To refresh your memory, the period between around seven and puberty is called latency. (I deliberately left out when puberty starts. I will explain that shortly, and I will also write another post about puberty in general.) It is the time when a child, less driven by her or his sexual development, has the relatively free space to learn to work more extensively with others. Kids practice being friends with others, working in groups, and developing all sorts of social skills. As kids practice, they will experience success and rejection, joy and hurt. All these emotions are necessary for a child to learn to sharpen her/his skills. Once a child gets to “process” what she/he has experienced. the child gets a chance to change her or his behavior. Trying and succeeding and trying and failing are both important aspects of the learning process.
This is a time when many “Aspies” are particularly vulnerable. An Asperger’s child may not recognize and may ignore social signals which will help her or him decide how to proceed in relating to others. These signals may include facial expressions and body language. An Aspie may not only not recognize these signals, s/he may not feel welcomed and approved of if the signals are positive and rejected and hurt if the signals are negative. This child may not have her/his internal radar working to help guide her or him. Consequently, the child may literally be “at sea,” unable to adjust to what’s going on. Even more, the child may not be able to tell you what is going on—because s/he is oblivious of it. If your Aspie has ADHD/ADD as well (which is quite common), it the situation may even be worse.
What’s more, an Aspie child may react differently than most other kids, with different expressions on her/his face. Some of these expressions may not be understandable to others; they may even frighten them—along with other behaviors. The non-Aspie kids are also learning to read social cues—and they may not know how to “read” the Aspie child or tolerate her or him. Still more, if there are children bullying other children, the bully may pick on the Aspie child among others, seeing that child as vulnerable and different.
What’s a parent to do? There are a variety of things one should do. First, make sure your Aspie has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in place. That means that her/his teacher should know about your child once s/he is in the classroom. The teacher should ensure that there is no bullying. The teacher should insure that there is respect for all the diversity her/his classroom has. Furthermore, this respect should be extended to the playground and all school activities. If your child needs an aide to help her/him through activities, that should be obtained.
Second, the teacher and the aide and any adult volunteer, can observe interactions in the class and facilitate when things get stuck. The adult can reassure your child throughout the day and do “check-in” to see how your child is doing. Again, the adult can help smooth out difficult situations.
Third, you can help your Aspie by reviewing the day. You need to focus on helping her/him know how they feel—by face charts showing expressions and by teaching her/him as to how to be aware of their own bodies. You can help put him/her in situations where they learn how others feel—such as an acting class. And you can put him/her in situations where caring adults can help teach about social interaction. These include the Scouts for girls or boys as well as exercise and art classes, and so on.
Middle school can be especially difficult. Moreover, the onset of early puberty—which is becoming more frequent–especially for girls, can complicate interactions between other girls and between girls and boys. You should be especially alert to this.
Furthermore, an Aspie’s life can get “dicey” because pre-dating behavior has reached the “Tween” years. Kids now go on paired group dates. Social interaction has become more sexualized even when all kids are not ready for it. A child who is at sea becomes even more vulnerable. As always, I would recommend that you and your partner keep your Aspie in therapy with a knowledgeable counselor.
The situation gets even more delicate as your child gets into secondary school. I will address these concerns in a later post.