This post started as a very long reply to a post at Pancakes Gone Awry. (If I spent less time commenting, I’d probably write more on my blog 🙂
Our experience with social skills training has been pretty hit or miss. My oldest son, who I’m referring to as Simon here, is an Aspie and has gotten some benefit from actual social skills groups at times, but most of the progress he’s made has come from real-life training. The groups have mainly given us some information and a place to start, along with a captive audience to participate while the kids work through things:) Some groups have been more useful than others. We got an idea of the kinds of things we could work on with Simon and tried to figure out how to fit that into real life situations. We stopped going to the last one a few years ago, because we felt he had kind of maxxed out the benefit he was going to get in an artificial setting and that his time could better be spent elsewhere.
My husband and I kind of zeroed in on Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts as being groups that would be more accepting of our son and his social difficulties because of being faith-based and aimed at building character. As my husband put it, “they kind of have to take him”, in order to be true to their values. And we felt they would provide more variety of activities and less competition than other options that were available. Also, in our experience, structure is good.
My boys are all scouts now: One Wolf Cub, one Star Scout, and one Life Scout. Simon, in particular, has had to be pushed quite a bit at times to keep with the group for this long because of all the ways in which it has challenged him. We’ve gone through public and private meltdowns, anxiety attacks, and the discomfort of watching your kid struggling in front of others with things that come easily to most . It was harder when he was little, too, with lots of little guys running around and making noise much of the time. Simon’s also had issues with all the time and effort required, and sometimes with the physical accomodations of all the camping. And my wonderful, supportive husband has attended every meeting, campout, etc., and has spent much of his time being a group leader, because our boy just wasn’t going to be successful doing all this on his own.
Simon’s come a long way and doesn’t require that level of pushing these days. Scouting has done wonders for him in mind and body. He’s accomplished things and met challenges that he never would have attempted on his own. And he’s had ongoing opportunities to learn how to interact with other boys and men in a safe, supportive, and structured environment in which how people treat one another is taken very seriously. He’s handled boards of review for rank advancements, speaking one-on-one with with merit badge counselors, making speeches, and countless supervised activities with other boys who are working on similar goals. In addition, the physical challenges have been great for his sensory system.
We have been blessed to know several other families with boys who joined the same year as Simon and also stuck with it, and they have been very supportive and are great friends. The boys are all taller than I am now and have become fine young men. They have all learned skills and values that will help them throughout their lives, including some very important social skills. Simon is currently one rank away from becoming an Eagle Scout, and I couldn’t be more proud.
Simon still has challenges with this activity, as he does periodically with most aspects of life. And I certainly don’t mean to suggest that every Aspie kid out there ought to join scouts. I don’t believe there’s any group or activity that’s going to be the right fit for everybody. And I’ve been unhappy and overwhelmed with it at times, because it’s been real work, and it’s been hard. It’s just nice to share an experience that we’ve found to be of ongoing value in our lives.
We have been very blessed in terms of the group of people with whom we ended up through these years. Some have come and gone, but the overall atmosphere and values have remained consistent. Of course, our family has been part of shaping that group, too, which is probably why it has worked so well for us.
BTW, did you know that Steven Spielberg didn’t have any interest in film or photography until he started working on the photography merit badge? He’s an Eagle Scout. This link lists quite a few more famous eagle and non-eagle scouts and some stats about how many people achieve the eagle rank (on the off chance that anyone is interested):
My husband has a master plan for helping our extremely busy oldest son to achieve his eagle rank without having to push him too hard – he’s going to push the younger brother, instead. No way our ultracompetitive Aspie son is going to stand still for his younger brother passing him by. I really can’t argue with the logic 🙂