Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Social Awareness Can Totally Suck

Social Awareness: understanding how you react to different social situations, and effectively modify your interactions with others so you achieve the best result.


I was going to write about how social awareness really sucks some times, when I noticed I already had a draft saved titled "Social Awareness Sucks" from just over a year ago. Seems we have come full circle. We are at a different level of sucky-ness than when I wrote the first draft. When I wrote the first draft my heart was so broken for Joey, which is why I never finished the post. It still really breaks my heart when I think back to that time.

Let me start by saying that I have always admired Joey's ability to do what he enjoys without fear of what others might think of him. He had always been content to do his own thing even if he was doing it alone. Also, let me say kids can be so mean!

Joey's lack of social awareness was a bittersweet blessing, it protected him from the cruelty of his classmates. While he was content to do his own thing, he wanted nothing more that to have friends and be included. He tried so hard and did everything he should have to make friends, but he was already written off as the "weird kid". He was deemed one of the weird ones because of he couldn't sit still and talked too much, his behavior when he was frustrated with his school work, and because he wrote/colored like a kindergartner (dysgraphia).  Every day he tried to engage his classmates, every day he was rebuffed by them. I was shattered the day he told me about the game he got played with his "friends", it was called "Joey Can't Play". He explained it that he goes to different groups of kids and tries to join whatever game they are playing and they find different ways to make it look like he was playing but he wasn't actually allowed to play. He had the biggest smile on his face when he told me too. To him this was his way to be included. The blessing part of this, he had no idea that kids were being cruel and counted every single kid in his class as his friend. Having to talk to him about how his "friends" weren't really his friends, was one of the more difficult conversations I've had to have with him.

Fast forward a couple months and a new medication change, Joey hits the beginnings of social awareness. He comes home from school with the realization that everyone hates him. He sits by the wall all recess or on the"Buddy Bench" (the bench for when you're looking for someone willing to play with you). His class had instituted "The Joey Touch" and it had started to overflow to the rest of the grade during lunches. Everyone groaned and tried to switch partners when paired up with him. He couldn't figure out what he was doing wrong to make everyone dislike him. The more he tried to act like everyone else the more the pushed him away. They were even setting him up to get in trouble, they would invite him to play tag then tell the recess monitors that he was chasing them (the school social worker was able to actually witness this a few times).

Beginning of 5th grade, we saw the grace of social awareness, although he still struggled to be liked by his peers. He curbed some of his quirky ways while at school. When he talked to peers he stayed mostly on their topic. He focused on finding just one or two kids to be friends with. He stayed away from the kids who were being mean or rude to him. He tried reverse psychology on them per my request just to see what would happen. He stopped chasing the girls at recess when they asked, he'd walk up to a group of kids playing a game ask what they were doing then walk away uninterested. Slowly the kids started noticing that Joey wasn't trying to be included and started finding ways to include themselves in what he was doing. I'm so grateful that worked in our favor, we had a 50/50 shot of that actually working. He was less frustrated with his school work due to finally finding a medication that worked for him. His teacher was awesome and did a lot of class work together; as his peers started realize Joey's really smart and has really good ideas they stopped complaining when they were paired up with him.

That brings us to now, end of 5th grade beginning of 6th grade. He has a pretty good handle on what the social norms are. He still has areas he needs to work on but has made amazing progress, and I'm so proud of him. He has a couple friends and talks at least in passing to most of the kids. He's so afraid to be singled out as the weird kid again. He doesn't want to do anything that might cause his peers to think he's different from them. He doesn't want any accommodations that help him with his school work (like going to the resource room during tests) or teachers checking that he has any homework packed to be taken home. He understands that everything we put in place is to help make life easier on him and is meant to be temporary, but he doesn't want to be different anymore. As of right now we have no modifications or accommodations in place.

His being wary of what being different has overflowed to outside of school also. He doesn't want to take his ADHD medication and refuses to cooperate at occupational therapy. Yesterday I was called back at OT because Joey refused to do any of the exercises and literally had the OT chasing him wall to wall. Once I was back there he stood arms crossed and refused to do what he was asked until I threatened to take one of his privileges away. His reasoning he's not autistic like the other kids who go there (granted majority of the kids who also go the therapy center are more severely autistic), and it makes him feel like we think of him as "autistic like them". I have sat down and talk with Joey about why he needs his medication and therapy many times; he knows he needs both, but doesn't want to need them. He doesn't want to be different anymore.