Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Add, Bad, Cad, Dad, Fad, Had, Lad, Mad, Pad, Sad

A psychologist who is very experienced with autism and Asperger's observed Sweet M at her school last week, then called me to report on what she'd seen.

She told me that Sweet M sat on the edge of the playground and didn't want to join in with the other kids. That most of the time she wasn't even watching them. And that unlike other kids who have some troubles with peer engagement, she also didn't reach out to any adults either.

She told me that this was sad. She didn't tell me that Sweet M was sad, but that she herself was sad watching my daughter sitting on the edge of the playground.

She thought there should be an immediate and aggressive intervention of a speech-language pathologist assigned to M to keep her engaged during recess.

I don't know. I was one of those kids who never ever spoke to anyone at recess until I was eleven. I thought recess was pretty damn boring and I just couldn't quite wrap my brain around why kids would run around chasing balls. It just didn't make much sense to me, so I usually sat on a bench and read a book. Fathersvox had a similar experience, but without the book — he'd wander off at recess in the French countryside and sometimes not even wind up back at school. I had to wonder if this coincidence in our profiles is not a coincidence at all, but an example of the assortative mating that Simon Baron-Cohen has been writing about. But I digress.

What stayed with me about this conversation was that the psychologist was talking about Sweet M's lack of social interaction at recess as though it were a crisis in need of immediate intervention, a tragedy in need of action, a symptom in need of a remedy.

I couldn't help but wonder to what extent this could be another example of NT criteria being applied to atypical neurology. Is not playing with the other kids at recess a tragedy? Do we need an immediate intervention? Or do we need to let her have her recess time to chill out, to think things through, to observe and relax on her own, in her own way?

Or is the expert here right? Does social impairment, whether based in a language disorder or a "social deficit," really have long-term negative effects? Should we plan an immediate intervention? And is my skepticism perhaps some sort of defense mechanism against seeing the reality of my child's suffering?

These are the sorts of questions that drive autism parents mad because you can never really know whether you're depriving your child of an opportunity to grown and develop by not pushing in a particular way, or whether by pushing you'd be depriving your child of themselves — their right to be themselves — and the sense that they way they are is fundamentally just fine.

I asked Sweet M about recess — about whether she wants to play with the other kids — and she said "Ewe no. I like to be by myself."

But then when we were working on her word family flash cards one day this past week we came to the card for the "-ad" words: add, bad, dad, fad, had, lad, mad, pad, sad. She'd drawn a picture of a sad fellow to illustrate the -ad card.

"How's he feeling?" I asked.

"He's sad," she said.

"Wow, why's he sad?" I asked.

"Because he doesn't have a friend," she replied.

Later, we were walking around on Christmas day, taking in the wonderful quiet of New York City when two-thirds of the population has decamped for cozier places, and it's not business as usual. All of us love the city when it's quiet like this. (Perhaps a sign of our own social impairments?)

I said, "M, can I ask you a question?"


"If it could be easier for you to have a friend at school, would you like that?"

"I don't know," she said. "I can't know everything!"

And I don't know either. Don't know whether this is so terribly important. Don't know how I could find and afford a SLP to spend recess coaxing her into interaction. Don't really know what to do or think about this.

The expert felt sad watching Sweet M's social isolation. I felt sad (and bad) hearing about it. But is this really sad?

One thing is certain — the word family card for "-ed" words is a lot more cheerful. Take a look: bed, Ed, fed, led, Ned, sled, wed.


kristina said...

"Id" words next---that would be bid, did, hid, kid, lid, mid, rid, Sid.....

You capture "the autism parent paradox" in a nutshell: Do or don't? Stay or go?

We enjoy the emptied city too. (Though we're far away.)

Peace and joy!

Anonymous said...

This is an extremely good question. Sometimes it is helpful to have a friend, even one you don't necessarily like (if you know what I mean). Friends serve as allies when your picked on at school. Friends don't have to be classmates but could be someone outside of school. Does M gravitate towards certain types of children? My son always seems to pick out the other children who are different. I don't know how he does it. Sometimes learning to help others, helps ourselves. My son has an aide in preschool whos only job is to help him with peer communication. As a result, hes very popular because all the other children like his aide. Granted, hes only in preschool and I don't know how this might be different for a class at M's level. Just a thought. If peer relationships are aversive to her, a friend at recess even in the form of an SLP might be nice.

