Thursday, March 12, 2009

Focus on Social Skills

I realize most of my readers don't have a kiddo with autism but I thought I'd share my thoughts on this subject because many children can be delayed socially even with no official label of any sort. Kids can struggle in this area for lots of reasons - very strong/very timid personality, immaturity, ADHD, lack of training or lack of good role models, any number of disabilities, ineffective parenting (not accusing anyone here! ;) ) and the list goes on and on. If your child could use some support in the social arena then I hope you find some ideas and encouragement here. Now on with my post...

With our new diagnosis of Aperger's our reality has changed. We now know that many of the behaviors we have been dealing with are not something Thatcher will just outgrow as we had been hoping and praying. In fact he needs much more support than we have been giving him up to this point. Also we are seeing more and more copycat type behaviors from his two younger brothers who idolize him yet are too young to understand that big brother may not always be the best role-model. Further complicating our issues is the fact that Thatcher has ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder as well. All three work together and at times create complete havoc in the life of our blue-eyed little man.

What does that mean for us? That's the question that has been rattling around in my head for the last several weeks. I have thought about this from two levels - social skills we need to work on at home and those we need to work on during activities /outings not at home. Right now the only two things Thatcher is involved in outside of our home is church and AWANA, but then there are grocery store trips, restaurant outings (rare nowadays), errands we run and the like.

As for church, I have temporarily stepped down from serving in our children's ministry. For the next eight weeks I will be Thatcher's buddy in all services he attends. If I would have known then what I know now, I would have done this with him three years ago when he started in the elementary ministry. Now we are having to reteach and retrain and that's always harder then just doing it right the first time before bad habits have the chance to form. Still I am very hopeful that we will be able to do great things in the next two months.

At our church students start in a large group room playing and doing activity stations. Then comes about 25 minutes of singing and a lesson presentation. Next, the children go to their small group rooms to review what they learned and do an activity to reinforce the main idea of the day. We are working with Thatcher on things like sitting still during the lesson, not moving place to place to place. Not calling out answers (or just his thoughts!) during the lesson. Not having meltdowns when the large group teacher calls for volunteers and he doesn't get chosen. Getting into line calmly when it's time to transition to small group without knocking all his friends down to be first in line. Really listening when the teacher talks and not just waiting for a pause to be able to interject his own brand of wisdom! ;) Appropriate hugging - who and how and when. I am sure there are more but that comes to mind first.

How am I doing this you may wonder? The answer is simple. Bribery. Thatcher is in love with Transformers Animated toys. Two of his favorite things on the planet, vehicles and robots, combined into one toy; life doesn't get any better for Thatch. He is always saving for some new Transformer he wants so I told him that he would receive one dollar at the end of the hour if he got three or less warnings from me. He would not get warnings for inappropriate behavior (that will come later as we have more training sessions behind us) but rather for not receiving Mommy's correction with a gentle and teachable spirit. That has to be our first goal. Thatcher often gets so frustrated when I try to correct him that he just growls (literally). We are first working on rooting that out. We have talked about how we are on the same team, "Team (our last name)" and that we are all working for the good of each member of our family and our family as a whole. As time progresses and good habits are established I am hoping to slowly fade into the background and thatthe success that we will have started to continue. I have no illusions that our problems will be magically fixed forever but just changing the trajectory from down to up - not perfection - is a goal. I am hoping to return to serving in a few months where I will still be in the room able to keep my eye on Thatch and help when he needs me, much more so than I have ever done in the past. I won't allow it to get as bad as it is now; I'll step in for a refresher course!

For AWANA, we have decided that next year we will not continue (mostly for reasons given in this post) but Thatch wants to finish the year and complete his book. As many weeks as possible I will be staying with him and working on similar goals mentioned above. My dh preaches on Wednesdays at our church and AWANA is at a different church down the road. Therefore, I am only able to stay with Thatch on the weeks when dh is able to work it out with his schedule.

Then there's the other stuff: grocery store, post office, restaurants...oh my! This is where I can get really stressed. Beckett is still an extremely active two (almost three) year old and then there's Thatcher who has to touch every.single.thing every where we go. He can get distracted and wander off in ten seconds flat. This is where we see more of the ADHD come into play. Between he and Beckett outings are exhausting. I am working on taking lots of little grocery store trips so Thatcher has the chance to experience success with the three things I always ask of him: stay next to me, hands to yourself, talk softly (becasuse he is a very loud child normally but gets even louder when he's overstimulated and he's definitely overstimulated on outings).

I am also being much more deliberate about talking to him about what our errands will look like and the exact behaviors I am looking for on the way to our destination.
"Thatch we are going into the post office to mail two things and buy stamps. There will be that large display of boxes and envelopes for sale but we need to remember that it's okay to look but not touch. We will stand in line for around five minutes and during that time you can quietly talk to me or your brothers but you may not interrupt other adults' conversation or hug them if they are strangers. Then when it's my turn in line you may say hello to the postal worker but then you must wait patiently and quietly while Mommy does business. Then you will be able to say goodbye. Do not tell your brothers what to do or get frustrated if you think they are doing something they shouldn't be. I will be right there and I will take good care of everyone so you don't have to. If you are worried about them, just tell me. "
Seriously that is how much scripting he needs on just about every errand we go on.

Today the social skills books I ordered were delivered so once I get a chance to look through them, I'll post my thoughts. So far, I am very excited about what I see!



Brittney said...


That boy of yours is so lucky to have you as a mom! You have an incredible plan that is going to set him up for success! I have appreciated your exposed heart as you write about him and the struggles you are facing. Hugs to you and your dear family!

Brittney@King Alfred Academy

Anonymous said...

My son has ADHD. I see a lot of copycat behavior with his younger sister. How do you explain to your other children that your oldest may not be the best role model? I want to be sensitive about my children's feelings about themselves and about their siblings but I do want to stop the copycat behavior. Any suggestions would be most helpful.

Thank you -

Merri Dennis said...

I just listened to a presentation about SPD and ways to help you and your children cope. The gal who presented the material is an OT and recently attended a seminar about Sensory Processing Issues.

I would be happy to pass along the handouts from the presentation.

Corrie said...

I can see how this would help ease some of my recent recent run-ins with my nine year old. I need to plan ahead to be patient and loving, so I can help de-escalate situations before both of us get out of control! Thank you for transparent sharing!

Corrie said...

I can see how this would help ease some of my recent recent run-ins with my nine year old. I need to plan ahead to be patient and loving, so I can help de-escalate situations before both of us get out of control! Thank you for transparent sharing!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing! Our story is incredibly similar- just change the names! I would be interested in future updates to see how your plan is working, and will try some of your ideas with our family. Looking forward to your review of the social skills books you purchased :)