I’ve read many things online lately that speak of the acceptance debate about Autism right now. Numerous of those articles say things like “It’s not true acceptance of the person if you try to teach them social skills, because that’s just trying to change them, not accept them the way they are” I disagree with that idea.
For me personally, I feel that teaching all the social skills as they are now called to my Autistic sons is akin to teaching spanish to my children who were born speaking english. Why would a parent do that? What could be gained from a child learning a second language? You guessed it, they could communicate effectively to gain what they needed from a vast array of situations with more people than if they only spoke one language. Does teaching them spanish imply that their first language and native tongue will always be less than the second one they were taught? NO it doesn’t. Does teaching them spanish mean that I will not listen to them or converse with them if they speak in english instead? NO it doesn’t. It means that should they decide at any given time that speaking in spanish would be more effective in a specific situation for them to obtain what they want or need that they can. Not that they have too, just that they have the option to express themselves in both languages, and that they can choose either option at their own discretion.
I think the difference between what I believe and the persons stating it’s not acceptance if you teach “NT” social skills to your autistic child is that I’m NOT saying they HAVE to use what I’ve taught them, I also plan on teaching them how to bake a cake from scratch, doesn’t mean once they’ve learnt how to do so that from morning till night they have to bake cakes non-stop. It just means if they want too they can, and I’m ALL about them having the freedom to choose, but it’s not freedom to choose if they aren’t allowed to explore all their options and then choose which one/s are best for them specifically. I also won’t teach them that they are wrong or less for their natural state or “native tongue” to continue with my original metaphor, just a simple statement of fact that it might be useful to also know this language in addition to your own.
When I teach a “social skill” I explain in detail what the general perception is, what my perception is, and encourage their own thoughts and feelings to be discussed about it. Such as when my eldest wanted to wear his transformer’s costume to the mall in May. I asked why first and he said because it’s fun to pretend he’s Optimus Prime and he loves how soft the costume is his Aunt and Uncle got him. I told him I agreed it is fun to pretend, and it is a very soft costume. I also told him it was perfectly fine with me. I did explain that some people might think it was strange that he was wearing a costume when it wasn’t close to Halloween and they might say something unkind or mean to him because of it. But that I knew how much fun it was to dress up and that as long as he understood that might happen I was proud to hold his hand in any mall while he wore any outfit he could find. He decided he’d wear it, and when there was a rude comment about it he replied “I’m wearing it so only my thoughts on my costume matter” and off we continued in the mall.
SO I did not force “NT” social skills, nor suggest that I felt he was wrong or bad for his choice. I reinforced my unconditional love and acceptance for him exactly as he is, but also told him the truth of how it might be perceived to allow him the choice of “did other’s perceptions of him matter to him in these circumstances” clearly that moment showed a definitive no, but at other times it might be a yes and that’s okay. Because it’s still allowing his feelings, thoughts and wants to ultimately dictate his actions, which is exactly as I think it should be.
But one of the things that I’ve read and seen in my own sons time and time again is that the inferred portion of any interaction is not always understood or picked up on. So it’s my job as their first teacher to teach them all of the hidden things they don’t automatically pick up on and then let them decide how they wish to proceed. That to me is the true definition of parenting, to help them understand everything and decide what is best for them personally from there.
I parent this way because I started with one goal in mind for all of my parenting choices “to ensure my children’s happiness” Then I simply work backwards from that goal by asking “What will make them happy?” or “Will ______ make them happy?” Sometimes I know, and sometimes I have to either ask them or watch and see. I then base my choices from that, because it’s not about what makes me happy, it’s about them. They are first, as they should be.
For example my youngest son has no interest in other children his own age, while I know that some people feel I should “encourage” read force him to interact with other children to make him more social and therefore more socially acceptable I don’t. I bring him to places with our family because he is an integral part of our family, but if his bliss is to spin the wheels of his toy cars and not play with other children his age that are around him I’m fine with that. Why, because he’s happy. And all I want is his happiness. I truly believe that both of their happiness, heck anyone’s is based on being able to have their wants and needs met on a consistent basis. So yes I’ll continue to speak in english with them, while I also teach them spanish so they can decide which is right for them to be heard clearly and their needs and wants to be met in the manners they wish for them to be.