As autistic children grow, so does the social gap.
As an autism mom, I would often hear fellow autism parents say “the gap is widening,” when they would compare their children to neurotypical kids. To be honest, I didn’t quite understand and it wasn’t overly significant to me. I was preoccupied with getting my son to speak and acquire language, this so-called gap was meaningless to me.
My view on this phrase has shifted significantly.
My son is six years old and he has very little interest in social interactions with other children his age. This is something we work on with him on an ongoing basis; at school with his peers, during his extra curricular activities and at home with his cousins, as he is an only child. I have two nephews, one is five and the other is three. They are typically developing children and when we’re around them I see the gap, and it’s widening by the day.
While children my sons age are into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Batman, my son is happy playing with a sudsy bucket of water and cups. While children my sons age are able to share aspects of their day with their parents, my son won’t share a thing and when asked he’ll say “don’t ask me questions.”
Do I love my son? You bet. Do I think he’s less than my nephew’s or any other typically developing child? Nope, not a chance. Do I wish he would take interest in other children, play with them and have meaningful friendships? Yes, more than anything in the world.
Social skills for autistic children are more elusive and the gap widens with each passing year. Many times, therapies such as ABA emphasize their focus on academics and social skills are left by the wayside. Children with autism have to be taught how to have a conversation. Virtually nothing in the social arena comes naturally to those with autism. They have to be taught how to show interest in others by asking questions, not to talk too loudly or to stand too close to the other person.
As parents, what can we do to help our kids close the gap? I don’t have an answer. Each individual with autism is so different and unique, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem.
We must nurture our children, continue to push them in the right direction, have them try new experiences, and most importantly, never give up hope.