A Rude Awakening

Sometimes, just for kicks, I torture myself. I go to a place that brings joy and laughter to most people, but for me brings pure pain. On any random day, you will find me about a block away from my son’s school, crouched low in the seat peering through binoculars until I can no longer see through the tears. I have done this every couple of months for the last two years in hopes of seeing progress. All I can say at this point is “I HATE the playground.”

My son is well on his way to recovery and the closer he gets, the more self-aware he becomes. While this is a “problem” that I am grateful for, it sometimes brings a lot of heartache. Even in kindergarten as he cried about the playground, he was able to say, “Mom, I can’t play like the other kids. I don’t know how to do it. What is wrong with me? My brain is crazy.”

As I watch my son stare at the ground, kick bark and shuffle around the yard, while the other kids are playing football or tag, I think about all of the ways I have tried to address the social piece of this puzzle.  While I refuse to beat myself up about how I have failed, I can’t help but focus on all of the things I have done wrong. One of the biggest mistakes I have made in the social arena really became evident this summer at a cub scout event.  One of the reasons I love scouts is that the majority of the time the kids are engaged in structured activities. My son thrives in a structured setting, and scouts has been such a blessing to this end.  However, on this occasion, there was a period of time when all the boys were sent to play, while the adults prepared a cookout and set up the after-dinner activities. I watched my son at a distance, while I arranged plates, cups and side-dishes waiting for the worst. Not saying a word to any of the other parents about my fears, I smiled but silently watched at a distance, observing the play scene. The kids gathered logs and stacked them, ran around aimlessly in what appeared to be random chaos darting in and out of the woods. My son walked back and forth around the perimeter, muttering to the ground.  I could see him beginning to look agitated, and the pacing got faster. Eventually, he had worked himself into a frenzy and ran back up the hill in tears. “They won’t let me play. Eric said I can’t play.”

His Dad and I gave him hugs, took his hands and walked him back down to the group.  He began to walk the perimeter again muttering, “Can I play? Can I play?” over and over again as the other kids were oblivious. “See?” he said. “They won’t let me play,” he sobbed and ran to his Dad for comfort.  As our hearts broke along with our child’s, I knew I needed to do something to fix this situation. I got up and started walking toward the other kids. My husband yelled, “WHAT are you doing? You are just going to make things worse.” “I’m going to at least find out what they are playing,” I replied.  “I really don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said in an unnerved but heartbroken tone.

“DO IT, Mom!” my son yelled. “I want to play with them.”

“Hey guys! Whatcha playing?” I asked. “Army fort,” was the general consensus of the group. I reported back to my son  and asked if he wanted to play. “Yes, Mom, but come with me.” We approached a little boy named Eric (the kid who my son thought had rejected him ). “C wants to play,” I said. “What can he do?”  “Come on, C,” Eric replied. “I told you earlier to start gathering weapons.” My son just looked up at me in a panicked state of confusion.  “What are you using as weapons?” I asked Eric. “Sticks, of course.”  That satisfied my son. I thought he had figured it out.  Instead, he began gathering sticks and following Eric around repeating, “I got the weapons. I got the weapons, Eric. I got the weapons.” He had absolutely no idea what to do or how to play.

I realized after this experience that, in an effort to give him skills to help him, we may have really screwed up. First, we taught him to approach kids and ask, “Can I play?”  Listen to me folks: This is WRONG!! Kids don’t play this way. They don’t ask permission; they just play. Also, by asking permission, you are giving the other child the option to say “No.” Not to mention that it puts all of the power and control in someone else’s hands.  Can you imagine the amount of anxiety he must experience waiting for an answer to that question? Plus, when he sees all of the other kids just playing, but he has been taught to ask them if he can play, it has to make him feel like he is not as good as they are. Like he’s so screwed up or such a loser that he can’t assume kids will like him and want to play with him. By teaching this seemingly harmless “skill,” we screwed up… BIG TIME.

After this incident, it dawned on me that because he doesn’t understand how to play, he is actually waiting to be invited to play by the other kids, which obviously is not going to happen. They’re kids, not therapists. Also, even if he is asked to join, unless someone explains to him what to do, he doesn’t know how to play.

My husband and I had a long discussion about this and decided that instead of teaching “Can I play?” what we should have been teaching him is “What are you playing? How do you play?” With this simple change in approach, there is an assumption of acceptance; the other child is not being offered the opportunity to say “no,” and the game will be explained to him. It has only taken me four years of working on social skills with experts to figure this out.

