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Monday, April 05, 2010

Social Skills and Proximity Friends


My son, Josh, is an introvert. In many ways, this is a blessing. It means that he’s not necessarily lonely just because he is alone. He is comfortable being with himself, and by himself. He also likes people, and enjoys spending time with them. It’s just that socializing is not a pressing need for Josh, and it drains his energy after awhile. From a very early age, Josh struggled with social nuances. He didn’t feel the need to make eye contact, and his facial expressions often gave no clue as to what he was thinking or feeling. He had to work to learn to read body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, etc. It did not come naturally for him, and the effort he exerted often yielded small returns. Here is just a glimpse of what he experienced as he grew up.

Imagine trying to say the right thing, and using the correct words, but still being rejected because somehow you said it wrong and offended someone. Imagine going up to a group of children and asking if you can play with them, only to have them ignore you and run away to play with each other. Then watch as within moments another child approaches the group and is instantly included in their play. You don’t know what you did wrong. You tried to do as you had been taught. You realize that somehow others know things about interacting and making friends that you don’t know, and these secret rules are frustratingly out of reach. How should you proceed? An adult shows interest in you and says you are friends, so you invite her over to play and she gives you an odd look and goes to talk to your Mom. Other adults seem to do that a lot, and Mom just looks sad and kind of baffled. Doing what came naturally to you didn’t work. Using the social skills you rehearsed and practiced with your Mom didn’t work. Your Mom seems to be the only real friend you have, and while you’re appreciative it’s still hard not having friends your own age. Real friends, not like the forced ones in the group your parents have to pay for you to attend, with other kids who don’t really get the unwritten rules of social skills any better than you do. You want friends, so you try and try again. You’d like to think of yourself as optimistic and resilient, but others view you as a pest who can’t take a hint. What hint? They never actually came out and said anything, so how are you supposed to know what you are doing that bothers them? Or maybe it’s something you are not doing, that they think you should be doing. It’s all so confusing. People say you are too blunt, but you say things as you see them and are truthful. Others talk around the point, but never just come out with it. Maybe they don’t want to hurt your feelings, but it hurts more when things build up and you don’t even realize it until it’s too late and you’ve lost another potential friend and truly don’t understand what went wrong. Sure, you have proximity friends. Those people who say hi to you and ask how you are. By now you’ve learned they don’t really want to know how you are so you just tell them “fine”. That’s how people do it, right?

You join a small group of other guys at your church, thinking the smaller group might help you actually develop relationships. You care about these guys. But although they spend time with each other throughout the week, you are rarely invited to join them. You plan something at your house and invite them, but they all have excuses why they can’t make it. You’ve been told you are intelligent, kind, caring, and creative. But somehow a “weird” or “quirky” vibe seems to trump all that. Gradually you come to accept that the true friendships you develop will be rare, and you will treasure them at a deeper level than those for whom relationships come easily. You will enjoy your proximity friends during those brief interludes when your paths cross. You will continue to make attempts at speaking the social language of those around you. It will always be something of a mystery to you, why some reject you and others will be friends. You learn to appreciate the friends without having to understand the reasons why.

You have a lot to offer.

Some people allow you to show just how much.

2 comments:

mangala said...

Hi,

I have a son with ASD. I really understand what you wrote.I felt like mirror imagae of my feelings.

HUMom said...

I'm glad you could relate to this post. I actually cried while I was writing it, as it stirred up a lot of painful memories.