When we think of social isolation in the context of autism spectrum disorders as parents we often worry about the social isolation our children may experience. We are concerned about the hurt we assume they will feel as a result of it. This spring I was dismayed when one of my teenagers missed out on a school dance. I was determined that he would not miss another opportunity to socialize with his peers. After all I know how much those opportunities to socialize meant to me when I was his age.
When the next school dance rolled around I made sure to have all my ducks in a row. I started with my husband first. You know that whole united front thing that parenting and relationship experts talk about. My husband’s response was something along the lines of, “Dance? Why would anyone want to waste time on something like that?” He then proceeded to retell the story of his parents writing notes to school to get him out of having to go to school dances. Something about being against their religion or some such. So much for united front.
I was having the conversation about the school dance with my son on my own. It was a very brief conversation.
His response to my inquiries about the school dance were a remarkable echo of his father’s. Something along the lines of wasting time. When I was done picking my jaw up off of the floor the cliché flitted through my mind, the fruit didn’t fall far from the tree. And that was the end of any further discussions about school dances, for now.
Here I was determined to craft a typical teenager social experience for my son and he had no interest whatsoever in taking part in one. So I have to come to terms with the fact that this kid seems to have little to no interest in social interactions with his typically developing peers. Not that he abhors people. He’s just not going to make an effort to be part of any group. And if the group is not going to make an effort to include him, well no one seemed to notice or express concern when he didn’t show up at any of the school dances. One of the foibles of an urban school district, you don’t get noticed when you fall through the cracks. That’s a story for another time though.
There’s still got to be some sort of socializing going on even if my son doesn’t particularly want it enough to seek it out himself. So when I was offered the chance to include him in a teen night program that serves teens with disabilities I didn’t hesitate. This of course led to a hilarious, for me, conversation wherein my child engaged in very typical teenaged moaning and groaning except it was over having to go hang out on a Friday night. It was one of those laugh or cry moments. Laugh at his overly dramatic response to having to be away from the computer spending time doing something so typical for kids his age or cry at the effort that it took to arrange for the opportunity for him to get to do something so typical for kids his age. I had to laugh. There have been, and will be, plenty of other things to cry about.
The staff at the program all report that my son seems to enjoy himself when he’s there. When I quiz him about his time there he reports that he enjoys how he spends his time. They have video games there too that he gets to play on occasion. But if you give him a choice he will pick sitting in front of a computer at home every single time. I call it social isolation and I’m bothered by it. My son seems to see it as peace and quiet and seeks it out every chance he gets. I’m no social butterfly but this is going to take some getting used to.