We are working on this skill now, but it is going to take some time for him to be able to put it into practice and to undo what we have ingrained in him for years.  I have a lot of hope for where we are headed. My son is extremely motivated socially, and there really are skills I can actually teach him.  I have control over the skills I introduce and help him to learn. The thing I can’t help him with, the piece of the social puzzle that makes me feel like I can’t breathe, is the reaction and behavior of the other kids.  If they don’t respond appropriately or in a predictable way, the whole system falls apart.

I have to say that most of the kids in our community are nice kids. I can’t fault them for my own child’s struggles. There are more than a few little angels, however, who, to put it frankly, can piss off.  These are the kids that are not necessarily outwardly mean, but whose exclusionary practices and bad manners are cruel. By intentionally ignoring my child when he talks to them, they are being cruel. It makes him feel bad and he doesn’t understand it. He is confused. He doesn’t really get that they don’t like him, or don’t want to play with him, because he can’t pick up on their non-verbal cues.  When my son approaches Oliver and says, “Hi, Oliver! Let’s go to the playground. It’s time to go outside. Oliver… Oliver… Let’s go to the playground,” and Oliver just stares at him like he’s stupid and wouldn’t be caught dead on the playground with him, I have to admit… it makes me SEETHE. I become completely irrational. My internal dialogue becomes mean and juvenile and I catch myself thinking things like, “I hope you fall off the monkey bars, you rude, snotty little shit.” Really mature, huh? I can’t help it. That’s how I feel. What I end up placating my child with sounds something like, “I think Oliver is going to stay inside for a while. Maybe you’ll see him outside later.” Then I watch as my son walks down the hall, turning around every few steps to see if Oliver is behind him.

The most heartbreaking part of this incident was when I picked him up after school. The first thing he said to me was “Mom… Oliver came out on the playground this morning, but he didn’t want to play with me. He wanted to play football. But it’s okay, Mom. I just did it wrong. I’ll try harder tomorrow.”   FUUUUUCK!!!  Fuck, Fuck, Fuck.  “No, baby. It’s NOT you. You did everything just right. Oliver just likes to play with certain kids. He’s not always nice like you. You will play with everyone because you have a beautiful, kind heart. Not all kids are like you. But I want you to pay attention: You can keep asking Oliver to play, but if he keeps saying “No,” I want you to understand that then it will be time to move on from Oliver and find some kids that say “Yes.”   “Okay, Mom. I understand.”

I can’t blame the kids entirely; it is only partly their fault. The reason they continue to act like little shits is because they can. I watch kids not respond when they are spoken to right in front of their parents and the parents do NOTHING. My kids wouldn’t dream of being that rude or mean, and, on the slight chance that they just aren’t paying attention, I correct their behavior on the spot.

Since I already confessed to being deranged enough to mentally wish ill will on small children, it probably will come as no surprise to hear that I have called these rude children out right in front of their parents on more than one occasion. One time in particular, a child was intentionally ignoring both of my children while his father stood by and said nothing. After I let it go on for at least five minutes – ample time for Dad to step up in my opinion – I finally said, “Guys, stop talking to Henry. He is ignoring you. I don’t know why, but he is. Some children are just rude and mean, and have very bad manners.” After hearing my remarks, (He couldn’t have missed it as I was LOUD.), Dad finally addressed the situation. Bad manners on my part? Maybe. Appropriate response to the situation? Probably. Was Dad pissed? Possibly. Do I give a rat’s ass? Nope.

I can teach my children manners and social skills all day long, but if they are surrounded by kids whose social skills are worse than their own, what is the point? I need help. I need these parents to understand that I can’t help my child unless they do their part and teach their children what is appropriate and acceptable. I need them to teach kindness, compassion and acceptance. Eventually, I will be able to explain to my child that there are a lot of people in this world that just plain suck. Right now, it doesn’t even occur to him that these kids could possibly be mean intentionally. That is the beauty of his soul and I’m not ready to watch that beauty fade with the ugliness of the truth.  So today, because I really don’t know how to remedy this overwhelming situation, all I can say is “I HATE THE FUCKING  PLAYGROUND.”

~Mountain Mama

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56 Responses to A Rude Awakening

  1. MelissaD says:

    Oh my gosh, your response to Henry was PRICELESS!!! My poor little guy is still at the stage where he is not interested in the other kids, so I have not had to deal with this yet. But, I hope if we someday get to the point where my child is interested in other kids I have your audacity – and I mean that as a total compliment!!!

