Another reason that I am A OKAY with ‘peer troubles’ (See Day #42 – Trouble with Peers) is that Tucker’s outright exposure to others can be damaging – even though social contact is where he needs the most practice. Again, the Autism irony thing. I say ‘peer troubles’ lightly – because they aren’t really ‘troubles.’
Tucker gets along really well with adults and is often awkward around his peers because of his manner of speaking. People often say to me, “He sounds so grown-up.” Yes, he sure does – but not for the reasons one may think.
He was very slow to acquire enough language to have conversations. Trust me, it wasn’t for lack of conversation in his home-his mother is a speech teacher for goodness sake! He was read to every morning and every night. He was encouraged to share his opinions, to talk. He just didn’t feel the need. He knew the words – but part of his difficulty was (and continues to be) putting words together in the right order to create new, original thoughts. He knows what he wants to say – but it’s all jumbled. It’s like trying to create a sentence out of words in a word cloud. ARRRRRGGGHHH!!!!!
So, what do some children do? Well, they memorize. I used to refer to Tucker as my tape recorder (albeit not in front of him). He talks like I do. He found a way to memorize the words, phrases, and verbal intonations I use in any given situation. I also worked with him, tirelessly and patiently. When he responded with something inappropriate I would simply respond, “Tucker, this would work better in that situation.” No matter how embarrassing it was [what he said]. I never attacked or shamed or embaraased him, he simply needed him to learn.
Then, in ‘like’ situations – he replays what he knows is appropriate to say. Some children on the spectrum are almost hyper fluent – they speak in a peculiar manner using words that are too advanced or sentences that seem like they came out of a medical research journal.
For example, last fall he had some boys over for an XBox tournament. As we were taking them home he said, “So, guys. How did you like tonight? Is there anything I could do to improve your experience? Is there is anything you would change?”
I looked in the rearview mirror…the other boys just looked at him, mouths open, heads cocked to one side, wide eyes. I helped him reframe the questions to a 6th grade level. “Did you have fun?” “The next time you come over do want something different to eat?” “Are there other friends we could invite?”
This is the very reason that we’re okay he’s not invited to many homes, situations, or experiences. It is easy for us to control the words/phrases that he memorizes from our home. It’s not easy for us to control what other 7th grade boys and their families may say or do.
So, when you are around Tucker (or children like him) PLEASE be careful with your tone and language choices. Not only does he sometimes struggle to understand what you are saying (Day 17 – Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say) he will ‘replay’ whatever you say at another time in a like situation.