Friday, April 05, 2013

Autism Understanding: Day 5

Conversation tried
And tried and tried and tried and
Why do they walk away?

I think social thinking and social skills should be incorporated into the general curriculum of every school, at every level. I think even college students need to be required to take social skills classes and training. If people really gained these skills, really got a chance to think them out and practice them before being tossed out there to flounder, the world would just be a better place, all-around.

Anti-bullying programs are a joke. They don't work. Kids seem to regard them as some sort of irritating adult thing, like South Park's Sexual Harassment Panda. In the abstract, people know you don't beat on other people and make fun of them. On the ground, the lines are apparently not so clear. The idea of treating others the way we want to be treated just completely goes over most people's heads. That other people have feelings to hurt, that it might be a bad idea to insult people even when they are not standing in front of you, that being included means being inclusive- these things are apparently harder to learn than they appear.

Besides that, kids who are already serious bullies don't care about anti-bullying programs. They aren't the ones really being targeted. They need a whole different kind of support- someone needs to take them aside and figure out the root of the problem, and address it. Now. Denying that bullying exists in your school, and that no one knows who the bullies are, suggests you might need that kind of intervention yourself. Turning a blind eye is a type of abuse that absolutely requires intervention.

The over-use of the term "bully" isn't helping, either. Is turning a blind eye "a form of bullying"? Perhaps. But let's call it something with more specific implications: abuse. It may seem a passive thing, but really, anyone who has ever worked with people on any level knows that bullying- the direct pressuring of one person trying to exert power over another- happens, and you have to watch for it. If you teach kids (and I mean really teach them, not just note it and move on) early what the pitfalls are that result in bullying, they can at least watch for the traps. When you teach others not only how to act social, but to actually think about social interaction, to think about the other person as well as being self-aware- that gives people the tools to not only avoid the pitfalls, but know what to do if they fall in to one, before it becomes a serious situation.

All too often, people on the spectrum are criticized for "lacking social skills." If we actually thought about social skills and were socially aware and socially thinking, we might realize that it isn't just "an autism thing." Today, I watched Joey in the park. Joey loves babies and little kids, and he wandered about much of the time, trying to interact with families and small kids, play with the babies and get involved with the little ones. No, he's not good at opening interactions, but that's no excuse to hurt his feelings- especially if you an adult, since he is so clearly a child. I could tell you a lot about each and every adult out there in about five seconds, watching their faces as Joey walked up to them and tried to open conversation. And tried. And tried again.

Some of the adults smiled and joined in. Some of them wrinkled their noses and ignored him. A couple families actually picked up their kids and walked away, only to return when he had moved to another part of the park. A group of college kids actually remarked, sitting right next to me, "Someone ought to take that retarded kid home. He's making everybody uncomfortable." You can imagine their faces when Joey came over to me, and we did some signing and playing together, then I gave him a kiss before he returned to his attempts at play. I didn't look. The few seconds of silence before they wandered away was deafening.

This is what passes as social skills?

Imagine how different middle school would be for everyone if social thinking was part and parcel of the curriculum. If kids on the brink of huge social changes and questioning were given the tools to be both self-aware and to understand how their own actions and feelings might affect others, they might have the tools to navigate the social world they are creating. They might understand the real value of diversity, and find the challenge of inclusion far less daunting. With safe, controlled situations to practice in, kids might find going out and making realities a familiar thing, and do it with real confidence and strength in experience, instead of trying to strike out with no idea how to do it.

It's amazing how much easier it is to do something when you have an instruction manual and can practice a bit before going out and doing it "for reals." We know we need to practice skills to get them right. Why do we think we can just go out and use social skills without practice?


photographydreamer said...

I completely agree that we need more social skill classes, all ages up through adulthood. As we see stronger academics in the younger grades, I think we are losing that practice of those social skills, and it is very noticeable in the day to day interactions with young students.
As for the park, I hope we see you and the boys there one day, I think Owen would enjoy Andy and Joey :)

Miz Kizzle said...

I agree wholeheartedly. And do you know who else needs to learn social skills? Online commenters. People say some unbelievably rude things online that they'd never dare say in person. The internet allows them to spew out their venom and scuttle back into their holes feeling superior at having taken someone down a peg. It's cowardly and disgusting.

farmwifetwo said...

The anti-bullying stuff is crap. It looks good on paper but from what I understand even the teacher's aren't following it. I tried to offer advice to someone yesterday but I have a feeling it's another parent that wants it done easily for them.... then don't complain.

All kids need social skills teaching. For whatever reason society has forgotten that part of education.

Miz Kizzle said...

I wish more people thought about how their comments sound before pushing the "publish" button. Then there might be fewer angry/self-righteous/rude remarks online.
But then again, maybe some people enjoy coming off like arrogant know-it-alls who are put on Earth to show the rest of us how to do it right.