Anonymous said...

I remember recess at school - I would stand by the door, one with a glassy, reflective surface encased by steel, and look at all the children on the other side of the "looking glass". It would seem, some opening the door, as if they´d have entered a mirror world. Only there were they interesting. If I looked at the actual courtyard I´d soon turn away because the people that I saw there were not as real as the ones only I could see. They were, in effect, not people anymore, but light, filtered, distorted, objects, musings, conditions of an alternate reality of Platonistic ideas.

Perhaps it is the idea of a friend, filtered and object-like, that is so beauteous to her...

Zilari said...

Well, speaking from personal experience I recall not being interested in a lot of the activities my classmates seemed to enjoy.

Recess was the worst -- I saw no point in activities like kickball and would have much preferred, and benefitted from, the opportunity to sit by myself and read, play, decompress, etc.

I was referred to school counsellors repeatedly in part because I never seemed to have any friends or show interest in relating to peers, but I was happy to relate to peers that were compatible with my interests and preferred activities. There just weren't too many of them, and sometimes there were none.

Some people will take a suboptimal interaction over no interaction, but I have always held the philosophy that no company is better than company that stresses me out or confuses me. My idea of playing with someone was sitting and drawing, while they sat and drew their own picture. I guess this would be referred to as parallel play.

It could be that M would like a friend but doesn't see the kinds of things her classmates are doing as fun. Coaxing her into interaction on someone else's terms would be a bad idea, IMO -- she's likely to see that sort of thing as a chore or an obligation. If there is another child that seems similar to M, or that shares common interests with her, it might be worthwhile to introduce the two, but it does not make sense to try to train her to act a certain way in order to "get friends" that she might not actually have much in common with or have fun with.

MothersVox said...

Thanks everyone. I'm thinking very hard about this one because I just don't know which way to go with it.

n. said...

i may be thinking wrong age-group here, but i think if you need a speech-therapist to make you able to get friends, you are never going to be considered 'friend material' by the most narrowminded of the normal kids (which could be a majority).
i think if you are strange, then you are strange, and you maybe need to wait for other strange kids to show up that you can hang out with. with me, it was the 'freaks & geeks' and foreigners in middle school (...highschool, college, gradschool, and still today...)

Neurodivergent K said...

Maybe sweet M would get along better in the context of 'her space', with someone a bit older (less likely to be a jerk) and also on the spectrum. A lot of high schools have Aspie/PDD students, of course, who need to do x number of hours service...or even a college autie.

Someone who isn't going to stoop to her because of her language challenges, basically. A 'big sister' kinda thing.

Alana said...

Oh I hated recess!! And I don't see how having an SLP with Sweet M at recess is going to help her form peer relationships (just my own opinion, not to be taken too seriously). I had a couple friends through grade school, but don't think I made meaningful friendships that were genuine until college because I was able to associate with people who had similar interests than mine. And now, when I think of who I consider to be my friends, it is not just "peers" who look like me and are the same age as me, but a very diverse set of varying ages, races, etc. but these relationships are much more sincere than the friendships based on how one plays dodgeball oor tag. Sweet M will have friends one day.

Didn't mean to be so opinionated about that, but couldn't help myself.

Anonymous said...

i think kristina is right on this: you captured the paradox perfectly.

who am i to say? but since i am weighing in, i'll say that RDI has been the thing that has 'grown' organic interest in interacting with other kids in my son and in the kids of other parents i know who are interweaving this style of parenting/interacting into their lives. it's a slow and steady thing, not a CRiSIS intervention, but a shift in the every day way of being. but it's NOT about teaching social convention or teaching friendship or redirecting during recess with the aid of an SLP (which i don't think would help or be fun for sweet m), it's about slowly acquiring pathways in the brain that allow for the 'how' AND even the 'why bother' of making connections and forming relationships with others. i'm seeing fluffy WANT to join in, little by little, and not because he has an aide (he doesn't) or because he's reading social stories (he doesn't) or because he is practicing with a skills group (he isn't) but because he's gaining a social developmental foundation.

now, who he'll choose eventually to hang out with and what things they'll like to do is all going to be an outgrowth of his own individual quirky wonderful personality. he may never want to play ball or the typical game or whatever, but THAT he even wants to start figuring it all out is HUGE for him. had i asked him a year ago if he had wanted a friend if it were easier, he would have looked at me blankly. how could he say?

