Thursday, October 2, 2008

Social Skills: Kids versus Adults

I just posted an entry on my companion blog for adults with Asperger’s about managing small talk at the office and it got me thinking. Reading social signals is an issue for many people with Asperger’s, other autism spectrum disorders, and ADHD, whether a child, a teen or an adult. But a big problem is that the rules for social skills are so different for kids and adults. It’s important that adults keep this in mind when assessing their own children’s behaviors and the behaviors of the other kids your child spends time with. You can’t expect kids to behave like little adults, in fact, that “little professor” behavior is what is often seen in kids with Asperger’s.

The flip side of this issue is that kids who struggle with social skills need to realize that their peers are not going to follow adult rules. Children are often rude, tacky, silly, or distracted with each other. It’s not a reflection on their companions, it’s just kid behavior. Often, I’ve seen children get hurt feelings, get angry and lash out, or withdraw because they think the other kids aren’t treating them well. Certainly, that may be the case, but often I think the situation is misinterpreted.

In the years I worked as a school therapist, I had the opportunity to work with both the school "bullies" and the school "victims". What I learned from this dual perspective is that generally, each side of the conflict saw things differently, and often the “bully” wasn’t nearly as hostile as the “victim” thought.

Part of my message here is that kids with social skills challenges may be misreading the other kids’ intent. Bullying does occur, and shouldn’t be tolerated. But pause before you call it bullying, because it may be just a misunderstanding. Kids act like kids, and shouldn’t be expected to act like adults.

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