Raiyan just loves to be around friends. It doesn’t even matter if they are children that he’s familiar with. It’s enough that he sees boys or girls that are around his age and he will attempt to strike up some kind of interplay with them. He usually succeeds in the past year when he does this at the beach or the park as the only games he and the kids would end up playing would be running, chasing and basically games that does not necessarily require verbally conversing maintaining a conversation.
However, it’s not quite the same situation in school and amongst his classmates and he is beginning to realize the increasing challenge of sustaining their interests in him when they choose to not engage in running and chasing and instead are scrummed together chatting and having actual conversations with each other. The sad part is that Raiyan doesn’t quite understand why exactly he’s getting ignored and instead he takes it personally and thinks that the other kids simply don’t like him.
What we try to tell him again and again is that sometimes other children may not want to play running and chasing games or they don’t want to hear him talk about dinasours repeatedly and that’s okay because they simply want to do their own thing just like how he only wants to do his own thing all the time. We try to prove our point further by reminding him that when we tell him to play with the children in whatever they are doing, he in turn says he doesn’t want to because it doesn’t interest him.
He’s getting more and more sensitive about this as just the other day, Jo was telling us about him playing hide and seek with a bunch of boys at school and somehow they forgot to find him and so he was still in hiding until he realized they’ve all left. So he went to Jo and asked “where are my friends?” and Jo pointed them out to be over there and told Raiyan to join them. But Raiyan poutily said “no. I don’t want to. They left me.” (Fortunately on this occasion, one of the boys came over soon after and said “there you are Raiyan! We are waiting for you! Come!” And Raiyan was all smiles again and continued playing with them. Sadly, there are other times which I’ve witnessed myself that Raiyan just gets completely ignored by his friends when he tries to engage them, especially when he starts going on and on about his dinasours and animals).
Hearing of Raiyan’s emotional reaction of being rejected is just too heartbreaking and yet we are also happy that he is finally capable of feeling such emotions. From being somebody who was oblivious to other children and couldn’t care less if there was anybody next to him to play and interact with, to become somebody who clearly possesses a strong desire to be part of the group is utterly and completely bittersweet. When we have to explain his friends’ actions in the simplest terms to him, we can’t help but say things like “but sometimes they just don’t want to play with you or they don’t want to hear about your dinasours and that’s why they are ignoring you” etc which to anyone I’m sure is very hurtful to hear. Having to then sit and watch him crying over what we told him is truly so painful but we just have to remember that this is a good stepping stone for him as it is only through realizing this feeling would he hopefully try and improve on his social skills seeing how important it is for him to have friends.
Kerri has lent me the Social Skills Picture Book (which I have placed in my sidebar) and I’m so overwhelmed with the abundance of social rules that need to be taught. Simple conversation skills that we take for granted and that comes naturally to us really have to be taught step by step in the clearest manner to children with autism. With Raiyan going up into Year 2 soon, there would certainly be more conversational interaction between the children that requires him to listen and respond appropriately at all times so it is indeed timely for us to begin systematically instilling these rules.
As a basic start, I’ve been drilling rules of talking to someone which is:
- To make eye contact
- To have quiet hand and feet
- And to not talk and interrupt while the other person is talking.
Alhamdulillah it is working so far with him making better efforts at doing all of these because he knows that if he does otherwise, this may lead to friends not wanting to play with him. At the same time, I also remind him that when others don’t want to be with him (which at times include me!), he doesn’t have to feel terribly sad about it because it may just mean that they can’t be with him right at that time because they are doing something else and if he just patiently wait and do something else first, they might just come back to him.
I admit that in the past, I was more pressured to carry out pressing on all these social rules for the benefit of others and shamefully I further admit, for myself. It was derived more from my needs for others to not view Raiyan strangely and my dreams of seeing my child accepted and belonging to a group. But I realize when those were my exclusive motives, I always struggled with my own guilt for feeling like as if I’m not happy with who my child is just because he’s not accepted by others. And within time, I stopped relentlessly drilling in him these rules day in and day out and I just decided to leave it to nature and see Raiyan traverse naturally into it according to his own needs and not others. For a while he has been getting away with it well, playing with a new friend at the beach and having a best friend from another class. We can therefore deduce that it was probably during all that time that Raiyan learnt the value of friends which has then culminated in him becoming more insightful with his friends’ actions. But I think we (including Raiyan) have all realized that what he has been doing before this is not enough to sustain the interest of six or seven year olds which would in turn justify the need to relentlessly drill some of the social rules because it really is that necessary if Raiyan really does want to maintain playing together with his friends.
Hopefully with this awareness in Raiyan now, teaching and guiding him in all of the social and behavioural rules will be somewhat easier because Raiyan can now understand why he needs to do them and he would be motivated by his own needs rather than just doing it for the sake of complying with what we tell him to do. And on my part, I am definitely more relaxed in my own so called “needs” because not only am I confident that Raiyan will insyaAllah be able to work through and master the skills we teach him, but I am also positive that friends would actually love to be his friend once they discover what an honest, loyal, gentle, loving, funny and incredibly interesting boy he is!
Raiyan was expected to bring an “artifact” to school the other day but it slipped poor babah’s mind as he had to be a single parent again this week with me being away in Singapore. On one of the nights that I was away, babah typically brought the kids out to Hua Ho to spend some quality time together and of course for him to sporadically indulge in solely spoiling them without me putting the strict brakes on.
With Raiyan being all into dinasours now, it was no surprise that he went home with a new bucket of dinasour figurines (to add to his gazillion collections already). The next day, he very casually asked babah if he can take his dinasours to school for “show and tell” . We as his parents are somewhat aware that his class has “show and tell” sessions but weren’t completely sure on what day it was. Impressed with Raiyan’s initiative, babah gave the green light and Raiyan happily lugged his bucket of dinasour figurines to school.
The afterschool report we had received from Jo was just short of hilarious! Apparently, Raiyan had already sensed some level of guilt for talking and breathing dinasours a bit too much before Jo (as I think because Jo would see it more with her spending more time with him in school). So Jo told us of his immediate “uh-oh” look when he saw Jo come into class without a chance of him hiding his dinasours.
Jo: What’s that?
Raiyan: It’s my artifact because we are supposed to bring artifacts to class!
Jo: But Raiyan, that is not at artifact! Artifacts are old things that have been around for a very long time.
Raiyan: But DUH Jo, dinasours are artifacts because they are a million years old!!
HOW CAN YOU ARGUE WITH THAT?! LOL!