Guest Author - Tara O'Gorman, MSW
When I started a social group for teens and pre-teens on the autism spectrum, I had a vision of a place where my son and his friends would be free to be their authentic selves, without fear of judgment or concern about violating social norms. There would be a mix of his old friends, a group of boys he has known for several years, and some new teens and tweens in the community. Having some experience with facilitating social groups, I thought I knew what to expect along the way. I had no idea how much I had yet to learn.
Many adolescents with Asperger’s appear shy or full of anxiety in social situations. Some are introverted and prefer the company of one or two friends rather than large groups. Others, meanwhile, simply need the right group of friends to blow the myth of the ‘antisocial Aspie’ out of the water.
After several months, my son and his friends, old and new, had formed a small clique at our social club. They are not exclusive or unwilling to accept new members. They welcome anyone who wants to join them for a few minutes or a few hours. While others are off playing video games, this small group of usually 5 or 6, is usually found running, throwing balls, wrestling around, or otherwise engaged in physical activity that is generally inconsistent with their ‘typical’ behavior, at least according to most of their parents.
Interestingly, most of us as parents have heard our child referred to as a loner or antisocial. In many social situations, our children are the ones seeking solace in a private, quiet area. Sensory meltdowns are a part of our lives, although many of us have seen less frequent emotional outbursts as our children mature and develop coping mechanisms. I expected, or at least hoped for, our often quiet and reserved kids to come out of their shells and interact with new friends.
What I have pleasantly experienced is just ‘typical’ boy behavior. Laughter, joking, whispering, jumping, running, sweaty (and stinky) activity! One of the boys, whom we have known for many years, loves to joke about how ‘antisocial’ they all are while they engage in the same types of activity you see in any group of teen and preteen kids.
Most of these guys have the maturity and awareness to see themselves as different from others. They have heard the comments, have absorbed the labels ‘antisocial’ and ‘awkward.’ But when the fear of judgment is removed and the reality of complete acceptance takes its place, I have seen these kids just be… kids. There is nothing antisocial about any of them. It is a view rarely seen by many of the people our children are with on any given day, and it has been an amazing experience for those of us blessed to be welcomed into their world.