October 16, 2005

"Look at the other kids. Watch them, play like them."

The autistic boy becomes a teenager and wants a girlfriend. The parents have always told the boy "Look at the other kids. Watch them, play like them." Now, when he sees a girl and says "She's hot," they assume behind the conventional form of expression, he's talking about what he really feels.
Just as he's learned our language and our customs with a lot of hard work and memorization, he'll soon have to learn how to navigate the world of sex. But how? Through imitation and observation? Through rules we teach him? No. The same kids he has studied and imitated to gain other social skills are going to be fumbling in the dark themselves, behind closed doors. And in this particular game I don't foresee his father and me doing much coaching from the sidelines. He'll truly have to find his own way.

The author of the linked piece, in addition to her personal experience, has written a book, called -- tellingly -- "Overcoming Autism." But I note the existence of the Autistic Liberation Front, which would approach the problem very differently, embracing the different ways of the autistic. Especially in love, there is something so painful about the idea of aping the ways of the other kids. But the problem described in the article is that the boy -- who, we're told, is very good looking -- cannot attract the girls he sees as "hot."

Writing this post has made me want to see this movie again.

ADDED: That is, shouldn't the boy find a nice autistic girl?


erp said...

This kind of article breaks my heart and teaches me to stop qvetching the small stuff. Thanks for posting it today.

Patrick said...

As father of an autistic boy, I worry about these things too. If it were as simple as "find an autistic girl" maybe that would be one thing. But, my experience has been that there are about 15 autistic boys for every autistic girl. These poor kids have crappy odds as it is. But, given the fact that lots of weird guys I know have girlfriends (hang out at a science fiction convention, if you want to see nerd love in full splendor), at some point, I think my son can get over the "hump" of "weird" and into "quirky".

Steve Lewis said...

"Especially in love, there is something so painful about the idea of aping the ways of the other kids."

Oh, that is painful. I'm not autistic, but me and my geeky friends had a hard enough time in junior high and high school. This is even sadder, to be good looking but unable to figure out how to behave in the world.

A said...

I'm also a parent of an autistic child. He is high functioning, and to be honest I never imagined myself saying to him "watch the other kids, do what they do". However, my son is only 3, so I am still in the world of getting him help to overcome (or "cope") with his struggles, we're not having too many social problems where HE has to figure out the solution (its his dad and I who have to be problem solvers right now).

I've always thought, even though he is "getting better" with his (very expensive) treatments, that some day he would probably find a smart and quirky girl to love him (and to be honest, someone like that would fit perfectly in our family, not just with my son). He has a very high IQ, so I know he will be picky anyway (I believe smart people are more selective with their partners, I could be wrong about that), and I think focusing on helping him be a confident teen will greatly help with getting through those early teen years. I will definitely be thinking a lot on this subject now.

As for the "just accept them" movement...I can understand not wanting to force the autistic kids to be like everyone else, but I don't think that's what a lot of the treatments out there are intended to do. I was surprised to read in your previous post you liked to, autism treatments described as abusive. I honestly can't see where that description would come from.

My son, for example, is greatly benefiting from various treatments that help him be happy and peaceful and able to express himself (those things are probably what everyone desires, but these kids are decidedly UNhappy, NOT peaceful and CANNOT express themselves. They deserve to have those things. You can imagine, as a parent, having a child that is always unhappy and you can't do anything about it). Its hard to effectively describe my point in one small comments post, its such an in-depth topic. I hope you guys get what I mean.

Our goal as parents has always been to help him become more verbal, help him let go of so many of his obsessions, and help him to be happy and peaceful in general. Kids like my son have so many sensory and communicative frustrations, that I can't imagine not trying to relieve that somehow. It gives these kids a chance at "fitting in" just enough that they don't have to be outcasts, but can still be themselves.

Ann Althouse said...

Patrick: Yes, I knew as I wrote that that the ratio would be wrong, because there are so many more autistic boys than girls. Presumably, there are a lot of awkward or very nerdy girls though, I would think. The boy in the story followed his parents advice to act like the other kids and, as a result, he kept asking the most popular girls out. They refused him, but according to the author, the rejection didn't really register with him. (I wonder how he feels about his mother's book and article revealing all sorts of private facts!)

Susan Senator said...

My teenage son is severely autistic, but I do not hang with the overcoming autism folks, I agree more with the neurodiversity camp, that autism is more to be made peace with, than squelched or retrained. Separating the person from the autistic behaviors is not always straightforward, and the more I get to know my son (it has taken a very long time), the more I understand how important some of his aut-centricities are to him. His "silly talk," (self-stim talking) really makes him feel better and when I last asked him to "silly talk later" (he was around the high school football team, I was trying to protect him from being stared at), he kept saying, "Silly talk later. Silly talk later."

