Because our Asperger kids need help developing social skills, it is twice as important that they be introduced to positive and friendly situations.
Hostile environments will quickly teach them to be suspicious, cynical, and withdrawn.
In fact, this picture of a suspicious, sullen, resentful child is often what we see in an Asperger adolescent. They’ve learned – by the ripe old age of 12 – that others can’t be trusted, that people are whimsical and cruel, and that there isn’t a place where they fit in and are appreciated for who they are.
Of course, this is wrong. There is a place out there for them, and there are people out there who love and appreciate them.
Put anybody in an unfriendly situation, surrounded by hostile people, and they’ll quickly learn to be paranoid and suspicious. Your typical jock doesn’t belong in the chess club, and that chess club member doesn’t usually fit in with the sports crowd. Of course, there are exceptions, but you get the idea.
So choosing an appropriate after-school, church, or social group can be a tricky business.
I tend to go for ones that allow parental involvement. Here’s why:
- I can intervene – or just guide everyone in a different direction, distract, have a quiet word, whatever – when things start to go sideways. Quick and painless if I’m present, sometimes horrible and complicated if I’m not
- Other parents have a set of expectations that our children don’t necessarily meet. Think about how many times you’ve seen a parent walking ahead of children, like Mama duck leading the ducklings. They never look back or worry, which doesn’t work for our kids, who don’t have that built-in ‘stay with the group’ imperative
- If I see a learning opportunity come up, I can go over it later at home. For example, a social interaction that happened between two other kids
- I know what’s happening at that meeting. No unexplained bruises, angry phone calls, or any other nasty surprises will catch me off guard
- I get to meet the other kids and learn their names. Same goes for the parents. Sometimes, things click and we’re able to arrange a playdate, which is good for both children
- I get the chance to help the instructor learn about Asperger’s Syndrome: the positives, the challenges, and some good techniques for handling issues and social interaction. And I’m sure you never saw that one coming. What, me talk about Asperger’s Syndrome?
- I learned long ago that if I don’t volunteer up front, I’ll soon be asked to attend by a frantic, overworked, worried-looking teacher. Either that, or they’ll turn me down and then come looking for me later, after I’ve made other plans.
Obviously, not everyone has the time to go with their kids to each club or group meeting. Some people work two jobs and cannot attend any, but as long as they are comfortable with the people involved – and know their child will be properly looked after – it’s okay.
Also, some kids are more socially advanced and independent than others. The label Asperger’s Syndrome holds a whole lot of different levels of functionality within it. Nobody is more familiar with what your child can – or cannot – do than you are.
Good clubs and activities I’ve found:
- Library story times. Free, and open to everyone (often including parents). There are also special needs library story times available for kids
- Cub scouts/Daisies/Brownies. Depends completely on the people running them, but for the first few years parental involvement is encouraged. We tended to skip the large once-a-month den meetings, which were just too much sensory overload to handle
- Church groups. Depends again on the people running them
- County activities. Sometimes your county will organize and lead activities, like swim club, adventure club, skateboarding, etc. These are usually more prevalent during the summer.
- Make your own club. We’re trying this with chess, and I’m sure I’ll be writing about it before too much longer 🙂
- Homeschool groups. They tend to be more accepting than a lot of children
- Mixed age groups. These kids tend to be more tolerant than peers, because expectations vary so much depending on age. Also, younger kids will accept and form friendships more easily with an older child who may be younger at heart (like many of ours)
- Social Skills groups
- Small groups/clubs. Larger ones tend to get too noisy and busy for our kids
- Special interest clubs. If your son/daughter loves Lego, Robotics club may be a dream come true
- Clubs/groups/activities that focus on individual ability. Most team sports are minefields of social interaction and interpretation, and are too frustrating and difficult for our children to handle well
- Drama club (I love this post by an online friend: The Benefits of Drama Classes For Kids With Aspergers & Autism)
- Crafting activities. Our local Michael’s sometimes runs a group, and they’re often grateful for the extra help
- Before/during/after school walking or running clubs, if the child wants to participate
- Meet-at-the-playground groups. I’ve seen a lot of these for very young kids, and they work well
- Family get-togethers. This can include anything from a regularly scheduled outing with loving and understanding family members – our son has lunch with his grandparents every Saturday, for instance – to family meals and gatherings. Having supportive, accepting people around will raise self-confidence and reinforce positive behavior
If you have any further suggestions, or would like to share your experience with a club, activity, or group please leave a comment below. I won’t even pretend to have done more than scratch the surface of what’s available out there, and would be grateful for your two cents.
Note: If my son attends a group without me – which is rare – I tend to send along a snapshot brochure (and an email or note) for the teacher/instructor to read beforehand. This way they are prepared and know what to expect ahead of time. Ever since surprising our first grade teacher – and dealing with the subsequent “why isn’t he on medication?! I’ve never seen a child like this in all my years…” etc – I’ve learned it’s really best to give people both a head’s up and chance to ask questions (or ask for help) first.