Sunday, July 12, 2015

Social Thinking Gets Real

Beeeep-Beep-Beep. Beeeep-Beep-Beep.

We were one day into our vacation in Maine last week when an alarm in the camp just next to ours on the lake started going off.

Beeeep-Beep-Beep. Beeeep-Beep-Beep.

It was loud enough that we knew there'd be no way to sleep on the screened porch as we usually do, relaxing and listening to the sound of loons calling. We'd tried everything...calling ADT (since they had a sticker on the window); peering in the windows for signs of anything amiss; even talking to someone in the store down the road, who suggested calling the police, since we weren't sure if it was a fire alarm.

For four hours, talk of the alarm dominated the conversation. Considering Ethan's sensitivity to certain noises, you'd think he would have been the most distressed, but he seemed to be taking the whole thing in stride. I was the one who felt really, really annoyed.

You can imagine our relief when the alarm stopped, out of the blue, after beeping for about six hours. We kept joking about it, and the next day when people actually arrived at the camp next door, we debated saying anything. About four days after that, Ethan semi-befriended the boy next door (a VERY talkative kiddo named, let's say, George).

When George started chatting with Ethan that first day, Ethan stopped me in my tracks. He left George standing outside, whapped in through the screen door and asked, in a whisper, "Is it okay if I tell him his alarm was going off and was annoying?"

We're going to ignore the fact that after that, Ethan kept bugging me, in front of George, to "Tell about the alarm" over and over and over. I just couldn't get over the fact that he, I don't know, I guess you could say censored himself. He had the presence of mind to stop and think that maybe, just maybe, blurting out something about the alarm being annoying wasn't the most prudent thing to say.

Theory of mind...putting yourself into someone else's head...imaging someone's reaction before you say something...these are the types of things we all know are difficult for people on the autism spectrum.

Fast forward a couple of days: Ethan and Anna and George were all swimming in the lake one evening. We had discovered by then that George is very, very talkative. He was all over the place, actually. George was in your face; switching subjects left and right; very much a people person and very much liking an audience. He's also an only child (and I thought I'd heard through the grapevine) has ADHD. The diagnosis would not surprise me.

George was so friendly that he wouldn't leave Anna and Ethan alone. Anna was muttering under her breath that she hoped to get a break. Ethan seemed neither thrilled nor bothered by George; he was only half paying attention to his ramblings, probably because it was just too much for him to process. At one point in the middle of everything, though, Ethan blurted out, "After we're done swimming mamma is going to get us ice cream!"

And then. Wait for it.

"Would you like to come over and have ice cream with us?"

Which is why we ended up eating ice cream with George at 9 p.m. in our cabin, because of course George was up for it, and of course his parents said yes. They probably were reveling in a few blessed moments of silence.

George told us all about his swim team; that he'd read all the Harry Potter books; that he was going to Acadia National Park in a few days. His grandfather just had surgery. He was going to Boy Scout camp soon. He couldn't have caffeine because he was already too hyper (no kidding). He'd had chicken from the store café for dinner.

Anna humored him while Ethan sat reading a large "Read to Me" edition of a Ramona Quimby book. The wheels had apparently stopped turning, as he didn't think that maybe it was kind of rude to read at the table while his friend was talking (and talking and talking). But I was still back at the invitation. Okay, so maybe this wasn't the best time to extend one of his first social niceties. But I was still so darned impressed. Something had told him that maybe he shouldn't talk about ice cream unless he invited his friend to have some.

Again, I marveled at how many of these unwritten rules clutter our world, our interactions, every. single. day.

So we ate melting bowls of ice cream, until George disappeared out into the night and the mosquitos, stumbling over his too-long pajama bottoms, heading back to the lights next door.

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