  2. Kendra Pettengill says:

    My daughter went through the awkward playground years and the disappointments, the lack of understanding, she just couldn’t comprehend why some kids could NOT like her! Even harder for us Moms. But I must say in our little school there was a group of kids, super smart, super popular, super mature, who decided to befriend my daughter. One of the girls, her Mom helps adults with autism and she had a pretty good understanding of it even for a child. Another had a 20+ brother with Autism. So, they set aside time every day and every week to play with Keely. They used to tell me how amazing her pretend was which was not suppose to be, but she has such a thing for detail and perfection that the other girls were always amazed if she played a waitress or other profession. Years of ABA had at least given her an understanding of what each profession did and acting out with her at home had helped. They would bring in other kids by getting her to amaze them with her photographic memory and it gave others a new found appreciation for her. At least in this group she was invited to every birthday party and sometimes one would spend the night with us, which is always fun because they don’t have to worry what anyone else thinks and I could tell they really enjoyed this level of pretend play. And they got to learn a little about Keely as a person…her infectious laugh and her being more natural at home. They used to tell me how amazed they were at the changes through the years in grade school…how far she had come. And they played a huge part in that.

    Then Junior High hit and things changed somewhat, less invitations, less standing up for her, less inclusion as the peer pressure mounted on them too. And some pretty severe bullying by a few students as well that sent me battling with the school.

    Now we have hit High School and despite my concerns things seem to be getting better again. She tried out for and made the varisty cheer team. I was horrified at all that might go wrong, but instead it has all gone very right. The group of girls, while she is not a best friend to any one, she is a friend to all. They are teaching her about facebook but protecting her within their group. She missed a Friday game and they all sent her messages, “We love you and missed you”. It’s enough to make a grown Mom cry! The craziest part, the most fun, and I actually think necessary is that she has suddenly been thrust into “normal teenagers”. It seems every week when I pick her up from practice one of the girls will laugh and say “Uh, we may have corrupted her today”. That is the code language that something came up that she does not understand or know and that some explaining will have to be done. My daughter and I have laughed our butts off, the looks on her face have been priceless as I have had to explain to her words spoken by her fellow cheerleaders. Vagina, tampon, gay! We even had to have the sex talk as she thought it meant sexy, not a clue what it really meant. But I have been amazed at how she has absorbed everything and even comments when she hears something on TV. She will laugh and say “Ugghhh I know what that means”! I did hear her one night leaving for an away game begging someone to sit with her on the bus and there seemed to be no takers. So we have long talks about not pushing to hard and letting them come to her. I still worry, fret, feel bad for her, but there are so many good things happening, it has really changed our world completely! I never imagined she could be a High School Cheerleader, or that it could work out this good, but it is an amazing ride and I can’t wait to see what happens next. The band is going to Disneyland for a week in the spring so here I am again, thinking of everything that could go wrong. Do I tag along or do I let go a little and see if she flies. This autism parenting has no road map and failure is not an option! I simply thank God for good kids, the ones that get it, that go that extra mile. These cheerleaders I think are so proud of having her on their team. They actually approached me the other day and said, “we all want to come over one Saturday night and you can go to a movie with a friend or even a date and we will hang out with Keely, eat pizza, play ping pong, watch movies”. They didn’t say “babysit”, they said “hang-out”. They get it. What an amazing bunch of girls. I am one lucky Mom.

    • mountainmama says:

      And now you have me bawling. “This autism parenting has no road map and failure is not an option!” Amen, Sistah. I am so, so happy to hear that your daughter is in a good place and surrounded by good girls. This doesn’t happen by accident – you obviously have been doing something right all of these years. Pat yourself on a back and know that you deserve it. Much love to you and your daughter.

      • Kendra Pettengill says:

        Mountain Mama,
        Thank you, I so appreciate your website and can relate to almost every post. I just saw your guest blog and now am thinking I should tell the story there. Plus I have some awesome photos of my little cheerleader! And believe me that language thing has actually been hilarious and fun. Even my Mother said she wished she had a camera when my daughter asked me in front of her, “Mom, what’s a Vagina”?
        It made me think back to the day some very clueless words were tossed my way, when my daughter still could not speak. They said, “Oh someday she will and you will want to shut her up”. I remember thinking, only someone who has not had to experience autism would make a stupid statement like that. No matter what question or words come out of her little voice, I would never wish it silent for I know what silence is, and it’s not good.

  3. Saint says:

    Just reading this sends me into PTSD. I hated the playground with a passion. Love you and love this blog. You verbalized what so many of us suffer through. xoxoxo

  4. Diana Gonzales says:

  5. Mom says:

    Thanks. Going through a lot of social issues with my kids and this really helps.

  6. kim says:

    I feel like I wrote this blog in my head at least 100 times. Feels good to know I am not the only one who thinks this and says those things to rude individuals.

    • mountainmama says:

      No…you are not the only one. And I hate having to be confrontational, but what else are we supposed to do? Thanks for reading, Kim.

  7. Brittany Barnum says:

    So well said. Every word! Wondering if I’ll ever be able to read a TMR post and not cry? Ugh!

