Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Social skills

I always perceived social skills as something
partly learned and partly innate. Depending
on the personality we make friends more or
less easily, yet we do know instinctively how
to make a conversation whether it is about
our interests or weather.

People with autism are born without this innate
ability to socialise. Because a lot of them can't
see the difference between people and objects,
they don't have the urge to socialise, or need to

Before Cirwen was diagnosed with ASD, I found
it very strange, that she would babble more to
her dolls than me. She bonded with me very
strongly, yet she would not allow to be left alone
with her father. He spent the same amount of
time with her as me, he was good for a quick game
of rough and tumble or sharing his food, but only
when I was present. It was difficult for both of us.
My husband hurt when she wouldn't come for a hug
to him, or screamed uncontrollably until I came back
from a corner shop. I could not leave home without
Cirwen unless she slept. At some point it was so bad,
that she sat on my lap when I was in the toilet....

We didn't know why and we didn't know how to
deal with it. Then she started a pre-school for
three hours a day and slowly, but not without
initial screams and tantrums, she learned to let
go of me. She engaged in play with other children,
although most of the time she would rather play
alongside them.

During snack times, she preferred to sit in a corner
on her own rather, than at the table with the others.
The pre-school teacher was the one, who picked up
the signs and filed for assessment.

The diagnosis came a year later when Cirwen was
just over 4 years old. From here things went
easier for us, as we found out the reasons and looked
for solutions.

At school, Cirwen quickly made friends with a girl
from the neighbourhood. Yet, when we invited
another girl to play, she became a bit irritated.
I noticed, she could play with only one girl at a time.
Having both of them confused her and she didn't
know how to divide her attention to two girls
in the same time.

When she became more vocal, we started to teach
her how to have a conversation and keep it on track.
She had to be taught, that she has to give
someone a chance to answer her question, or to voice
their opinion. We had to explain to her, that she needs
to keep on topic if the other person is interested in
pursuing it. Cirwen had to learn to let others talk
about things they are interested, even though it's
not her favourite topic. Taking turns and learning
not to interrupt others was the most difficult for
her to take in.

Autistic mind is very self absorbed, therefore
consideration of others is not an innate need or

Now, Cirwen is able to converse, yet still finds
it difficult to have a small talk and to wait her
turn to join a conversation. As she once said:
"What's the point of talking about the weather?
Everyone can see if it's raining or not!"

She is now strongly bonded with her father and
is making up for the lost time, becoming the
"Daddy's girl".

Cirwen has learned to interact with larger group of
children as well, which makes her social life much
easier. There are still many things she needs to
learn about people, but I'm taking it slowly, as the
issues arise. Theory is not her strongest thing as


  1. I'm so glad that she is gradually learning to socialize with bigger groups, I'm really proud of her. Socializing is such a complex thing, I would have no idea how to teach to socialize but you are clearly doing an amazing job, Libertine. Girls will eventually always become their daddy's girl no matter what <3 :D

  2. Wow Libertine, it has been tough on you, but you're doing a great job. Since improvement is forthcoming with Cirwen, she'll be better in every aspect as she grows, take heart. :)

  3. You are doing a great job. I think socialising for anyone can be daunting, but maybe learning the 'rules' will stand her in better stead than our amateur fumblings.

  4. Thank you all :-). Knowing the "rules" is not so difficult. Bigger problem is dealing with those who break them, and for Cirwen it's difficult to understand why people do that.

  5. This is beautifully written and gets so many point across that I think are important for people who interact with children with autism to remember. We know these things but often forget them on a day to day basis. I would love to share this with my music therapy email group (all music therapist and many of them work with children with autism) with your permission.

  6. Tonya, you are most welcome to share, link or copy anything you find worth it. You have open permission :-)

  7. You sound like a wonderful mother. There is a resonance here. -Jayne

  8. I can only imagine how frustrating it was before the autism diagnosis, not quite understanding the reasons for certain behaviors.

    It seems, no matter what the situation, life is better with knowledge and understanding.

  9. Cirwen seems to voice thoughts that many of us think but keep to ourselves. Learning the art of conversation and dealing with larger groups are a big step.

  10. I just had a conversation with my daughter this weekend...as she was meeting another 5th grader (who is typical) for the first time. I explained to her that she needed to get to know her new friend first before she starts talking about house design (her current obsessive topic). I gave her a few guide lines and the girls seemed to hit it off well.

    Socialization skills are tricky with those on the spectrum because each child is different...but it gives a parent a sense of accomplishment when we are able to see our child progress in such difficult areas!!

    Thanks for sharing your story...it is very eye opening and inspiring. Cheers, Jenn.