Appropriate – Where Do You Draw the Line: Teaching Social Behaviors for Independent Living
Teaching Social Behaviors for Independent Living
As I sit on the beach, I reflect on our son’s success. I start to fall into a transcendental moment of pride. I even feel cocky as I watch him run up to hotel guests and introduce himself. Then in a flash it happens; he reaches forward and hugs a pretty girl in a skimpy bikini!
Like a well-trained triathlete, I spring from my chase lounge and run towards my son; my heart is pounding. I race to provide interference. Determined, I try to interrupt an awkward social situation. My finish line goal is to create understanding.
Just as I am within arm’s reach I hear the young girl exclaim, “Awww…. You are so cute!” She laughs and gives our son a big hug.
I begin to stammer. She looks at me like, “Lady….what’s your problem?”
Later that day I relate to my husband how “we” need to teach our “tween-aged” son it’s not OK to hug every young girl in a skimpy bikini. You can only imagine the grief I took from him, and every male friend, and family member, for “over reacting.” They ask, “since when is it a crime to hug beautiful surfer girls (wink-wink)? I am advised to just “relax.”
However, I contend there is a fine line between cute and creepy.
At almost 11 years of age, our son is five feet tall and full of early pubescent energy. Yes, I am proud that he no longer paces in a pattern reciting phrases while twisting his alternate limb. The days of pulling him out of the haze from a self-induced stim session are less frequent. However, the challenge now is how do I help him towards a life of independence? Can I insure a future that will not involve the authorities trying to resolve a misunderstanding? Am I just a dramatic Mama Bear with control issues? Perhaps I need to drop my helicopter behaviors and allow him to fly on his own. I think there is a balance for both of us. I do believe that thanks to a committed partnership between school and family units, we have managed to raise a confident young boy who has made lots of friends. In fact, he thinks he is a bit of a rock star. So to some extent I think we have done a few things right.
I have two lists to share with you. The first details what we have found to be successful from Pre-K through 3rd grade and the second is the strategies we continue to use to teach him social skills for an independent future.
Pre-K through 3rd grade:
1. Take advantage of Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten: It’s free and it opens your child up to a wide variety of services. I will admit it took a year and a half until he actually enjoyed school. It also took that time until I was not carrying him into the classroom. However, I still contend that our son would not be entering 4th grade on a general education track without investing this time.
2. Find one friend: We were play-group drop outs. The noise and action of several children was too much for our son. We found it worked best to plan activities with one other child. We were able to select the setting and it forced them to interact.
3. Take advantage of after school care: This may not be possible for all children with special needs. However, if it is an option, I believe it is the cheapest and most efficient social therapy available. Twenty-five bucks a week allows our son to play and interact with other children (some with exceptionalities and others without). He comes home dirty and full of funny lessons without my hovering.
4. Seek events that promote understanding: We are blessed to have a non-profit in our backyard called, “Surfers for Autism.” The annual seaside events allow us the fellowship of being with other families like ours. The “non-judgment zone” vibe enables all parents to relax. The volunteers are amazing. They skillfully help our children enjoy the therapeutic benefits of being one with the surf and the sea.
5. Be a pioneer – Seek inclusion: This one is hard for me. There has only been one time it was not successful. So, based on the statistics of probability – you gotta try this one! I have found that most service providers want to find a way to include your child. It takes some leg work and networking on your behalf. I have taken the time to talk to coordinators in advance to make sure they could accommodate our son’s differences. We have also just “let the cards fall” and registered him. I am not a nail-bitter, but have considered it the first few times I did this. It’s based on that old adage….”It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to seek permission.” It’s a bit risky. But like I said, it’s only been a disaster once!
1. Use Social Stories to Make a Point: Our son is really into Legos. We use Lego figurines to act out social situations. At first he thinks it’s hilarious. But then he gets it. It provides us the opportunity to talk about different scenarios.
2. Roll Play: We recreate social situations. Again, our son thinks we are really funny. Then we talk about the best ways to make friends. The conversation about connecting with other kids is a big motivator – so he takes it pretty seriously. Plus the concept of “cause and effect” is higher-level thinking.
3. Seek Feedback: This may be hard, but, it’s a great way to gage how your child is doing in a “real world” setting. Ask the organizers or even parents you trust for feedback. It gives insight into how you can provide activities to facilitate those skills.
4. Talk to Your Child: This may seem like a “no-brainer”, but, you might be surprised by what you hear. For example, our son was nervous about a field trip. Usually one of us had attended as a chaperone. However, our work schedules did not allow this recently. The conversation identified what was making him nervous. This enabled us to reach out to teachers and fellow parents for support.
5. Remember it is a Journey – not a race! Although this statement may seem overused – it’s a great reminder that most learning is not linear. There are jumps and gaps. In fact, there can be great “dry spells.” Reflecting in the moment helps you celebrate your child’s success. It also enables you to laugh at the mishaps. There are lessons in every step – you just have to be open. You also need to trust that ultimately your child will succeed (with or without you)!
Related: Advocacy Tips for the Long Haul
- Fostering Healthy Relationships
- Fostering Healthy Relationships Part 2: Establishing Healthy Boundaries for Touch
- Sex Education: Teaching the most vulnerable
- Puberty and Hygiene: How to Support Our Children
- The Importance of Teaching Children Body Safety
- BODY SAFETY BE AWARE: Some General Tips and Guidelines
- Restraints in School: What Can You Do?
- Precautions to Take Before Allowing Anyone to Care for Your Child!
- A Complete Guide on Positive Behavior Support for Children With Special Needs
- Teen Dating: Violence Can Happen: Understanding the 3 Cs in a Healthy Relationship
This post originally appeared on our July/August 2013 Magazine