“Normal.” Now there’s a word we’d like to see omitted from your social vocabulary entirely – in not just what you say, but how you think about your child and his autism or Asperger’s. For many parents, emphasis on this two-syllable trip-off-the-tongue utterance can become a handicap of immeasurable dimension. Learning to think social and be social in whatever degree your child is able challenges him enough without our heaping on the additional burden of meeting the subjective measure of “normal.” Here’s a true story with a happy ending from a middle school in Some Place, USA.
“I just want him to have a lot of friends like I did,” Mom frets to the speech language pathologist. “To have fun doing all the normal kid things and teen things that we all did together.”
“When your son came to me last year,” the SLP tells Mom, “his social thinking skills were pretty nonexistent. He didn’t understand why he should say hi to people in the halls, he didn’t know how to ask a question to further a conversation, or how to engage with a peer during the lunch hour. Now he’s working on those things. That’s a huge amount of progress.”
“But he’s only made two friends.”
“I would rephrase that: he’s made two friends! One shares his interest in model trains and one shares his interest in running. He knows how you feel, though. So I am going to share with you what he told me the other day. He said, ‘I don’t want a lot of friends. I can’t handle a lot of friends. More than one at a time stresses me out. I can talk to these two friends about things I’m interested in. They are great for me.’
“Walk through this or any other school,” the SLP continues. “You’ll see a huge range of ‘normal’ middle school behavior. You’ll see nerdy normal, sporty normal, musical normal, artsy normal, techie normal. Kids tend to gravitate to groups that make them feel safe. For now, your son has found his group. You and I walk a fine line: honoring his choices while continuing to teach him the skills he needs to feel comfortable expanding his boundaries.”
Your child has many social selves. To embrace all of them, and therefore him as a whole child, is to redefine how we view normal – one person at a time.
Excerpted from from 1001 Great Ideas for Teaching and Raising Children with Autism or Asperger’s, 2nd edition, by Ellen Notbohm and Veronica Zysk (2010, Future Horizons, Inc.)