  8. Kelly S. says:

    Girl, I hear ya! Yesterday, my 9 yr old daughter came home & said, “I invited Angela to my birthday party!” I said…”Oh NO! you can’t just invite every girl to your party. We set a limit of girls that can come.” (which was FOUR girls…trying not to over-stimulate her) Then she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “but I asked Chelsea if she wanted to come and she said NO!, so I asked Angela instead.” My heart broke. I started to cry. This is her first year in a mainstream classroom and I was hoping that the kids would be kind to her…and most are…but some are JUST MEAN.

    • mountainmama says:

      I won’t tell you what I just said in my head to little “Chelsea.” It is heartbreaking. Hang in there. We’ll get it figured out together.

  9. bebe says:

    Hi, I think most of the mothers had experienced this and honestly felt the same way but as I thought of my childhood days cant blame other kids. I didn’t say that I was mean during my childhood days but there are times that I didn’t like new kids I mean it took time for me to like them. My parents didn’t pressure me to like them but they don’t want me to be rude too but at the same be true to myself. My mother told me she can’t ask me how should I feel towards people that’s why she understood if I’m choosy with friends but she pointed out that always be sensitive to other’s feelings that if some kids won’t like to play with me what would I feel. I’m just saying this to say all kids are different there are quiet, noisy,naughty,friendly and sometimes aloof. We should not based of who they are because they just doesn’t want to play with our kids. I remember my son always get hurt on the first time he joined the play activities I feel the pain and the rejection of other kids but I just told my son they didn’t mean to do that it’s okey, just play. Then as time went by they become friends. What’s challenging part here is when my kids ask me why do you always tell us to be like this because that’s what should be but why other kids dont do that can you ask them the same way? It sounded unfair for them if we correct them then they see other kids got away with it. I just told them I dont know them well like I know you because your my son you always tell me why you do things as for them I dont know why they do that because we dont talk like this besides it’s their parents job to talk with their kids. It can be my job too if the situations need it. But I pointed out to them the right and wrong if some kids do that maybe they have their own reasons but still it is wrong. I dont know if you understand me but there’s no words that should be said in order for the kids to play or to be friends it will come out naturally. If some kids dont want to play with your kids like what you say move on but I dont think that we need to point out to them that they are mean because they did that the same way that it’s not our kids fault too if they were rejected just simply move on and maybe in the future they will play or there are other kids want to play with him. SOme kids can be really naughty and tough to deal with at times. But hey, that’s the real world in the future they will meet that kind of people and we wont be there to defend our kids anymore so as early as this teach them to deal how to cope and act during the situations like that. Be tougher in dealing the situations like this, in a way that it will not go beyond the good manner boundaries. Move on because there still be more friends to come.And most importantly teach them what ‘s right and wrong consistently.

  10. Nicholas Glenski says:

    I know ,IHATETHEFUCKING PLAY GROUND TOO ,kids can be assholes and rude ,i remeber beening in high school kids were jerks and some were nice !

  11. Lisa Perez Sullivan says:

    Well written. The playground is supposed to be a place of fun and joy. Not in this household! My son never plays with the other children. He could whip it out and take a pee in the bushes at any given moment. Unless, of course, there is a public restroom around. That is far more entertaining than a playground full of children. 🙁

    • mountainmama says:

      Lisa – Funny you should mention that. When my kids had just turned 5 and 3, we went to a birthday part that was huge. There were at least 50 people there. Anyway, BOTH of my kids whipped it out and peed in front of everyone at different times. My older son actually peed in the wood chips at the bottom of the slide. I have to admit though, I don’t attribute this to special needs, just to the fact that I potty trained them by teaching them to pee outside first. AND – for some reason their father loves to pee outside….He actually pees my name in the snow surrounded by a heart….Isn’t it romantic? LOL

  12. Backtime says:

    I’ve spent plenty of time observing my son from a private investigator-type distance as well. Whether he excludes himself or is being excluded, it’s hard to blame the other kids.

    While most kids may have absorbed the right inclusion behavior, it’s hard to exhibit individualism in a group situation among those immature enough to be playing on a playground in the first place.

    I try to keep each encounter in perspective and look for progress on the whole. Being patient is very hard!

  13. Tina says:

    So felt with I on this one. I’m glad u called the kids out in front of the dad! It’s obvious where they got their ‘manners’ from. Sad 🙁 my son does the same thing at playground time at school. Kicks up the dirt. Hate hate it. Thank u for pointing out to NOT ask permission to play. Never thought of that.

