Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Trouble with Socializing

I don't write here often enough. Every time I think, "Gosh, this would make such a great blog topic," the time to write isn't available, and when the time is there the moment has evaporated from my mind. At this moment, my tiniest guy is napping and I am enjoying a cup of afternoon espresso, so I'm making myself stop and write on an issue we just dealt with.
   One of my last posts(which, sadly, was almost exactly 2 years ago) was about trying to figure out the balance between apologizing for G's seemingly inappropriate behaviors in public while encouraging him in his progress in social settings. In the end we just always went to apologetic smiles to on-lookers and taking care of our guy's needs in the moment because lets face it- the feelings/impressions/misunderstandings of a random adult should pretty much ALWAYS come second to the needs of my kids. Now, at almost six years old, we've reached a new stage of the social scene. A stage where our gift is becoming painfully aware that he is incapable of handling social situations as he is both required as a matter of family rule and expected as a member of society to. It devastates him, and it breaks my heart.
   For example, Sunday school. We just moved half-way across the country five months ago, and started going to an incredible church which a large rotation of carefully screened volunteer Sunday School teachers, but most are lacking in any training for dealing with special needs. Most of them are like me(I teach in the preschool class), parents wanting to give back and help out in appreciation for the children's ministry that cares for our kids. But unlike me, most don't have backgrounds in education, special education, or even parenting special needs. Amazingly, though, they have without exception been incredible with our guy with little to no explanation that he may need some accommodation, or he may have seemingly random outbursts that are really, really significant to him, and sometimes just that he may seem defiant or disobedient purely because he's terrified and his default is to freeze and withdraw. One Sunday the kids told us in the car on the way home that he was allowed to go with his big sister(in an older section of the same class) for an activity, and I casually said how nice that was of the teachers. A week or so later I was chatting with a mom who occasionally volunteers and she mentioned she had been helping out one week when they'd split the kids into age groups. When they asked the 2nd graders(Big Sister's age) to go to a different activity, she noticed G's face immediately crumple into panic when he realized he as a kindergartner would be without his Big Sister so she stepped in and sent him along with the bigger kids. That touched my mama-heart so much, I got a bit teary about it. For the most part, he can handle social situations, but he needs to feel safe, and when they're in the big class room with lots of kids and different teachers every week, his big sister's presence gives him that.
   Then there are days like today, when despite his security blanket of family and accommodation, he realizes  that he struggles. We were discussing their lesson after lunch, and he mentioned having stepped on some one's leg. I said, "Oh no, did you say you were sorry and ask if they were okay?" His face dropped in shame and he turned red. His sister filled in the rest. "Actually, he stepped on two girls' legs, and no, he didn't apologize," she said, "He hid and wouldn't talk." I reminded him of our family rules- that when we hurt some one, no matter if by accident or on purpose, we apologize and ask if they're okay. He ran away sobbing. After giving him some alone time to calm down, I went to his "hideout"(aka the bottom of the pantry cupboard), sat on the floor outside the door and had a talk. He was able to verbalize to me that he was mad at himself because he doesn't like hurting people. I told him I understood but that's one reason why we need to apologize and make sure people are okay- so they know we're kind and didn't mean it. He began to cry again, gouging at his eyes with his fingers and slapping himself in the face. Through his tears he told me that he had tried to apologize because he wanted to, but the words wouldn't come out. They were choking him in his throat and wouldn't come in his mouth because he couldn't breathe. He said the choking made him angry because he WANTED to be a kind boy but his body wouldn't work. Pretty profound description of panic coming from a five-year-old. Oh, how my heart broke for my boy.

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