Whose Social Skills?

Long, long ago, in those long gone years of 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009, Robert walked to high school cafeteria with his aide, Mrs. Scott. Before they reached the table, they were surrounded by other students – some from his classroom, some not.  I was told that Robert loved to eat lunch with his peers.  His peers also liked to sit next to him and next to Mrs. Scott.  Her personality attracted others.  The way she treated Robert – her acceptance of his idiosyncrasies, her ways of addressing him, let other students relax and treat him with similar approval.  As far as I know, she did not use that time for any extra training of social skills. From time to time, as necessary, she might have given  Robert some cues of how to behave or what to say, but she did not follow any special curriculum.  She was just herself and let others be their better selves too. I can speculate as to why the other students were attracted to the  table where Mrs. Scott and Robert sat.  They probably felt safer there. They did not feel rejected by many in-groups made by the students on higher levels of pecking order.  Robert, despite his antics, didn’t seem threatening.  To the contrary, he seemed interesting. They did not have to pretend to be somebody else to fit with “cool” guys.  They could relax, accept each other including Robert, and feel good about themselves.

Those years are long gone.  Mrs. Scott retired and moved to Vermont.

The sad years of loneliness followed. Years of Robert being relegated to a separate table, with pages of word searches. In the eyes of his teacher, he didn’t deserve to be taught with the rest of his peers. Well, they didn’t seem to be his peers anymore.

The sad years when nobody wanted to join him for adaptive physical ed lessons and  pass a ball to him or catch a ball he might throw.  Nobody would call his name in the games which were not played.

Of course, during those piercingly lonely years, there were always social skills goals in all of my son’s IEPs.  They were mostly the same and didn’t result in an acquisition of any of them.

Just this Monday, as I emphasized the need for Robert to be less reliable on his 1-1 aide and to foster his independence necessary for adulthood, the classroom teacher opposed that idea arguing that without the aide, Robert would not have anybody to talk to and would be very lonely.

I understood what he meant.  I understood that under the leadership of the last three teachers, no student sees Robert as his or her peer.  Nobody sees a value in talking to him, working with him, playing with him.

He is not one of them. I don’t know what image of Robert has been installed in other students minds, but it is not the one which elicits acceptance.

You cannot make a person fit in the group that passively reject him or her.  Those words from the teacher  made me realize how terribly lonely my son has been in this classroom. I couldn’t bear the pain of that realization.

When, I came home, the pain turned into anger.  The anger transformed into this post.

Robert loneliness might be partially caused by his underdeveloped social skills, his difficulties speaking and communicating. But it is mainly caused by those who year after year write down artificial social skills goals for Robert, but never for themselves.

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  1. Annette

     /  December 6, 2013

    So well said! I hurt for my boy as well and hate it when the “others” say it’s because he can’t socialize properly. My boys loves to be with others, even though he can’t communicate in the typical way. I hope your Robert finds some meaningful friendship, as I hope for my Liam. Take care, Annette

  2. Jean

     /  December 7, 2013

    I wholeheartedly agree. Painful for our children and us as parents. I hope your pain is reduced through sharing on this blog. I enjoy and relate to many of your posts. Jean


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