    • mountainmama says:

      The reason I felt OK calling a kid out is because I know these kids REALLY well, and I know when they are just being rude and mean. They don’t just behave this way with my ASD son, but with my NT son as well – and it seems like it is always changing. One day they are friends and want to play – the next day…You get the picture. These are kids that are not on the spectrum, have no developmental delays, etc. There really is just no excuse other than meanness and bad manners.

  14. Mama bird says:

    I have had similar situations with my daughter and am glad someone else can relate and voices it!

  15. Allie says:

    I SO could have written this myself! The playground has been the bane of our existence for 4+ years now! In pre-K and Kindergarten, Aidan was such an aggressive, over-stimulated mess that he literally scared everyone away. No one wanted to play with him. After Brain Balance, things were better, but he is still SO far behind his peers, socially. He’s got the language skills, he just doesn’t know how to use them appropriately! The martian example in the comments is VERY fitting to our situation. In first grade last year, he was on the outside, playing with a couple of kids he knew, but not really TRYING to be included in the big group. Now, second grade. ALL he wants is to be liked, to be chosen, to be INCLUDED by his peers. But he lacks the skills to properly initiate play. Instead, he grabs the soccer ball and runs, disrupting the game but getting EVERYONE’s attention. Or, he latches on to ONE kid, smothers him, drives him crazy, and then is CRUSHED when this ONE kid won’t play with him anymore. Thankfully, he has a great IEP team – and a Mama bear who isn’t scared to ask the tough questions and insist on thinking outside of the box. We’ll get through it…thanks Mountain Mama and TMR for reminding me that I’m not alone in the fight for acceptance.

    • mountainmama says:

      I just love how much Aidan has gotten from Brain Balance. And you WILL get through it because Aidan has an awesome Thinker for a Mom. Also, I didn’t realize Aidan was in 2nd grade this year – I don’t know why I thought he was older. My son’s in 2nd too – there is some kind of awakening that seems to take place at this age. I see it in the NT kids too – the social picture just starts to look different, doesn’t it? Love you, Allie.

  16. Kim Kowanko says:

    I cried as I read this for your son and mine. I used to work at my son’s school and I had to watch him eat lunch alone every day while trying to talk to the “cool” boys at the other table. My sweet son would smile as he tried to understand why they were laughing at everything he said. My interventions helped at the moment but never afterwards.

    I think your discover about asking to play instead of just jumping in, is brilliant. I’m going to use that one.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with the world. It’s brave and truly helpful.


    • mountainmama says:

      Oh, Kim. That is just heartbreaking. Thank you so much for reading the blog and I do hope that it is helpful to you. If nothing else – know you’re not alone.

  17. AmyinIdaho says:

    So true about “NT” kids. On the few occasions where my son has been interested in other kids, I found most of them to be dull, rude, mean and quite frankly – bad models for behavior. I walk away wondering why “this” is the model for normal. Ugh.

    It struck me as you had your epiphany about asking to play – that’s exactly how girls do it so it makes sense that we are teaching our affected kids to do it that way as mom’s are most likely the one’s driving this sort of interaction. It was a great point to make that the mere act of asking to play is actually giving up one’s power and I hope that resonates on many levels for Moms here 🙂

    My son is only interested in ‘big kids’ and rather than fight it, I’m thinking of giving up on the whole “peer” thing and switching more to a “big brother” thing.

    • mountainmama says:

      I have thought about the “big brother” thing a lot. I wish I could remember who it was – someone in our ASD Facebook community was talking about this just recently. Maybe post a question on the TMR page – ask if any of our readers have had any experience with this. Please don’t give up on the peer piece – but I think the big brother idea could be a really good one.

  18. Nancy says:

    It’s nice to know there is someone else who deals with the same thing we do. Every day.

  19. Guilded Thinker says:

    Perfection. You nailed it. I often wonder WHY we are told our kids need to “be like” these kids. frankly, as my son becomes more and more social, I notice how anti-social most NT kids are. If a child doesn’t exactly fit their little mold, they want nothing to do with that child. Hmmmm….wonder where they LEARN that?! I don’t totally blame the parents, though. I also blame our schools. From the time a child enters school, they are taught to comply, fit in, be “good” students (which simply means mindlessly following orders). They are crammed into classrooms with only kids their own ages and only kids that “fit” into the classroom. All those things teach kids that different is unacceptable. Preaching acceptance, which is what schools do, and TEACHING acceptance are two very different things. Kids follow examples, not words.

    • mountainmama says:

      You know what I have noticed? It seems like the teachers spend an incredible amount of time making sure my son is learning proper “social skills” but are completely oblivious to the deficiencies of the NT kids. Why aren’t they being taught the same things? I don’t get it. If my son didn’t respond when spoken to, a teacher would make a big deal about it. Doesn’t happen with the other kids.

