About a week has passed since we explained to our son his Autism / Asperger’s diagnosis. I previously mentioned that he had been operating under a misapprehension that he was a bad person and that social skills group therapy was supposed to help him become a better person.
At dinner a few days ago, my special Apie son, declared, “Asperger’s is inside me. It won’t ever come out.” With that, I know that he has accepted who he is and his Autism. The books we purchased have done the trick! (See previous post for list of books). He seems settled, happier, and more confident since we told him about his diagnosis. He thinks of himself as a good person who needs a little extra help to fully realize his potential. I could not have hoped for any better outcome. Made me wonder if we should move to a more advanced social skills group.
We’ve been thinking of doing so since our social skills group therapist had suggested a few months ago that we consider moving our special Aspie to a new social skills group with slightly older members. May have mentioned that my wife and I, each have post-graduate training in scientific method. So, we began to collect data through observation and interview on which we could rely to make the best decision for our son. Concerns were two-fold: 1. our boy had made friends with others in his social skills group. That’s a YUGE deal for a person on the spectrum; 2. The new social skills group was composed of boys a year or two older. That age difference can matter exponentially more for developmentally challenged individuals. Data collection would assist our effort to resolve those concerns.
At social skills group therapy this week, I collected more interview data, by inquiring with the therapist concerning my son’s performance. Our son has mastered the curriculum for this social skills group. Importantly, this does not mean that the effects of Autism on his social interactions or decision-making have been altered, changed, or eradicated. It means that social skills group has taught him skills to take a step back from what are, in the moment, his decision process and emotional response, critically assess, and make course corrections.
He was doing so well that, a few months ago, when our therapist reported to us on our son’s curriculum mastery, we opted to attend social skills group twice a month rather than once a week. We pay for this therapy out of pocket because our health insurance will not cover, and as poorly compensated educators the budget savings was too tempting to pass. We learned quickly that, as my economics professors would often say, there is no free lunch.
Sure we saved money, but we also paid in other ways: increase in meltdowns due to unexpected or sudden change in routine, sibling got treated poorly more often, behavioral problems arose at school. That scheduled lasted about six weeks before we went back to weekly participation. Our developmental pediatrician, when we reported on this experience, cautioned us that ASD /AS children need consistent, regular, and positive reinforcement of concepts and principles learned in social skills group therapy.
Since resuming weekly social skills group therapy, our special Aspie has reverted to more consistently applying what he learns in social skills group. We have always supported social skills group learning through incorporating concepts and methods into how we interact with him and his sibling. Rather than reacting with emotion to his emotion, becoming frustrated when he is not responding because he is hyper-focused, we remind him of social skills group concepts germane to what our son is experiencing. Many colossal meltdowns have been prevented as a result! Parents of ASD / AS children must be part of the therapeutic regimen for the intended and desired outcomes to occur.
With that background in mind, in response to my inquiry posed this week, the social skills group therapist noted that our son has assumed a quasi-leadership role. I was intrigued and concerned. ASD / AS people do not often make for the best leaders. Sensing my concern, our social skills group therapist described how our son is leading by example and offering to help other newer group members learn. I asked if, based on this new role, whether we should advance our boy. I had already made my decision, just wanted to know what the expert was thinking. The social skills group therapist said it was up to us, however, this new role presented a new challenge for our special Aspie and perhaps we should let him further develop in this role. I agreed.
In addition, a new member of the social skills group is a lad the same age as our Aspie. Both boys are rough and tumble and have, sadly, struggled to make friends. They hit it off the first session the new boy attended and have been peas in a pod ever since. The social skills group weekly meeting begins with a few minutes in the gym to get wiggles out and energy expended before getting to work, that is, learn through playing.
Once in the gym, our special Aspie and his new pal immediately go for those huge inflatable exercise balls, grab one, and run at each other as fast as possible before colliding, experiencing an equal and opposite reaction, while laughing with joy as they tumble in opposite directions to the gym floor. Our special Aspie made a friend! We’re keeping him in his current social skills group come hell or high water.
Yeah, a new stage has been entered. Our Aspie knows better who he is, has accepted it, has a more positive self-image as a result, values the therapies he is experiencing, and, did I mention he made a friend! Papa grizzly bear is stoked, feeling groovy, and just plain happy for my son. Love that little guy.
PS — my son, observing that I had completed this post, or nearly so, approached me to inquire if I want to to play a board game. In doing so, he reversed roles by using on me parent language we use with him. Language we learning in Parent Child Interactive Therapy (PCIT). Yep, I just got PCIT’d by my Aspie. Clever little bugger.