My daughter goes to an ASD socialization group every couple of weeks. I usually can't go because I work evenings, but tonight I had off so I was able to go. The kids break up into groups to help foster some social networking skills, and the parents are free to attend a special conference event, usually focusing on some ideas and resources for parents to deal with the difficulties of having a child on the spectrum. I thought it would be nice to tag along with the family.
I'm not so sure I want to go again.
The subject of the conference was helping your ASD child improve their social skills. As the presentation went on, I felt myself getting more and more stressed out. First of all, the presenter decided to go with an interactive format, which threw me off. I didn't know we were supposed to be answering questions! I was ready to trudge through the boring parts by playing cell phone games. What happens if I get called on? Now I have to pay attention! It felt like I was back in elementary school, without the fun of gym class. And the worst of it is, they are asking questions that I have no idea how to answer. For example:
"What does it mean to you to be social or to have a friend?"
I have Aspergers. I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT.
As the discussion continues, the parents start offering examples of the difficulties that their children face. Many of these are greeted with chuckles or bursts of laughter from the crowd - probably from knowing all too well what the commenter has gone through. However, I experience a lot of the same issues that are being shared... and chuckled and laughed at. Now I feel like I'm being made fun of. Once again, just like elementary school.
It also bothered me that a lot of the conference seemed geared towards how to "fix" the problems of the ASD child, such as coming up with ways to get the child to socialize and make friends or "succeed" in social situations. This turned me off completely. Is Autism something that needs to be fixed? Am I a failure just because I'm not as comfortable in social situations as an NT is?
My wife says I'm crazy, and that's not what it's all about. I agree that I am probably oversensitive due to my unique viewpoint. I just think that parents focus too much on their expectations and what they want for their child. What they should be focusing on is what makes their child happy and help them achieve those goals. If the kid wants to be more social, then helping them along is a wonderful thing. But if the kid is happy playing by him/herself and wants to be left alone, forcing socialization skills on him/her is just a self-serving act to comfort the parent's anxieties of failure and social rejection.
As if to underscore this theme, the conference ended with the parents breaking up into smaller groups to share ideas and solutions that worked for them. I snuck out the back door before our group formed. Thankfully, and this is why I love her, my wife didn't force me to stay.