(Post by KAREN VELEZ)
I talk to myself. There, I said it. But don’t we all? How else are you going to reason through problems when you are by yourself? Should I put that last load of laundry in the wash or is it too late? Should I have something to eat or can I walk away for the night? Did that woman really just give me that look because my kid was loud in Target? Should I ignore her or say something?
Yes, most of it is mundane. But what I’ve been noticing lately is that a lot of the things I try to reason through, in talking to myself, amount to how to handle social situations. Whether I was polite, or came off silly, angry, buffoonish, pushy, ignorant, ditzy or snooty. Sometimes, my concern is unwarranted. Sometimes, I make a social mistake.
And I hate to feel embarrassed. My motivation to avoid embarrassment is what keeps me cognizant of maintaining “social dignity.” In other words, I can try and save myself from feeling humiliated.
In thinking about it, I really have not seen a lot of instances where my son has shown embarrassment or humility yet. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him blush.
“Embarrassment”, according to Wikipedia, is defined as
“an emotional state of intense discomfort with oneself, experienced upon having a socially unacceptable act or condition witnessed by or revealed to others. Usually some amount of loss of honor or dignity is involved, but how much and the type depends on the embarrassing situation.”
At the ripe old age of six years, my son is not much different from his peers. He will freely fart, belch, yell, and run naked through the house to play instead of put clothes on. (Your kids all do that, right?) Some things are different, though. Not responding to the teacher when called on, rifling through the teacher’s box of materials without asking, his inability to carry on a conversation. His inability to greet his peers.
My son has not shown a lot of signs that he has an awareness of his peers, much less their feelings, emotions or reactions to him. Without knowing the extent of that awareness, I don’t know whether he can see that they may find something he does a social faux pas. So, when does it happen? When do the neurotypical boys start becoming socially aware, embarrassed? My friend’s son who is neurotypical and about a year and a half older than my son, gets embarrassed when his mom teases him about his “girlfriends”. Toots, on the other hand, freely agrees with anyone who asks if a particular girl is his “girlfriend”.
On one hand, I know my son likes attention from his class. He loved “share day” when he brought a toy and responded to peer questions about it. On the other hand, there was no reciprocity by him on his peers’ share days, I think, in part, due to his delays and communication difficulties. I don’t know if he is aware that he should respond to his peers’ sharing as they do for him, but he is on the path to learning.
The Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) tutors are teaching him very basic foundations for socialization. For example, the purpose of games is to “win.” Together with the lack of social understanding, my son does not tie together pleasure with winning. He has always been just as happy to lose a game as win (funny – yes, I know). With that though, is a bit of a blessing because he does not get angry very often from losing or about rules. He just starts over and keeps going. The concept of what “win” means is not a natural thing for him.
Along with it, his tutors are teaching him how to cheer on his friends in a game. You always hear about sportsmanship and its importance. Strangely, we are teaching competitiveness at this house.
So, in a way, not having the awareness seems to work both in avoiding anger and as a defense mechanism that prevents him from experiencing the emotional hurt that accompanies any potential dissing by his peers.
I guess as we work our way toward growth, there will be pains along with it. I hope I remember what I wrote here. Because someday, I will need to remind myself that, even if my child is embarrassed, discovers humility, or becomes self-conscious, this is a path toward social awareness. We can then work on specific social etiquette that may help him increase his own social dignity. Who knows? Soon, he may be talking to himself, about how embarrassing it is to hear his mom, talking to herself, in the car…
Karen Velez, Sacramento, California
Karen is a lawyer and mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. She works part time and spends the rest driving here and there and everywhere for her son’s various therapies. Instead of trying cases, she now plays Pac-man and watches SpongeBob. She wears old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after her son. “Yeah, it’s different,” she says, “but I wouldn’t change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.” Visit her blog Solodialogue or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.Tweet