Now, I would rather try to make others understand that something like silly talk is harmless, different. Why should he stop?

As for girlfriends, we are a long way from that. He has just started to have friends, though, which is wonderous.

Sally said...

Isn't autism on the increase? I'm wondering if our society value autistic-like qualities (think Bill Gates) and women are starting to pair up with these nerdish type men more frequently than usual. I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately, as my husband definitely falls into the Bill Gates category, and I've been reading a bit about Aspergers and Autism.

In my experience as an educator, I definitely see the value of inclusion for social purposes. Working with students with special needs radically changed how I perceive them, and I think erased many prejudices that I had, not even knowing that I had them. People with special needs are much too often on the sidelines of society and I'm sure this is why people feel so uncomfortable with it.

Bruce Hayden said...

My worry about finding a nice autistic girl is that there is at least some idea that there may be some genetic link there - or at least with Asperger's Syndrome (AS).

The theory is that these are both extreme systemizing behavior (see our previous discussion on "The Essential Difference") and that if you have a couple, both of whom are high in this area, their kids tend to show a higher than average indicidence of autism and AS. This is an explantion for "Geek" syndrome.

I am not sure though if there are really 15 times as many autistic males, or that it is just harder to detect autistic females. At least with AS, it appears that females are somewhat harder to detect (but males are still much more prevelant - just not at those ratios).

I should add that my girlfriend of the last 6 years is borderline AS. She was diagnosed as autistic 35-40 years ago in school, but then she figured out how to talk enough to get out of special ed and ended up graduating from HS two years early (just to get away from it). It would be interesting to see how much better they would handle her today.

What struck me about the topic though is that she indeed does study other people to see what is acceptable behavior. Most of the time, she comes up with the right answer. But not always - which is where I come in. I should add that this study makes her an expert on current styles and fashions. For the longest time, I just figured she was vain. Rather, it is that she is trying to fit in (and, coincidently, escape notice for her peculiarities).

What is interesting to me is that I really didn't recognize her calming behaviors until just recently - six years into our relationship. One thing she does is to make weird faces (in public, needless to say). Also, some grinding of teeth - which is why she needs to get her teeth capped now (as a result of 48 years of this). Now, when I see these behaviors, I have a better idea of what is going on in her mind, and try to become part of the solution, instead of part of the problem.

She needs to calm down a bit, and then we need to get out of wherever it is that is overstimulating her. At this point though, she sometimes doesn't have complete control over her muscles, and appears drunk, when she isn't anywhere close to it.

What scares me is that she sometimes has problems with it, and she is only (probably) borderline AS, and not fully autistic. She has worked a lot with autistic kids, and it frankly scares me.

So, I have a lot of sympathy for you parents who are dealing with this for your kids. Good luck.

Diane said...

One theory is that Autistic boys have "hyper-male" type brains, which explains why Autism is more common in men that women. The amount of estrogen poured into our brains usually wards off autism.

For a while my family thought I had autism (aspersers, the mild form), but they have discovered that I don't. I am just very bad at the “polite lie” part of social interaction. I pick up on *too* many social clues and have no idea which ones are the ones I’m supposed to pay attention to.

As such I did have to practice looking at others and reacting the way they did. I have the opposite problem of typical autistic children, but the symptoms were the same. No friends and a hell of a lot of social awkwardness.

In romance, what these boys really need is to find a friend who balances them. Two people who are autistic might get along, but they'd do better with a girl who has Bi-polar disorder and a boy who is autistic. She's over emotional, he's unemotional. They balance each other, and their neurosis complement. They can help one another become sane by being a rock for the other person to lean on.

At least that is how it worked with my husband and I. I have severe depression, OCD, and PTSD. He’s just terminally shy, but evenly keeled. I bring him out of his shell, he keeps me grounded. It might not work for everyone, but it’s the pattern I’ve found works best with the mentally ill. Find someone with the opposite problem as you.

Ann Althouse said...

Aw, Diane, that's sweet. Sort of like Jack Sprat in the nursery rhyme.

james said...

Imagine a girl with Aspergers, a freshman in high school, wanting to fit in and not understanding nuances. We're trying to keep as close an eye on her as we can, of course. Think of a pretty girl, starting to feel her sexual nature, who wants to be grownup but has no understanding of social rules: she's a target for predators.