So the latest revelation is that Jasmine has mild ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).
Apparently many people with Specific Learning Difficulties such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD are on the Autism Spectrum.
In Jasmine’s case, her understanding of social situations, specifically reading and understanding non-verbal cues (mannerisms, facial expressions, tone of voice, social dynamics) is a bit off and as a result, her natural responses and behavior in these situations is oftentimes inadequate or inappropriate.
At school where there is structure, routine and indeed expectations of behavior in the classroom and on the playground, she is absolutely fine however, outside of these structures, she sometimes (not always) seems not to know how to behave, or indeed adjust her behavior in response to social cues.
So how does this manifest itself?
In groups she does not seem to be able to pick up when it’s appropriate to speak, laugh or be quiet. She is often the one speaking too loud, or still laughing at a joke when everyone has stopped and are silent. She also does not seem to understand that she should not talk loudly in certain places like a museum or in church. She does not recognize the change in pitch of her voice nor does she understand the disapproving looks people give her. She often laughs at inappropriate times or at things that are not funny.
What I find most difficult is when this interaction is with adults. Given her inability to regulate her tone of voice, often the questions she asks or comments she makes appear really pointed, direct and rude. She finds it difficult to make proper eye contact when speaking and often will turn her back or walk away halfway through an interaction. She literally seems oblivious to the offense she has caused. This behavior can be quite shocking to observe and appears plain rude.
Now that she is 7, this behavior is all the more embarrassing because of course at this stage, our expectation is that children should understand the norms of social behavior.
I get so angry with her – I’ve talked at length about social behavior; I’ve bought books about manners; we have manners star charts; in the car on our way to a party, play date or to visit friends, we role play what she should say [“good morning”, “very well thank you, how are you?” etc etc.] but then when we arrive she will have forgotten and would need prompting. I put her on timeouts or shout at her, but she just does not seem to get it.
The last straw came when my father in law passed away and we went to pay our condolences. The house was full of well-wishers, church friends and extended family. Her interaction was awful – she walked through the living room squeezing past groups of people without so much as a “Good Afternoon”, she avoided eye contact and responded to questions she was asked whilst looking in the other direction, she spoke at the top of her voice when a small group were saying a prayer and would not lower her voice even after being prompted five or six times, she walked away mid sentence when someone spoke to her and when it was time to leave, she did not say goodbye to anyone but rather walked out (stumbling over coats and handbags) with a slight flick of her hand with her back turned.
I was so so angry, I screamed at her when we got into the car and when she said “but Mummy what did I do wrong?” with such sincerity, I was so exasperated; I just resorted to crying the rest of the way home.
My emotions were all over the place. Initially I felt anger and shame – anger because I’ve worked so hard trying to teach her manners to no avail and shame because of the way her behavior reflected on me, people would think I cannot teach my child simple values. After I got over the anger and shame, I started to worry. I worried that people would start to exclude her (from party invites, play dates etc.), that she would be labeled, but also how this behavior if left unchecked, could undermine all her other strengths as she gets older.
I went looking for answers and sought help.
On speaking to experts, they’ve explained she has mild ASD and that the behavior described above is symptomatic.
So what now? Well, apparently in mild cases such as Jasmine’s, social skills can be learned through role-play and repetition. We are going to start group sessions soon.
My special child continues to challenge me. I pray for patience, I pray for help and I pray for understanding. Most importantly, I pray for the ability to focus on the positive in the face of my frustration because of course, it could be so much worse.
I’m only human – it’s not easy.
I will write again soon about how this aspect is going.