(Having fun with my girl)
I am a social butterfly. I love talking to and being around people, all kinds. I can connect with anyone and everyone, regardless of where they grew up or how they grew up or what they look like. I consider it to be one of my most valuable assets.
And, I don’t have to work at it. All of my connections come organically. For some reason, in any situation, I know just what to say or do. It is an innate “skill” that is just a part of my composition. Surely I acquired social skills from my experiences in various environments throughout my life, but really knowing how to connect with people is something that just comes naturally to me. Completely.
As a 10 year old girl with ASD, though, Arizona struggles socially. It’s hard for her to read social cues, she takes everything literally and can find even the most basic interactions challenging. She doesn’t always know when it’s appropriate to jump into a conversation. She goes up to strangers, often, sharing her opinions (sometimes unfavorable) of them and asking random questions without any context.
A few summers ago, as I was looking for camp placement for Arizona, someone told me about the Social Foundations. Turns out they offered a few weeks of summer camp. I enrolled Arizona, not sure how she would latch on to something so new to her (“Mommy, I can’t have school in the summer; I am not a girl who wants to do anything except my own idea during the summer, which is to play and swim.”)
It gave me anxiety to drop her off that first day, without her buy-in. Luckily though, she loved it! She jumped right into the group and soon started spewing out social thinking vocabulary and lingo. It is one of best therapeutic environments that Arizona has participated in, to date.
Aside from a few weeks of camp each summer, Arizona is now also part of a social skills group that meets once a week. As part of this all girl’s group Arizona is learning the tools she needs to thrive with others in a social setting : learning to be part of a group, thinking with her eyes, being flexible, keeping her body and brain in the group, problem solving with others, doing what is “expected” and learning how to figure out other people’s plans.
The other day, Arizona and I shared an inside joke together and burst into immediate and joyous laughter. I do not take these moments for granted. Me and my girl have come a long way together.