Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Word on Social Skills, SPD and Home schooling

We took an extended lunch break today because I had to pick up a few things at the local Dollar Store.  We shared the store with a smattering of other customers to the point that we passed by someone every third aisle or so.  Each time we had to pass by someone, Beauty said "Excuse me" without my prompting her.  Every time

She also places her own order at a restaurant and tells the cashiers at stores "Thank you" before leaving.  All of this is with no prompting from me.  I used to have to remind her of such common courtesies, but no more.  Furthermore, she has NEVER thrown a tantrum in public or demanded a toy or behaved badly in such ways that seem to be common among children her age nowadays. 

I don't intend to come off as bragging, but I am very proud of her in this regard.  My point is: I have had several "concerned" people ask me the usual questions pertaining to home schooling and social skills.  Aren't you concerned that she won't obtain the proper social skills necessary to perform in the "real world"?  They seem to think that being special needs increases her chances of not being able to perform appropriately while in public.  Considering the above, what social skills do they think she is lacking?

Now, let me clarify something.  I have seen "public school" children behave both appropriately and inappropriately in public.  Furthermore, not all home schooled children are little angels;  though most are, at least while shopping or dining or other such public activities.  I contribute this to two things really:  1. Since they accompany adults on many adult outings and spend the bulk of their time with adults, they learn early how to behave like an adult in public.  2. The adults who have the most influence over the child, usually parents, actually behave appropriately themselves.  I remember when I worked at a video store.  At least every other day I would witness parents screaming at their children or at the clerk and I dare say 99 percent of the time the children were demanding and yelling as well.  I once overheard a young man, a bystander, ask a mother, who was chewing out the clerk and simultaneously telling her screaming child to shut-up,  why she expected her child to exhibit good behavior when she wasn't behaving well herself.  Ouch.  But, in most cases, I would have to agree with that young man.

That being said, I also know what it is like to have a child with sensory challenges and autistic tendancies.  I know all about meltdowns and sensory overload.  For many children, the public arena sparks sensory overload.  The child isn't misbehaving, per se, rather, the lighting or sounds or a number of other factors beyond the child's control is simply too much for him or her.  Every child is different and it is up to the parent to help their child manage and/or avoid such situations.

Now, let me take a step back and clarify something else.  While Beauty exhibits proper shopping and dining etiquette, she is not without her challenges.  We have to deal with two very contradicting things.  First, she tends to want to hug random people or invade their personal space.  While most people don't care, it simply is not safe or appropriate.  I am talking about strangers:  fellow shoppers, people in waiting rooms, etc.  Her ST and OT have been working on this with her and I am seeing great results.  Second, she can smack out of the blue and for what seems to be no reason.  Refer to the last paragraph.  Some days, nay, moments she's "just off".  We all have our "off" days, but Beauty's usually results in smacking someone.  We are learning when to predict these "off" moments and, upon careful study and thought, are generally able to do so.  It is at such times that we alter or tweak our plans, or prepare ourselves to act when necessary.

Case in point, Beauty smacked her friend after church on Sunday night.  She never does it to be mean; it is almost like a reflex.  The real cause:  she sat still for an hour during the service.  When it was over, she ran outside with the little girl and had some very brief moments of play before the girl's mother was ready to leave.  When the girl seated herself in her van, I hollered for Beauty to "come on".  She was thus put in a situation where she had to release excess energy while not disobeying my summons and had to deal with the disappointment of not continuing her play time.  So, she reached in and smacked the girl.  The girl and her mother know by now not to take it seriously, bless their hearts.  What should have happened is this: 1. I should have directed her to stay with me and/or left immediately after services or 2. Instead of calling for her, I should have handed the baby over to someone else, approached the van, and challenged her with a race to our car.   

We have a lot of learning to do still, but we are now making an effort to provide her with proper sensory stimulation before doing anything that requires calm and to not expect her to remain so for long periods of time.  She also  will "meltdown" or smack when she is overly tired, embarrassed or hungry.  Not all situations can be predicted or avoided, but it is crucial that we as parents remain calm and focused. 
Final word: If Beauty has difficulty "making it in the real world", it will be because of her learning differences and special needs, not because she is home schooled.
Wow, this may be my longest entry yet!

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