I’m calling G because we are at a big, kid-filled birthday party and the dj is playing “Gangnam Style,” which he loves. He calls his version of the song and dance “Gengar Style,” after a naughty, levitating Shadow Type Pokemon called Gengar.* He’s way out on the playground with some kids he doesn’t know and, between calls to him to come boogie with me, I hear those loud “eeeeeh” noises that he makes sometimes because he likes them -- and other times because he’s socially overwhelmed. I hurry over and he’s progressed to shouting unintelligible sounds and making faces in the general direction of a play structure. Some younger kids are cowering and glowering nearby.
“What happened?” I ask, pulling him away as fast as I can.
“A girl threatened me.”
“She told me she was going to beat me up!”
“That little girl with the sour face, who is much, much smaller than you?”
“Yes.” (G tends not to pay attention to his own size or age relative to others.)
I sigh, hug him. “She couldn’t, honey.”
“But she said she had beat up a 15 year old!”
“But baby, that’s not true. She’s a little girl.”
We pause. He’s probably taking in the fact that here again someone has lied and he has been unaware of that possibility.
“Well…Why?” I continue.
“Why do you think that happened?”
“Because she said I was ‘in her face?’”
“Were you trying to threaten her?”
The playground is a place where family and friends who know G in his home or social comfort zone often suddenly realize the extent of his social challenges. Putting his face right in someone else’s face is one way he tries to connect, because he really does want to connect - so very much! He’s still figuring out other ways to do so, and in the meantime doesn’t seem to have integrated extensive advice against face-in-face.
I try to seize the teachable moment: “How do you think she felt when you got in her personal space, you know, ‘in her face’?”
“I don’t think so…try again.”
“I don’t think so…try again.”
“Try again. Angry and mad are pretty much the same.”
“Yes. So I bet that’s why she threatened you, don’tcha think?”
“And G, did you notice all those kids were much younger than you?”
“They probably thought you were being a bully, G. Which of course you weren’t.”
G is the most gentle person I know, but he’s a really big dude with no idea of his own size or the impression it might give.
I sigh. Again. “Oh sweety, I know you’d never want to scare anyone. But you have to try to think about whether other kids are bigger or smaller than you and what they might think you mean in your actions and words, okay? Do you think you can remember this next time?”
“I don’t know,” G says, shrugging.
By the time we reach the party shed, the song has ended. G goes in and sits back in a corner alone, looking perplexed. Eventually, some extra cupcake frosting comforts and cheers him up.
Sometimes G is served well by his unique neurology. His omnipresent honesty, truly original creativity, staunch reliability, deep loyalty and lack of regard for conventional measures of success or “coolness” are just a few traits that come to mind in this regard. I know he takes satisfaction in living by what he deems right and good. Those of us who “get” him celebrate his living by his own lights as well. Nevertheless, even these arguably superb qualities are not necessarily ones that lead to mainstream social acceptance!
Of course there’s neurologically-rooted stuff to work on too, like developing the tools to navigate playground dynamics, many of which are analogous to adult social milieus. It just sometimes seems the neurotypical world currently remains more inclined to marginalize both G’s particular gifts and his challenges than to celebrate or accommodate them.
Suppose G – because, as things stand, it’ll be on him to do so - takes a very long time to adapt here, what is the adult equivalent of frosting?
Oh yeah. Frosting. **
Full Spectrum Mama
* OMG I Just found this site: http://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Gengar_(Pok%C3%A9mon).
Please, nobody show G – I will never see him again!
** We have a hunch that Pumpkin Pie may work, too and are going to find out next week! Happy Thanksgiving everybody!!!!