, there really IS some socialization that my children are missing out on here at home.

YES, I know that all the homeschool readers here just howled. YES, I know that all y'all homeschoolers are great and join band, and co-op classes, and that your kids play softball and soccer and visit their cousins twice a week and that your kids have friends over after their schoolwork is done every day... yes, I know that.

But let's talk about MY family for a moment. Elf runs away when he is overwhelmed. Woodjie runs because he's two. S has a horrible high-pitched scream. She's probably neurotypical, but she's smart. Too smart. She has figured out that when she does this in quiet places, people come to pay attention to her.

Then there's Emperor. We love Emperor, but he will sometimes run up and HUG people and smell them. He will then tell them whether they smell like cigarette smoke or bananas or whatever pops into his mind while he is rubbing his nose all over them. Actually he's gotten a fair bit better about this and actually had the audacity to be EMBARRASSED that I mentioned this was a problem lately. So, I guess we're making progress.

But I avoid going out if I can. The more I avoid going out, the more obvious these behaviours become as my children age. Terrible cycle. But I'm just one person and don't know what else to do.

I try doing the "going over the rules" thing when we're in the van. Inevitably, I will leave out something important like "don't pick your wedgie in public" or "no rolling on the floor." Especially fun was the time Emperor informed EVERYONE in a crowded room that there were naked people over there in that pool. He knows this because he saw someone's LEG! And it didn't have pants on! It was just skin! Come lookit over here!!!! (A little four-year-old goes over to peek, and I get to "redirect" the conversation.)

I know that most people don't deal with this sort of strangeness on a daily basis, but I also know that I'm not alone. Maddy recently posted on one of her autistic sons' joining in some friendly punching on the playground and how things can get out of control quickly:

"There is the chance that he will join in and either punch his brother, or worse still, punch one of the little boys. It’s just the kind of thing that we hear about in the media:- ‘autistic child caught in unprovoked and mindless attack on innocent toddler.’ There’s never a back story. Sometimes the back story comes later, but it’s the headline that sticks in the mind of the public. It’s not dislodged, erased or superceded. As a result the public is left with a random collection of negative assumptions to apply to the autistic population, a general shorthand. Each additional headline loads another brick in the wall of segregation, isolation and mis-information."

Yes, it does. But I also know that every now and then, people are ready to learn something new. Every now and then, someone discovers that one of my children (pick one LOL) is autistic and displays surprise. I think that despite the fact that there are several characteristics that autistic people generally share, there are a great number of idiosyncracies that each one expresses.

One of the missionaries who came to speak at our church today demonstrated three axes. One is a ceremonial axe carried by the local leaders to look "cool." And it really was a gorgeous piece of workmanship. Another, a big hefty chunk of an axe, was for chopping firewood. Still another tiny axe wasn't a kid's axe as I thought... it was an axe for chipping at wood when one is carving statues and the like. All three are axes, but they serve different purposes.

I can't help but think that we do as well. We are all of us made in the image of God, but have different callings upon our lives. Right now, one of my biggest struggles is to try to integrate Elf and his brothers into the "real world," which doesn't always make accomodations. More on this some other time, but I pause to hear your thoughts.


  1. No words of wisdom, just big (((HUGS))). I know it is hard. The *normal* world makes so few allowances for those who are different or unusual. On the other hand, God loves differences ~ that's why he made so many of them. :)

  2. I don't have any advice either, but I want to thank you for bringing up this topic and sharing about your kids. I was reading along thinking, "that sounds very familiar."

    We do go out and play with other kids, but our friends are a select group. The kids we play with regularly are closer in age to my older kids, and very understanding (and loving). When we are out, say in the park around kids who don't know us I have to be very vigilant. Sometimes things happen when he gets over excited, and sometimes from being pushed past his limit.

    The other day at the park he was just so excited because his little friend from the building behind us showed up (she's a tough little girl, and doesn't seem to mind his unusual ways). Without warning he ran over to another little boy and jerked him off of a see-saw type thing. Thankfully he wasn't hurt, but he was really mad (of course), and you can bet that mom and kid will turn around and go home the next time they see us at the park!

    We also have the sniffing thing, but Nutkin can't make any comments like you mentioned. He can say "eeew", though. ;p

    By the way, I didn't mean to ignore your question a while back about homeschooling a kid like Nutkin with limited speech. I honestly didn't know what to write! I am trying to figure it out as I go along. I have been thinking about it a lot ever since you asked, and when I get things figured out a bit more I hope to write a post about that.

  3. Ganeida, I just keep wanting to smack Adam and Eve upside the head for their stupidity. Only think how easy life would be if only... But meanwhile, God is using things to somehow teach us all something. :]

    Sue, I didn't think you were ignoring my question. I know things are percolating in your mind about how much to share and when and how. I wish you had more real concrete help and direction from the "experts" there!!

  4. [The more I avoid going out, the more obvious these behaviours become as my children age.]

    Mrs. C, You are very bright so you will excuse me as I point out that your guilt and anxiety have caused to execute a fatal reasoning flaw. Your children's behavior is not becoming more obvious because of your outing avoidance. Their behavior is becoming more obvious because they are aging. All kids start out developmentally at about the same place -- as infants. All kids develop at different rates and end up with different strengths and weakness. The gap between our children and their peers widens because their peers are developing a little faster and have social skills that make them behave differently than our kids behave.

    And, putting our kids with neurotypical kids so that they can learn to be "normal" doesn't work. Marissa was in public school for years and she didn't catch good social skills. They aren't like the flu. In fact, all she did do was start trying to make up for her deficits by engaging in what she considered "grown up" behavior. You know those negative things that none of us want our kids to do ~

  5. *croak*

    It is pretty fatal reasoning... You're right!

    But it sure seems that way... Maybe I think too much on that "homeschoolers as isolated weirdos" stereotype. We just seem to fit it here at home, you know?

  6. When I read your posts, it's like reading my mail. My girls are 12, 10 and 9, and the gap between them and their peers is quickly starting to widen.
    Two years ago, people were still confused and amazed when I explained that they had some issues (my stumbling attempt at explaining some bizarre behaviors). Now, people at church tend to pat my arm and say, bless your heart, I don't know how you do it!"
    That wasn't what I was looking for, either!

  7. Trina, bless you, but I'm not sure how I do it, either. (You didn't want to hear that either, LOL.)

    Some days I am very seriously going "to live is Christ and to die gain." Other days I wonder why I was so melodramatic about things the day before because things are just fiiiine, thanks. No, we don't have problems and if we do yours are worse. Oh, and my kitchen is clean... hang on while I get my camera...

    Shortly later, I find myself feeling sorry for my children and myself again. Hard to find that balance between being real about things and being too dreamy about what wonderful things could happen and being too gloomy about the way things really *seem* to be sometimes.

    Ok, I think that made sense.

  8. My four year old likes to smell peoples armpits. She will even try and rub her hands under their pits and then sniff them.


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