Sometimes, when you’re the parent of a teen with autism, you have to write letters like this:
Dear [Regional Autism Consultant] and [Nigel’s speech therapist],
I hope this finds you both well. Nigel continues to benefit from your social skills class, and I want to thank you both for doing it. I wanted to run something by you that I think would be an important addition to the regular social skills teaching. Today I had a meeting with [his case manager], and she mentioned that a student told her about a situation in which Nigel was being taken advantage of and laughed at. During lunch, a group of students were encouraging Nigel to tickle random people, and they would laugh when he did it. As you might remember, Nigel has been targeted in this manner before, and it always pains me to hear of it.
I would be so grateful if you would work something into the social skills curriculum to help him learn to recognize these sorts of situations when people have fun at his expense by telling him to do something inappropriate. He doesn’t realize that it’s inappropriate or that he could get in trouble for touching other people. He thinks he is making friends this way, but the “friends” are laughing at someone with a developmental disability. They know that Nigel lacks social awareness, and that’s why they target him. They are not innocent little kids anymore. And yes, Nigel has been told before that real friends will not get him to do things that he shouldn’t do and then laugh. But he needs constant reminders from people other than his mother. He needs to be taught how to recognize these sorts of situations. If a random student notices and takes the time to tell a staff member about it, then it’s pretty significant. And I’m sure it’s not the first time, even though it was the first time that was brought to our attention (that I know of).
So I think it would be helpful for Nigel to have some reminders about what’s inappropriate at school, and that if someone tries to get him to do something and they are laughing about it, they probably don’t have his best interests at heart, and they should be avoided. I tell him these things, of course, but I think if he hears it from other adults (or peers who care) and is taught how to recognize those situations (perhaps through roll-play), then he might start to understand.
Thank you so much for your time and the work you do with my son.
And it breaks your heart, again and again. You believed that things were going well socially at the high school, that the other kids had matured since middle school, that these things weren’t happening any more. You hoped that no one would be insincere with him at his first dance, and you wonder if they were and your son just doesn’t have the social awareness to realize it.
Sometimes, as the parent of a teen with autism, it hurts. You’ve been advocating for over twelve years since the diagnosis, and you still have to do it. You still have to manage your pain and quell your anger. You have to keep moving, keep doing, keep hoping. You have to keep being the parent of a teen with autism.
And no matter how much you love your son and the wonderful person that he is, no matter how far he’s come and how much he’s achieved and how high your hopes, it still hurts. For both of you.