  20. Liz P says:

    I once went to the Special Ed playground, when my dd was in Pre-K. She was alone in the sandbox nearly the entire period (though she once did attempt to join a group on the monkey bars and was rejected and returned to the sand pit), using her hands to sift the sand. As always, at pick-up, I asked the teacher and assistant whether they had facilitated play during recess (as directed by her IEP) and they responded, “Oh YES, she had a WONDERFUL time! We played games with the other children – and she even spoke in SENTENCES during play!” Yeah, right, they were clustered on a bench talking amidst themselves the entire recess…And my non-verbal daughter was incapable of speaking in sentences…This is the quality of care the people, tasked with ensuring an independent and capable future for these children, actually provide when they believe nobody is watching. Society turns a blind eye to their behavior now, and will act as if my child is invisible later.

    • mountainmama says:

      I have had this happen too. I can’t tell you how many times I have been told how wonderful he is doing and how he is interacting when I know he is not. Of course I know, I’m spying with binoculars, LOL. I am so sorry that you have to experience this too.

  21. katie says:

    I hate the playground, too. Which is why YOU get my son 4 hours a week, Mountain Mama!
    I’m sure it was a school playground that inspired William Golding to write Lord of the Flies.

    • mountainmama says:

      And I am so grateful to have him! So weird you said that about Lord of the Flies. I said the exact same thing two nights ago. And…ahem…I have heard you correct behavior on the playground as well. Hehe.

  22. Melissa Vega says:

    I have always taken comfort in the fact that my son was oblivious to other children being unkind to him. Now that he is starting to emerge from this fog, he watches other children and is interacting more with them. Thank you for the tips of how to integrate him without having other kids say no.

    • mountainmama says:

      I am glad you found this helpful. It seems so simple….but it took everything falling apart for me to finally get it. I feel like we have to focus on what the biggest/most immediate problem is – for us, it was communication and health issues. Because we can’t do everything at once, there are pieces that get lost along the way. We are really focusing on the social piece right now – using Michelle Garcia Winners materials, Social Stories, the Jed Baker book…We’ll get it. It’s just going to take a while. Good luck – and so glad to hear he is emerging.

      • Kristine says:

        I was going to recommend Social Thinking stuff. My son is not there yet as he is still emerging, but I have seen her conference and read her books and love it. This is what I was considering when you were describing the lack of social skills in the NT peers. Ever since I first investigated Social Thinking I thought- this should be in ALL schools for ALL kids. Hell, I could use some brushing up on my social thinking. signed, Glassman.

  23. Penny says:

    Work on the physical piece of “coming alongside and joining”. Co-regulating. Coordinating actions. A big part of your son’s challenges are not related to “talk”, or “the right words” or even pretend play. There are developmentally based interventions that teach parents how to make themselves “possible” for their kids to join, and it is that practice and experience that translates to success on the playground. (RDI, Communicating Partners, for two.) Kids make up games all of the time. I watch sibs at the baseball park making up games to play while their brothers are on the field. I’ve watched my kid w/ an ASD begin to join them – and it is almost 100% non-verbal. A lot of the rules are never spoken, the rules are simply understood. The games are physical and use co-regulation skills and coordination skills, “coming alongside” another.

    Peers and teachers and staff expect kids to come to school with a certain amount of being able to pay attention and to join and to come alongside and when they don’t have that, the staff don’t have time or skills to work on that. Those should be part of his IEP goals and objectives, in my opinion – they are related to future independence and employment.

    Find the “Autism Discussion Page” on facebook. Bill Nason’s information is quite helpful.

    • mountainmama says:

      Thanks, Penny. I appreciate your suggestions. We love RDI and use a lot of RDI strategies in his social program – expecially when he was younger. He does have a social component to his IEP and they are working on it. Right now, we are using the Michelle Garcia Winners program and it does seem to be helping. I probably didn’t really make it clear where my son is in the recovery process, but he has actually lost his diagnosis, no longer qualifies for speech and is almost indistinguishable from his peers. He really has come a long way, and does great one-on-one with friends. We just have to work harder on the big group activities. Thank you so much for your suggestions – and I LOVE your blog.

      • mountainmama says:

        *especially – the x sits much too close to the s. 🙂

      • Penny says:

        Thank you for the nice words about my blog. I hope to help others avoid mistakes we made along the way by blogging about our experiences.

        I do want to respond from a page from my own journey: If he hasn’t had enough “coming alongside and joining” experiences, then he hasn’t had enough of a developmental approach (RDI is just one example).

