I didn’t realize what the problem was until today

I’ve come to an important realization today. I used to think that Elliott didn’t have any issues with socialization. He has friends and interacts with them throughout the day. When we’re out in public, he’s the most polite kid in the world, and people comment on it all the time. 

All those things are good. They’re great actually, because not all kids on the Autism Spectrum have those skills. 

Unfortunately, it never occurred to me that what he’s been struggling with has to do with social skills. On the surface, everything seems great. It’s when you look a bit deeper that the problems become more apparent. 

Elliott struggles to understand where people are coming from. 
Today is a perfect example. 

Elliott was riding the bus home from the field trip to the zoo, and he was sitting with one of his best friends. He noticed that his friend was talking underneath his breath, as Elliott put it. Elliott asked him what he was saying and his friend told him he wasn’t saying anything. 

Whether he was or wasn’t saying something isn’t the point. Elliott took it as his friend is keeping secrets from him, and it ruined the rest of his day. 

It’s really easy for me to forget that this kind of thing happens all the time, because Elliott is so intelligent. When you talk to Elliott, you’d never guess he was Autistic, unless you know what you’re looking for. If you spent time with him, it would become more apparent as that time went on. 

Elliott is always getting his feelings hurt, because he doesn’t understand where other people are coming from. It’s probably a social queue thing, but it’s not in all situations. It seems to be in situations where he’s experiencing emotion. 

I’ve spoken with him countless times about how he’s reading into things. Intellectually he understands, but emotionally it’s lost on him. 

I can always tell if something happened by the way he walks out to the car after school. When he tells me what took place, it’s usually the result of him simply reading the situation wrong. 

To be fair, most of the kids in his class are on the Autism Spectrum, so they aren’t always gifted in the ways of communication. I’m sure that doesn’t make it any easier. 

The other issue has to do with Elliott being so literal. Emmett is way more literal than Elliott but it’s still a big problem.

I’m looking forward to working on some of these things this summer. I don’t have a plan in place just yet, but as soon as I have some ideas, I’ll share them here. 

11 Comments

  1. Jimmy Rock

    This is important stuff. It has seemed, and you explicitly state it here, that you didn’t really think that Elliott had any challenges socially. While the clinical definition of autism has changed over the years, the element of difficulties with social communication has always been a cornerstone of that definition. If Elliott was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, then those social difficulties exist, at least in the opinion of the practitioner who diagnosed him.

    Issues with perspective taking can present big challenges. Keep in mind that your interactions with Elliott are restricted on many levels and subject to routine, rules, and discipline. The father-son relationship is a much easier social construct for him. Same goes for his interactions with adults in general. He is polite, says please and thank you? Not surprising – he’s simply following the rules that he’s been taught. And those rules make sense to him.

    Put him in a social situation with his peers, and all those social rules that apply to adults — all those rules that make sense to him — are out the window. Not saying there are no rules, but the rules are different, with countless exceptions, and there is an endless amount more of them. On top of that, they are constantly changing. Plus his peers are more unpredictable than you or other adults he encounters.

    It doesn’t seem you get to actually observe Elliott socializing with his peers very much, so it’s understandable that you can kind of forget about these difficulties that he has. His intelligence obviously serves him well and allows him to mask these struggles, at least to some extent.

    As for a plan – I think the absolute most beneficial thing you can do for him in this regard — and it doesn’t have to cost you a dime — is play dates.

  2. Facebook Profile photo bwiren

    Oh boy Rob. Elliot reminds me of my now adult son with HFA, Jacob. Jacob has such a high IQ that he looked at how we acted, and deliberately mimicked us as a child. So he wasn’t diagnosed with Asperger’s until he was 19! Jacob is so verbal that people thought he was just rude, at least in the past. He’s finally learned to relate much better to others. One of his coworkers told me Jacob had the best customer service skills there. I was so thrilled!

    Elliott is still young and he will hopefully learn to be less sensitive. I think presenting him with different reasons his friends say what they do may at some point sink in. He will need to stop making everything about him, or he will stay upset and hurt by other people. (I know it’s hard.)

    As a person with mild autism, I can say I have been sensitive most of my life. However, as I have learned and grown over the years, my sensitivity has greatly lessened. Sometimes time is just needed to learn some lessons.

  3. kimmy gebhardt

    I’m going to mimic what Jimmy said and make the same suggestion I’ve made before- play dates. He needs exposure to more than just Emmett. The rules for brothers are not the same rules that apply to friends. Perhaps the more time Elliott spends around his peers, the more his perceptions will evolve. He can’t be the only child in the school that would benefit from socialization- get together with the other parents and work to help each other’s kids while helping your own.