as to the sadness factor, i'm very glad the person who reported back said that SHE was sad and did not try to assume she knew what sweet m was feeling. as you said, sweet m may have been feeling grateful to have that time to decompress. isn't recess about having a break?

n. said...

i meant something like what SquareGirl said but she said it much nicer.

sorry for perhaps excess negativity. i bet SweetM is a really cool little person, i just don't have a whole lot of optimism about her 'peers' GETTING that important piece of information.

i hope i might be wrong though. that would be cool.

MothersVox said...

Thanks everyone, for your thoughts on all of this. I think the consensus here is that having an SLP help integrate Sweet M into the recess activities is probably not the wisest thing to do.

I like what Kyra said about having relating to others be something that comes out of one's own deepest sense of development.

The only thing that sort of hangs me up about that is that Sweet M was relating to the other kids at recess last year and before. It seems as though as the kids have grown older she is less inclined to connect -- I'm told because the play is now more based on game playing or sharing girltalk, neither of which are her sorts of things.

But then I wonder if a skilled teacher might not be able to help her connect more. I wonder about all of this. How could she be so connected last year, and so disconnected this year? For another day . . .

n. said...

i wonder if the other kids hit an age where it's somehow "normal" to disconnect from kids like M? that would be too bad, that would be their loss...

KathyIggy said...

It seems kids do hit an age where they are a lot less tolerant of differences. For Megan, this started in grades 3 and 4. Girls become less interested in ponies and Disney and get more into "relationships" (and a lot of the catty behavior too). Luckily, Megan has a few friends who accept her interests (as they are probably still interested in some of the same things themselves). There is another ASD boy in her 5th grade class who she really likes too as they like a lot of the same movies and TV shows. But Megan probably prefers to be she told me, "then I can make up whatever games I like without people bothering me."

Jannalou said...


I wanted friends when I was little but didn't have the ability to make them. I had a few, but spent recess doing my own thing for the most part.

If Sweet M is happy as she is, I don't think she should be pushed. A speech therapist "facilitating" interaction at recess will probably end up more along the lines of "teaching peers how to help", which is - to be perfectly honest - demeaning to Sweet M.

Dana Kuzmanovski, M.Ed., BCBA said...

We are having the same issue with my AS DS (7 yrs old). Reading your conversation with M, is like replaying conversations I have had with my DS. :)
We have decided (for now) to let him have his time alone at recess, without an SLP or EA directing his social interaction.
He is not sad about being alone, and would rather do his own thing.

I also find that as he gets older, he is playing with other children less.

It has been suggested to us that we may find success with a "peer buddy" to help with social interaction during recess...still under consideration.

Anonymous said...

I completely struggle with the same thing. I'm supposed to socialize my baby, so that he will feel isolated when he's not accepted as being weird, rather than his current completeness that exists without anybody else? At what point is "socialization" just a prejudice by a bunch of people who can't imagine being alone and liking it?

If you are worried, I will tell you what my son's special school teacher told me when we went to mainstream him: the most important thing is a class where some child will take him under their wing. If the teacher will foster an environment where helping him, and drawing him in where he will be drawn in, are encouraged -- he will do best.

That's the key, to me. A teacher who will let her not be engaged, but will not only not tolerate leaving her out where she shouldn't be, but will encourage drawing her in. Talk to her teacher about what the teacher sees, and how she feels and thinks about it. It will tell you volumes, and perhaps help in ways that an SLP at playtime wouldn't be ideal for. Also makes it easier to arrange play dates, which are the best way to learn the stuff that the SLP would supposedly be teaching.

It makes me happy that my son thinks he has friends. A couple of the little girls in his class are kind to him, and he loves them so for it.

n. said...

sorry to keep opening up this thread but i have encountered this even with a (college) student/friend (disabled) who has trouble making same-age friends mong "normies". and what jannalou said reminded me of this page maybe she was thinking of it as well? i think it's really important that REAL (quality and EQUALITY of relationships) matter more than statistics (quantity, timing).

sorry if i am again letting emotions get to me and writing this in a too-blunt way... i mean it out of caring for this kid i don't know, but have something in common with.