        He needs more “coming alongside and joining” experiences with an adult who knows how to slow down and be quiet and allow him to join them, allow him to be successful joining you, again and again. Cooking. Cleaning. Taking out the trash. Painting a room together. Laundry. Moving furniture to rearrange it. Setting the table. Building a structure out of Lincoln Logs or Lego. Playing race cars in the floor.

        We moved across the country a year and a half ago. We threw all of our kids into a situation where they knew no one. I got a chance to observe this “coming alongside and joining” in a big way.

        Teenagers do this. (typical teens, I mean) Friendships form around a common interest. Baseball. Marching band. Those are structured activities where “coming alongside and joining” are part of the process.

        A lot of what they plan with peers is around an activity, a “come alongside and join” physical activity. Manipulative mode kind of joining.

        The other thing they do a LOT of is “hanging out”. That’s hard for a kid who doesn’t “come alongside and join” because he hasn’t had practice at it. “Hanging out” is coming alongside and joining in mental and abstract modes.

        Our kids need a LOT of the physical, manipulative mode “coming alongside and joining” in non-verbal ways. Physical mode, manipulative mode, comes first in development.

        As I am meeting folks and making friends, the people I am closest to, the ones I know best are the ones where I have “come alongside and joined” them – our joint attention focused in the same place – our kids on the baseball diamond or working a concession stand side by side. Being able to slide into a role in a concession stand or as a bus chaperone to a contest requires that I be able to “come alongside and join”. It’s a kind of parallel play that is also interactive, if that makes any sense.

        Coming alongside and joining – it’s non-verbal – it’s physical first, then mental and abstract – is a skill we use in all of our seasons, not just in play during childhood.


        Theater – GREAT idea – it is a “coming alongside and joining” thing.

        The more “coming alongside and joining” (I don’t know why I keep putting it in quotes) experience we do at home, where I have an activity for us, a role for my kid, a role for me, where I slow down, shut up, and we are able to be together, with my kid competent without my prompting, reminding, grabbing her attention, letting her manage her own attention (which requires my slowing down), the more she joins at the ballpark on her own, without needing me. We don’t practice ballpark play at home. Ballpark play changes from game to game – the kids are always making up something new. It’s being able to come alongside and join in different situations that is the thing my kid needed – it is opening doors.

  24. Maureen says:

    Loved it! I feel like I could have written this. My son just started showing an interest in playing with other kids. He’s 8. He will stalk the perimeter of where the kids are playing but doesn’t know how to join in. The kids never “invite” anyone to join. It’s just an unspoken rule; if you want to play, just play. I love your changing the questions to “What are you playing? How do you play?”. Sounds so simple but I never thought of it. I can’t wait to switch our gears here. Thank you!!

    • Julie says:

      I never thought of that either. I had always asked myself. Maybe that says something about how I behaved socially. Hmmmmm………

    • mountainmama says:

      I know…sounds so simple and yet, 4 YEARS it took me to figure this out. Ugh. I really hope this helps. We have had to really work on helping him scan the field for one kid within the group that he knows and feels safe with. Then, approach THAT child and use “What are you playing? How do you play?” The visual piece is really hard for our kids that have processing problems. He actually says that all the kids look the same from a distance. And then when he tries to track them when they are moving – it’s just really hard. I hope this helps – keep us posted.

  25. Taximom5 says:

    First: {{{{{HUGS}}}}}

    Second: please please please PLEASE get your child into a theatre program. Research in your area and find the one LEAST likely to focus on being a child star. Some churches have very nice, non-competitive theater programs, taught by sensitive and caring acting professionals.

    A theater program is like speech therapy/play therapy, but better: it teaches appropriate diaologue, it gives your child SCRIPTS, it teaches facial language, body language, and involves fun games. And your child will have many (not all) “neurotypical” children to interact with.

    If you can’t find a program like this, contact your local university/college. Speak with the directors of both the special education department and the theater department. Ask if they have some students–seniors, grad students, whoever–who would be interested in a special project starting a pilot program for ALL children–neurotypical AND special needs.

    My son was involved in such a program from the time he was 6. He didn’t particularly like it in the beginning, though he didn’t hate it. But he gradually fell in love with it, and I can’t even begin to tell how you how incredibly helpful it was for his social skills. Theater gave him a window into seeing and even understanding how to interact “normally.”

    Having an autistic child is like teaching someone from Mars, who has just arrived on earth.

    You can say, “go ask if you can play,” and your Martian will do just that. BUT THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT COMES NEXT. That’s not part of Martian culture.

    You have to explain *every *single * step* to him–and the reason WHY he would do each step, and the exceptions to those steps, and the reasons WHY those exceptions would exist.

    You will be translating why we do things this way here on earth, and why it might be different from what your Martian might expect, and all the reasons, whys and wherefores that you (and he) can think of.

