We’ve been socialising recently. I know, I know, since moving house I’ve changed! I hate to admit it but I’ve barely even spoken to a postman since moving here.
Between Tyger starting his new nursery and us actually interacting with people I’m not related to (or who don’t bring me my mail and Amazon purchases), I have seen Tyger interact with more new adults and children than usual in the last week. This has led me to the following conclusion:
Children are much more perceptive than adults.
I’m always very open about Tyger’s autism. I don’t think it’s something he should be ashamed of and I think it can be helpful for people to be aware of it when they interact with him. I don’t blurt out ‘my son has ASD’ upon meeting someone but there do tend to be openings to mention it within the first hour of chatting.
The conversation with adults always goes the same way, though. It doesn’t matter if I’m talking to another parent or someone who works with young children or someone with no experience of children at all, they’ll inevitably say something along the lines of: ‘Really? I wouldn’t have known.’
They’re surprised. Always.
The kids, though: they know. Of course, they wouldn’t be able to articulate it as, ‘That boy clearly has Autism Spectrum Disorder.’ But they know something isn’t quite ‘normal’ with the way Tyger interacts with them. They know he doesn’t quite manage to follow social conventions; at least not without it looking like he’s making an effort.
When I took Tyger in for a visit to his new nursery the nursery worker was surprised and confused when a little boy who, it seems, is normally quite the chatterbox barely spoke to Tyger and went quiet for the duration of their game.
I was less surprised as I watched Tyger order the boy about slightly too intensely and demand the poor child answer his
interrogation questions. That boy knew something was a little…off with how Tyger was interacting with him. Something about Tyger clearly perturbed him.
The fact children react differently to Tyger really struck me, though, at a small birthday party last weekend where the birthday boy and his friend were leaving Tyger out. Nothing overtly malicious but a bit of running away from him and excluding him from games.
Tyger cried. These were no crocodile tears but proper anguished sobs and amid the convulsions as he sat on my lap he asked, ‘Mummy, why don’t they like me?’
Now, I know kids make and break friendships more often than Tyger strips his clothes off. I also know these boys were already friends and Tyger was new to them. In that situation any child might have been left out. Any child could have been upset.
But it didn’t happen to any child; it happened to mine.
And I had a nauseating feeling of foreshadowing. I suspect I’ll hear those words – that awful question – again…and again throughout Tyger’s childhood.
Tyger knows he’s different. He’s extremely sensitive to what others think of him, which is exactly why so many adults don’t notice his autism. I’ve written about his masking many times before but it’s always worth stating again. The way he acts when he’s around other people is a world away from how he acts when he’s at home. The sensory seeking habits he has at home (rolling around, lolling on the sofa, rubbing his head on things, shaking his head back and forth, humming to himself, repeating words over and over when he likes the sound of them, making a whole host of weird noises to name a few) are suppressed outside the house. When an adult looks at Tyger expecting to see an average child…that’s what they see.
Other children, though, have fewer expectations. They are still new enough to the world that every day brings something new. They take very little for granted and when they look at Tyger they don’t expect to see a neurotypical child. They just look and actually see. They absorb.
In fact, possibly the things they spend the most time absorbing at this age are social skills. Granted, you might not know it from the amount of time they spend eating their own bogeys but kids pay a lot of attention to what is and isn’t socially acceptable.
Adults can be very quick to dismiss anything children do as ‘kids being kids’ but they’re not stupid. Maybe we should pay a bit more attention to their assessments of each other. I suspect it would be very revealing.