Asperger kids aren’t instinctively good at group work. It’s a major difficulty for them, and for anyone who has social challenges.
Part of Asperger’s Syndrome that I don’t like to discuss – I admit this – is the egocentricity. It’s just one of the challenges, and most of the time it’s more fun to focus on the positives.
But when group work intrudes – bet you can guess what we’re going through right now at school – it combines with other social challenges to form a very difficult challenge, indeed.
People who don’t understand what’s going on are at first puzzled by the intense reaction (tears, tantrum, screaming, rage, whatever) when the AS person’s suggestion is turned down within a group. For example: AS child states that using a triangle would work best, but everyone else says no. Child falls apart. Kids at first try to comfort him, then realize he’s not listening and still wants to have his own way. Teacher takes him into the hall to ‘discuss matters.’
Yes (sigh), it’s a familiar pattern. People assume that the child is a) spoiled and b) a rotten sport. And who can blame them, really? It sure looks that way, on the surface.
But under the surface something different is happening. These kids have great difficulty calming themselves down. When a bad surprise (in the form of a sudden disappointment or shock- remember the discarded suggestion above?) occurs, it feels like the end of the world. They can’t recover instantly. Their brains can’t easily maneuver around to find an alternate solution.
(And now I’m tempted to point out all of the advantages such a brain has, like that incredible memory, the ability to concentrate like nobody’s business on a particular project, and to soak up information like a sponge. It’s a balance of pros and cons, just like with anyone else’s brain. Forgive me, I just can’t stand the thought that someone might read this without seeing those shining positives.)
Our AS kids don’t understand how other kids are feeling. After all, if he/she has difficulty understanding tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, and nuance, how would he possibly be able to know their thoughts? And so working in a group is a nightmare.
How does one even start to work on group skills?
It’s important to stress several points:
- Respecting other people’s opinions. If you respect their opinion, they are more likely to respect yours. Treat others as you would have them treat you. People notice and appreciate this.
- Nobody gets their way all the time. This is particularly true in groups. The other day we actually broke it down for our son; 4 people in a group means you ought to get a say at most 25% of the time. That’s not often.
- Notice what others are good at, and ask for their opinions. If you know that girl over there is really good at drawing, ask for her opinion on drawing.
- Delegate. The secret to a great group is choosing the right person for the job. Who would be better at doing the drawing in the project? You or the above-mentioned girl?
- Stay friendly and calm. Taking a water break or asking the teacher for a moment to cool down is better than exploding all over people. If I’m there, I’ll even tell the person to get a drink from the water fountain in the hall (actually did this two weeks ago).
- People are often mirrors. People are likely to reflect emotions back; being angry makes others angry, while friendliness helps others remain friendly.
- Practice. We’ve started practicing (again) making decisions within a group, helping our son to take a leadership role. He must consult the group, ask for opinions, and remain calm and friendly. Enlisting friendly help from grandparents or understanding people also helps exercise group skills in a supportive way.
Results will not be immediate. This takes time, patience, and practice. There is no band-aid solution. Unfamiliar skills – particularly social skills – have to be learned slowly (or wait for those Eureka! moments, which can be long in coming), and nobody learns at the same speed.
Good luck out there! And, as always, please feel free to share your wisdom and experience.