Reading the Social Cues


“I don’t think she understands me Mommy.”

That was the beginning of an unexpected conversation last night.  Johnny has some friends at school that he’ll play with when he wants to play and usually most of them are girls. So immediately he had my attention when I heard this because of the fact that he was once nonverbal and has gone through many hours of intensive speech therapy to turn this around.

I asked him which friend and he said the name and I cringed a little inside.

“Mommy I try to talk to her but I don’t understand why she doesn’t answer me. I think she’s ignoring me.  She doesn’t understand me.”

Most of the girls that he knows at school are pretty lively and outgoing but this girl that he’s trying to talk to you that’s part of the little group friend only gets lively around one or two of the girls.  She seems a bit shy, more quiet, content to play on her own and won’t initiate play but will join play if she feels like it.  Her big passion is reading books and she reads at a higher level of the other children and likes to read many books a week.  Often at recess she can be found sitting on a bench reading a book.  That’s amazing because recesses are very loud and noisy places and I know that Johnny uses that time to collect the beautiful leaves are changing colour right now in Fall.

So the reason why I cringed a little inside because right now Johnny is doing a social skills building group and wouldn’t you know he has picked a much more challenging person to draw  into a conversation.   He does not understand why she is not answering him but the thing is she is actually not answering anyone because she just wants to be left alone reading a book.  Recess is a time of play but there is value in having some down time that involves being by yourself too.  But what I find more often than not right now is that as Johnny is learning how to handle social situations he thinks that he is doing something wrong if it doesn’t turn out the way he has been taught to look for.   Maybe that’s because so many times throughout the day he is unsure of what he supposed to do.     There are so many different choices that need to be made thourghout the day and some of them feel like wrong choices.   Meanwhile everyone else seems to be making the right choices around him.  I say “seems” because this is from”his” perspective and if he looked a little closer he would see that everyone else is making mistakes around him too.  I really don’t think it’s a theory of mind issue but instead I truly believe that it he’s concentrating on teaching himself how to handle social situations.

We can teach Johnny how to get into conversations but the rules keep changing because each person is different in their responses and are going to be individualized.  If you ask question 1 there is going to be many multiple-choice answers depending on the other persons mood and who they are.  So what would work for talking to one person may not work for another person.  So again, I don’t think that he’s just seeing things from his point of view but he is just trying to figure out the complicated messy world of social interactions.   Even the adults around him, young and old, are still making mistakes and putting the proverbial foot in their mouths.

So what was my quick answer about talking to one of his friends that’s usually only reading at recess and seems to be not answering him? I asked Johnny if when he talks to the other kids do they understand what he says.  “Yes Mommy.”  Well I then suggested to him that while he is getting used to starting a conversation with someone that maybe he should pick one or two other friends to try this with first so he feels better about doing it.   Maybe another idea might be to ask those friends about how to talk to the friend that has her head in the book a lot.  Its a worth a shot!  She is a very nice girl to have as a friend and maybe conversations and recess are hard for her too.

The other thing I also need to put into perspective is my six-year-old daughter comes to me with social quagmires to talk about too.   Things that happened at recess and she’s dealing with friends that are either one or two years younger then her or when you’re older.  It’s left me with the feeling that the matter what the recess is hard messy and complicated but it just adds another layer of difficulty when you have Autism.


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