Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Awkward Moments ... are okay

After Tae Kwan Do class today - a sport in which both J (age 7) and T (age 6) have achieved their "Camo belt" status (which bugs me - I am a military history aficionado, and I'm making an educated guess that "camo" was not one of the color choices made by the originators of Tae Kwan Do). T was snapping his side kicks and giggling during stretching as always, but J was clearly dragging tail throughout the session. Physical fatigue did not seem to be an issue - his heart just wasn't in it today. S'ok - kids are allowed to "check out" sometimes in This Dad's Opinion. I'm not raising a Commando force, just a few kids.

Moving to the point - after class I took the boys to Baskin Robbins. Baskin Robbins throws J a little off his game since they advertise 31 flavors but sell 42 flavors. I have to agree with J that the universe is slightly askance due to this unsettling factoid (a factoid that is rediscovered immediately upon every visit as J re-counts the flavor labels to make sure they still offer the ridiculous sum of 42 flavors). But this time, on today's visit, there was no re-count. J was thrown a curve-ball immediately upon entering the door. You see, someone said, "Hi, J".

J froze in place, clearly torn between counting the flavors and becoming invisible. He grabbed me around the thighs with both arms, looked up with an obvious and unabated look of bewilderment in his big eyes, and whisper-shouted, "I don't know who that is."

(Aside: I must define the whisper-shout. This is J's verbal channel that he deploys when he is trying to speak 'under his breath'. The thing is, J doesn't modulate that very well and ends up over-compensating his voice volume to make up for the whisper-effect that prevents a voice from carrying distance. So he winds up with a very loud, throaty whisper-shout that he honestly believes is only heard by the person he is oriented towards at that exact moment.)

The boy who accosted J (well, actually he only said 'hi') was sitting with, presumably, his Dad and older brother. The boy was probably 9 or 10, the brother probably 18. All in all, and leaving out some of the "small talk" that surrounded this fragmented interaction, they were a perfectly friendly bunch.

I peeled J off my leg and encouraged him to pick a flavor. He picked chocolate (no surprise there - read this post I wrote back in 2007 to see the consistency of J's taste for chocolate) and went to his favorite position of flipping through the B-R catalog to hone in on his favorite characters represented in the fashion-forward genre of frozen ice cream cakes. At one point he moved closer to the table with the boy who had said 'hi', and the same boy leaned over and said, 'J - you remember me! From Vacation Bible School!" (VBS was last week - not a long time ago) J grabbed my hand and whisper-shouted to me "I think I can't remember him. I think he has different clothes!" Once I had paid up, I walked over to him and crouched down to have a "man-to-man" talk.

I said, "J - on the way out of here, I want you to walk up to the boy who said 'Hi'. I think you should tell him you are sorry you don't remember him, and thank him for saying hello. The reason I think you should do this is because it is the polite thing to do. Do you agree?"
"Yes, Dad, I will."
So we walked over to the door and the boy. Jason grabbed on to me tight and whisper-shouted (the boy could definitely hear, as could everyone else around) "I'm scared!" I told him he would do fine, and we could just leave if he wanted to but that he should try to be polite. "But I'm nervous!"
We stopped in front of the boy. J looked at his feet and whispered - not whisper-shouted, whispered - "I'msorryIdidn'trememberyouthankyouforsayinghello" and we left. The boy was responding, but we left in a hurry. As we crossed the parking lot, I asked J if he felt like what he did was the right thing. "Yes". I asked if he felt better to have done it, even though it was hard to do. "Please don't ask me about that right now!" was his reply. Okay.


Jen said...

That is a great story. One of my daughters is very visible, so it's not at all uncommon that people recognize her when we're out in public. Everyone says hi and waves to her, and she waves back like she's the queen. We've been working for years to try to explain that it is polite (and a good thing) to respond appropriately, and I think that this is a model that she might be able to use. Thanks!

abfh said...

Although children should indeed be taught that it is polite to say "hi" in response to another person doing so, there is a difference between teaching basic politeness and requiring a child to apologize for having a disability (faceblindness).

Not everyone can easily remember faces, and to the extent that there is a social expectation that those of us who have difficulty with faces should be constantly apologizing, I think that needs to change.

Steve D said...

That's a good point, ABFH.
I think it is possible that J does have face blindness to a degree, and his memory issues don't seem limited to just that.
I'll consider that.

Bev said...

Oh, yeah, I have had plenty of these awkward moments in my lifetime! For most of my life, I wondered what was wrong with me, and thought that I truly must be the most self-centered person in the world for not recognizing people who recognized me. Sometimes the person would even tell me who he/she was, and I still couldn't get it. Of course, over the years I have learned how to "fake it" somewhat, so as not to make the other person quite so uncomfortable. Sometimes.

This (prosopagnosia) is something I wish the general public was a bit more aware of. It happened again just last week, when I didn't recognize the mother of a teenager in an ASD group I work with. Of course, in this case, it was just fine, she knew what was going on, reminded me who she was, and there was no damage to the relationship. That's the tricky part of it; people do get offended, and many find it hard to believe that this is a function of my neurology as opposed to rudeness or indifference.

I wish I had some advice for J. on dealing with it, but I don't really. The cues we often end up using, like clothing and hairstyles, are of course subject to change. Hopefully, letting him know that it isn't his fault will help him be more comfortable when this happens. That can sometimes make the difference between moving on with the relationship vs. slinking away and hoping never to see the person again.

Steve D said...

Thanks, Bev, that is very helpful.

I think the best strategy we can help J develop at this stage is to:
a) understand it is not his fault and that he has nothing to be ashamed of if he fails to recognize people - or situations and
b) to devise a 'script' (for lack of a better term) that he can fall back on if he needs to.

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CorrieHowe said...

Thanks for your post. My son (9) is also high functioning autistic. He has trouble with eye contact. I try to encourage him.

Also, as he's getting older, we've been reminded that soon he'll be expected to shake hands. We've talked to him about this, but he's not ready to go there.

A understand many of the comments about not needing to apologize. I'm often in a debate with myself about whether I need to explain/apologize for non-typical behaviors to strangers or not.