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Autism, AD/HD Socialization Question

by Kim Carter
(Hesperia, CA)

Hi Annie,
My son is 12 yrs in age and about 8-9 yrs in maturity age. He has mild autism and more severe AD/HD and has not been able to make a friend to save his life.

He is intelligent and sweet and kind but talks non-stop. When he is around older or young kids or adults, he does fine but in school with peers of his own age says off the wall things.

I am at a loss as to what to do to help him. He is in regular education this year but no matter what class, he feels like the kids all hate him. I have talked to teachers, school counselors, principals, etc. but no one knows how to help him.

Is there anything you can suggest?

Thank you, Kim

Comments for Autism, AD/HD Socialization Question

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The Challenges Of A Child With Autism & ADHD - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Kim,

My heart goes out to you, there is nothing more challenging for a parent to feel you can't help your child. Autism and ADHD are particularly difficult for parents, and of course for teachers also. Understandably you want your son to have a normal childhood experience, but unfortunately he is not equipped to deal with what is considered normal or average.

Our systems - school, society etc are set up to cater to the average child/person. Much of our socialization and conditioning is to mold kids to fit into this average range. It does make life easier, simpler and less conflicting, when people conform to norms and behave in ways that are socially acceptable.

But you have a little being that is going to challenge all that, and certainly challenge you as a parent!

We have these expectations that kids should be able to relate to their peers, and should learn to fit in and adapt. Lots of kids can adapt (& I don't necessarily think that is a good thing), lots of kids can't - or find it more challenging.

Psychiatric diagnosis can be useful to get access to services and support and information. But I believe these powerful labels also carry a danger in that the child is now seen through a filter of traits, and the more we expect and look for those traits or symptoms the more they are there. Schools in particular are very quick to slot kids into boxes.

I am sure you have agonized over what are the best schooling options for him, and looked into any alternatives. But I am wondering if there is any flexibility in the system where you live. Sometimes kids who just don't fit, do much better with part time school and use the other time for activities that suit him better. (Rather than trying to make him suit school!)

Schools simply can't operate around the needs of one child, each child can only really have 2-3 minutes of a teacher's time per hour. Your son needs more intensive stimulation, meeting him on his level, his energy, rather than the pressure to conform to the average.

My sister would have been diagnosed these days as ADHD. Back when I was growing up she was just labeled naughty. My parents did the best they could, but just did not have the tools in the early days to deal with a child that was bouncing off walls. In hindsight my Mother has realized her traditional parenting methods just did not suit this kind of child.

We expect our kids to adapt and fit in, but it really is a two way street, parents have to adapt and fit the needs of a child, and with a little bundle of energy such as your son, he is forcing you to question and look for other answers. Believe it or not, one of his strengths and unique abilities is to challenge the status quo. We need kids and certainly adults in the future to challenge what we expect and to not settle for normal when you can have full on energy and enthusiasm! (I know it is not that simple!)

Part Two Follows . . . .

The Challenges Of A Child With Autism & ADHD - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

With ADHD, he needs lots of physical energy burning activities, and also skill based simple activities to help him focus - moving meditations, like moving to music with eyes closed and learning to tune in to his body. Another one is cloud popping - lying on the grass, whispers only and concentrating on popping the clouds in the sky. He will be unlikely to stick at these things for long, but making it fun, keeping it simple and frequent, interspersed with energy activity will help to build the bridges.

Lots of basic schooling like maths and language can take place out doors using the physical body to anchor in the learning. When he is in touch with his own physicality, he starts to be aware of his own boundaries. Autistic people often tend to over step the boundaries of what is considered acceptable behavior, and they can also be very sensitive to their own physical space.

When a child's energy is very powerful and full on, we have a tendency to want to squash it or quieten it down. But he will likely connect more with people when the energy is matched and once there is a connection then you can slow it down a bit to switch focus.

How can you help the school to help your son in school?

Consider educating his class - kids know a child has been labeled "different" or "special needs" they are aware that he might get different treatment to the rest, he may even get away with more unacceptable behavior than they do. But more often than not, kids don't understand why.

If there is a way you and your son could do a presentation to the class to explain, and to offer ideas of how they can engage him, then it may help to increase their level of interaction with him. Bring it into the open that he can't relate and react the way they do, and see if you can give them some tips to make that easier.

You say he relates to adults and younger children. Observe him and them, and see what is different in the way they and he talk or communicate. Younger kids tend to be more accepting, and less judgmental, plus if he is a lower maturity age, then he will relate more on their level. Adults - does he respond and interact when they are engaged in what he is doing? Does the adult initiate the contact or does he? What kids of activities with adults does he enjoy and respond to?

Focus on his strengths and the special ways he is unique. Personally, I would like to see all children encouraged to be more unique and less adapted, but of course that can be hard work for parents and teachers simply have too many kids in a class to allow for much diversity. (I'm married to a teacher!)

Part Three Follows . . .

The Challenges Of A Child With Autism & ADHD - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

He doesn't have to have friends his own age to successfully have friendships.

Sure he doesn't fit the mold, but he has his own gifts and contributions and helping him to find where he fits outside of institutions like school, will probably work better for him.

Help him to feel valued and liked in other situations so he is not so concerned with his peers at school. Find other activities where he can relate on his terms. It may be a process of trial and error, but I have known autistic/ADHD kids to relate well to animals, becoming a volunteer dog walker at the local dog shelter.

Lots of these kids prefer to be outdoors - Maybe he can join the local conservation group and help plant trees. Maybe he can start a community project, Kids Cleaning Parks or something where he can take on some responsibility and use his creativity and energy to make things happen.

Of course, a lot depends on you and the amount of time and energy you have available to get involved yourself, until he is OK on his own, or someone else takes on a mentoring role. The number one thing for you, is to get lots of support and time out for yourself. You need to be re-energized and filled up to deal with him. (All parents need this of course)

Enjoy your time with him, he will challenge and drive you crazy some days, but, know that he really is fine.

He will be OK in the future and he will find - well probably demand - his place in the world and he will thrive.

Annie Desantis

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