Yesterday, when walking home from school, we spied a boy carrying a large plastic box covered in frosting. His face, hair, and shirt were also liberally smeared with the stuff. His big grin – topped with a white frosting mustache – announced to the world that his birthday was TODAY. He kept offering kids the cupcake lid… which had a big pile of frosting on it. All the cupcakes were gone, but hey, that wasn’t going to stop him from sharing the joy.
My son smiled, charmed, and mentioned that there was a boy offering invisible cupcakes to people.
Context clues – kid covered in frosting, smiling, coming home from school with a big box that obviously once held cupcakes – can be difficult for our kids to read and decode. It’s all part of understanding social situations, and then applying that understanding, like deducing birthday party from frosting smears, a happy grin, and an empty box.
Once, when an Asperger friend was driving, he got irritable about ‘two girls talking’ and fumed about wanting them to just go ahead and cross the street. I happened to glance over… and saw a mother-daughter pair deep in argument. And, boy, was she in trouble.
How can we help our loved ones put together the clues to understand the situation?
Sometimes, we can’t. They need to learn some things themselves… the hard way. And then sometimes knowledge flashes on like a light bulb, instantaneously. We’ve seen a lot of Eureka! moments in our son’s social development.
In the meantime, we can help them practice.
Audio Cd’s are great. When I hear a social situation referred to, but not openly described – friendship dynamics in the Harry Potter books between Ron, Hermione, and Harry, for instance – I’ll stop the CD and ask him what he thinks just happened. Often, if it’s not overtly stated – Ron said something stupid, hurt Hermione’s feelings, and felt bad about it afterwards – he won’t catch it, and we can go over why Hermione rushed by with her head down, and why Ron looked uncomfortable.
Pointing out why family members are acting the way they are also helps. It may seem odd to ask your son what it means when his Dad’s voice increases in volume – and to have to draw his attention to it in the first place – but it’s necessary. When he was 10, it suddenly did make sense to him. His Dad was either angry or annoyed.
Another helpful technique I’ve read about involves television. Find a show, turn off the volume, and watch it with your child. Discuss what he/she thinks is happening in the story, and why. Is someone upset? Happy? Excited? Why are they feeling that way?
Picture books, comics, cartoons (without the sound) – all of these things try to capture emotions and body language to paint a story. Our world is rich in subtlety and body language, and teaching tools can be found just about everywhere.
Are our loved ones capable of growth, of understanding? Of course they are! Sometimes, we have to be patient, and wait for that golden moment. But all of us are constantly learning new things about people, the way they think, and how to deal with situations.
I have so much to learn yet myself… and my husband and son are busily teaching me.