  4. Jimmy Rock

    By definition (specifically referring to DSM 5 but it probably generally applies to any reasonable definition you can find), an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis necessarily requires a deficit in social communication and interaction, so everyone on the spectrum has some sort of “social issues”. I definitely agree that it can be difficult to detect, particularly by the untrained eye, in milder or “high functioning” cases.

    I am curious though – when signs of a social communication deficit are an absolute prerequisite to a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder — how is it possible that “not all kids in the spectrum have social issues”? I mean, the “social issues” (however that may be defined) can certainly be less pronounced in some cases, but if you struggle with social communication and interaction to the extent that you have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, while you certainly can have a happy and healthy social life, you’re going to have some social challenges to overcome which are greater than your neurotypical peers.

    Sorry, I’m not trying to turn this into a clinical discussion (neither of us are doctors but as parents of autistic kids that qualifies us to discuss this on some level, doesn’t it? ;)) but I’m curious as to what I’m missing here. We can certainly have a difference of opinion but I didn’t think there was too much wiggle room here to create a difference of opinion.

  5. Erica

    I thought, in order to receive an autism diagnosis, social-communication issues had to be present, whether the person was diagnosed under the DSM4-TR or the DSM-5? I think the stereotype of HFA, is someone boorish, aloof, egregiously awkward — and prone to frequent altercations with their peers … but for many people, social issues will be much more subtle. Especially in childhood when expectations are low (relatively speaking). And especially when the person is highly intelligent, like Elliot, and is using said intelligence to compensate. For me, my social challenges, while somewhat obvious in childhood, didn’t truly stand out until I became a teen/young adult. At that point, I pretty much “crashed and burned”. Royally, in fact. I think for some of us, we fumble along with a “passing grade”, socially… until demands are increased; at which point, the holes in our understanding (and the strain of compensation) become much more apparent to everyone around us. I’m so glad your little guy was diagnosed early and has access to support and understanding. So many I know like him have had to face serious struggles and confusion before anyone recognized what was up.
    You are a great dad

    1. Thank you. I think you’re absolutely right. The problem is that when kids are diagnosed really young, it’s tough to see the social skills. You’re right also, in regards to Elliott. He’s so intelligent that he compensates really well. It was really hard to pick-up on some of these social issues. Thank you again..

  6. Jimmy Rock

    Thanks to Erica for reinforcing what I commented on above and using her own personal experience as an example. Maybe her words will resonate more with you, Rob, than mine. But whatever the case may be, I do hope you take what she and I have independently said and think about it a bit. Believe me, I appreciate that you’re doing a service to the autism community and the general population, but please rethink your position regarding socialization and autism. It’s kind of important, and without mincing words, you’re wrong (your statement “not all kids in the spectrum have social issues”). This isn’t something that’s open to debate. You can absolutely say that it’s difficult for a layperson to discern a difficulty in socialization with a particular individual diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. However, as I said above, “an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis necessarily requires a deficit in social communication and interaction.” I mean, you are “the Autism Dad” – I think it’s important, for what you are trying to do here, that you understand what an autism diagnosis means and that one of its critical components is that struggle with social communication, irrespective of whether most people see that social struggle or not.

    And it’s also important that you understand it for your kids, so that you understand their challenges, and so that you can provide the support they need for those challenges.

    I hope this is taken in the spirit that it’s intended. I think you’re working really hard for your kids, and I think what you’re trying to do here for the greater community is commendable. But as I said to start off my first comment on this post, this is important stuff.

    Keep plugging away, Rob – you’re doing a great job.

    1. Jimmy, I only have a second as I’m at the doctors with Emmett. I’m not understanding your comment though. I’ll have to read back. I was simply saying that not all kids tick every box on the Autism symptoms chart. Some have obvious socialization problems and others have far less obvious ones, as is the case with Elliott.

      Every child is impacted differently and not all kids are impacted in a noticeable social way. It doesn’t mean it’s not there, it just means it isn’t obvious to most people, if they don’t know what to look for.

      Thanks my friend. I hope I cleared my position up. I didn’t mean to misrepresent my stance.

  7. Facebook Profile photo bwiren

    Rob, I’ve looked up and down the pages for the most recent entries, and I’ve re-signed in a couple times. I still can’t find where the comments went on the last three blog posts. I got here by clicking on an older comment.

Please Share Your Thoughts