There’s this thing I have been doing with Sno for a few years now. I take her out, just the two of us – and we go and eat lunch somewhere. She picks the location (usually Grill’d, if you’re wondering) but the condition is: she needs to order her own food, so she can practise her social skills. It became obvious to me a while ago that despite there being lessons on english, geography and art etc within school – there aren’t often social skills lessons. And this is an area that autistic peeps, just like my amazing daughter – could use a little guidance with.
So we practise, together. I gently extend her comfort zones and empower her to use her voice and be heard and ask for things she needs. Something as simple as asking for a serviette or sauce may be a simple thing for most people, but it can be challenging for Sno. So I encourage her lovingly to find her voice.
While we are waiting for our food, and eating, we play some little games. Games like: paying attention to the body language of others – what does she think they may be doing/feeling? We enjoy people watching together and I encourage her to guess the stories and feelings of some people we see. Are they happy? Sad? Bored? Impatient? What makes her think that?
After lunch we may go and do a little shopping and I’ll give her my list and encourage her to problem solve and stay on task in busy shopping centres, which she finds tricky but gets better at each time. If we encounter a problem like a product being out of stock, or not knowing where to find something – I empower her to ask for help from a customer service officer. We also have discussions over “what-ifs” – what if she gets lost and can’t find me in the shops, what can she do? What if a stranger tried to entice her to go and walk with them, what can she do? What if she accidentally broke an item in the shop, what should she do? We talk about where to find toilets, where to get some water if she needs it. Simple, seemingly obvious stuff.
So why do I do this? Because I’m trying to empower my daughter and give her skills for independence. She is an amazingly intelligent girl, 4 years ahead of her peers academically – but this social stuff, it doesn’t come easily to her. Together on our outings we celebrate her successes and when things don’t go as planned, we work out how we can remedy them next time. So many times she will tell me that she “can’t” do something (like order sushi, for example) but with a little gentle coaching and patience, she does – and she’s super proud. As soon as we are home she writes her achievements in her “I Did It” book, and the list of stuff is getting pretty long, let me tell you.
As she nears the age of ten I am watching her come out of her shell a little more everyday and independently problem solve with initiative, and it makes me so proud. Because I know this shit is hard for her. But I believe her, I’m in her corner – championing her along as she does hard things, believing in her… unwavering.