Monday, August 22, 2011

Socialization, preschool, and my Aspie brain

Happy Monday morning, everyone!

I was inspired to write this post based on my observations of the four year old son of my best friend.  Her son, let's call him David, is one of those kids who is truly amazing.  He's smart, sneaky, adventurous, generally well behaved, kind, and most of all, really, REALLY social.  I had the pleasure of camping for several days last week with David and his mom, my best friend whom we shall call Lynn, and I observed things about David and to some extent Lynn that truly baffled my poor Aspie brain.

The clearest example is when we went to a particular beach, and David felt no problem at all walking up to a girl his age, asking to play, sitting down, and playing.  Lynn had no problem talking to the girl's parents, and they sat there on the beach, total strangers, talking for over an hour (time I spent swimming in the lake, not wanting to deal with all of that pesky, difficult, social contact with strangers, despite how wonderfully nice they were).  I later asked Lynn about this--can you really just randomly talk to people? Play with strangers?  Doesn't this seem odd to you?  Does David do it?

Oh yes, Lynn said, I love talking to people.  And so does David.  He's very social, and loves being with people. And I love meeting new friends that way.  It's fun!

I simply goggled.  Even though I have to believe what I saw with my own eyes, my Aspie brain simply could not compute.  To me, the idea of randomly talking to strangers is, well, scary.  I sometimes do find myself getting into conversations with strangers in odd places, especially when waiting in line, and each time it happens I am left confused.  Many years ago, I even had someone in the next stall in the bathroom at a grocery store ask me for advice about whether she should keep her long distance boyfriend, or dump him. I sort of listened, but couldn't understand why she was talking to a total stranger about personal things (in  the bathroom no less, this was an overall strange situation).  I like to think I am warm and friendly, and I will answer questions if asked to some extent (do you like this beer?  Yes, it is great, and so is this one), but to sit down and have an hour long conversation with strangers?  Way, way out of my realm.  But not out of their realm, which made me realize that for all that I love them. and they love me, we are really different from each other.

The next thing that hit me is when we went to the Parent's night for the preschool David was about to start attending.  I  heard about sharing, about circles, about learning friendship, about playing, etc.  I saw the kids all immediately go out to the playground and start playing together (with supervision, of course!).  I saw David gabbing away with his best friend, and talking to the kids he'd never met.  I read the overview of the preschool and saw that talking to each other and socialization was a huge part of their curriculum.

And I saw that David LOVED it, that he was looking forward to it, and that he thrived in this environment.  I saw that he didn't need preschool for educational purposes, as his parents do an amazing job with that at home, but that he needed preschool because he needed, and wanted, the socialization.

Until this point, I had always sort of looked down on preschool, thinking that if it was feasible in terms of having a stay at home parent, it was better to teach the kid those things at home.  What I had failed to realize is that I was imposing my innate, ingrained fear of socialization onto everyone.  Why?  Because until I was diagnosed with having Autism Spectrum Disorder last year, I didn't really understand or believed that people actually liked to socialize and make friends with strangers and be with people all the time.  In fact, I still don't get it, and it still baffles me, but I have learned to accept that I have the unusual brain, and not everyone is like me.

At the same time, I am everlastingly grateful I was not in preschool, and in fact didn't go to public school at all until 3d grade.  I wish now, and read the Erudite Mom's post on the subject for more details, that I had been home schooled further.

The moral of the story is--preschool can be a very good thing for kids like David.  And it is a very, very bad thing for kids like me.  If I ever have kids, I will be sure to remember this lesson.

God bless you all,

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