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.