    And he will get it. Once you explain it to him like this, he will not only get it, but he will understand it and remember it forever.

    The hard part, of course, is the exceptions, but even those can be taught. To a certain extent, so can body language and facial language–but they have to be taught as separate foreign languages. REmember, on Mars, there is no facial language or body language. You have to teach them how to read it, and how to speak it.

    I’ve been there. There is light at the end of the tunnel. There are even lights here and there IN the tunnel to help you see ahead. They don’t always come from the sources you would expect.

    Hang in there!
    Hugs from Taximom5

    • mountainmama says:

      You read my mind: I have been actively trying to get a theater program here for over a year. We live in such a tiny, remote area of Montana, that making things like this happen is really hard. And because my community has so much poverty, it will have to be provided for free from some kind of a grant. This makes things pretty tricky. I have been in touch with members of the board of our Creative Arts Council, however, and am assured that they are looking into it. I totally agree that the theater picture could be a huge help.

    • Thinkingmominthedesert says:

      “You have to explain *every *single * step* to him–and the reason WHY he would do each step, and the exceptions to those steps, and the reasons WHY those exceptions would exist.

      You will be translating why we do things this way here on earth, and why it might be different from what your Martian might expect, and all the reasons, whys and wherefores that you (and he) can think of.

      And he will get it. Once you explain it to him like this, he will not only get it, but he will understand it and remember it forever.”

      So that’s why I’m always EXHAUSTED!!! LOL

      U couldnt have described it better. That is us. I realized the first week of K that all my son needs is a few xtra min for u to give him the information, the explanations,the details,the steps,the why’s & how’s. His K staff was on board & that schl yr was when he made the most overall progress. We understood that simply doing this, can make all the difference btwn a smooth cooperative response OR an anxiety filled meltdown. And like u say, it’s true-he gets it & remembers it forever.
      It is alot of work. My mom & husband know to do this now. But it’s been a learning curve. Somehow Im the only one that looks like a crazy person all the time. Everyone in my life (esp my mother) things I overdo it, go overboard. They tell me, will u sit down & leave him alone already, just relax, give ur mouth a rest, he’s fine, give him a chance, blah blah blah…
      But I am relentless (so what,I own it) bc I can’t stand to sit back and watch him struggle, see others hurting his feelings, kids ignoring him, etc…
      Last yr in first grade is when I learned the playgroud has a dark side. He experienced a lil bully who was telling 2 other boys don’t play w him. I quickly saw “can I play” is no good! NO GOOD!! I taught my son to say “hey, lets play a game.” What works even better is to have him offer a specific game- “hey, let’s play pirate ship!” BC sometimes kids will say, “ok”. The smile on my sons face when that happens? OMG PRICELESS!! But even when they don’t say OK it usually triggers a response of, “I don’t want to play pirates,we’re playing superheroes.” Which is 10x better than “no”. The nice kids say, “if u want u can play superheroes w us.” It doesn’t matter what game they r playing instead-he will agree w them in a heartbeat. (at home w his brother though, he stands firm on his preference.lol then they fight.yay) And the not so nice kids who only reply what they r playing but don’t offer, at least my son knows what they ARE playing and he can just join in. (that’s right u can impose son)
      Last yr we dealt w this one boy talking nasty to my son, telling him I don’t like u, telling other kids don’t like him….this was everyday after schl for abt 3wks. We laughed it off unaffected. One day in the car home,my son asks me”why that boy don’t want to play?” I saw for the first time that it really did bother him. So I explained some kids r mean, they r not nice bc they don’t know how. No one likes mean kids. Who wants to play w mean kids anyway-u want to play w the nice kids,right? He agreed&for abt 2days on the way home he muttered, “that boy is too mean, not nice,only gonna play w nice friends.”
      The next day they met face to face on the playground bridge. My son ignored him til the boy got in his face. My son didn’t even say a word when suddenly the boy looks him in the face & rudely says,”U can’t play w us ok!” Ofcourse,I was pissed. Just as I was abt to jump in my son yells in his face, “I DON’T WANT TO PLAY W U BC U R NOT NICE! NO ONE LIKES TO PLAY W THE MEAN KIDS ANYWAY.I ONLY PLAY W THE NICE KIDS OK!!!” I was every emotion u could think of-surprised,amused, shocked,happy,relieved,satisfied,and extremely proud of my boy. That day, the mantra “never give up,recovery is possible,there is hope” was never more believable & I saw proof that it is so very true.

  26. Sugah says:


    • mountainmama says:

      And I love you….And thank you again for sending “How to be a Social Detective.” Both of my kids love it, and I really think it is helping.

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