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Is autism a disorder? Or a spectrum, where most people have some traits? Or does it come with a superpower–obsession? Parents of autistic kids need answers to these questions.
Autists learn the negative side of autism early–retarded development of large motor and social skills. Otoh, we may have accelerated academic development–kind of the opposite of ADHD.
Perversely, some of us autists are extroverted and popular (gasp!) despite our social skills being subpar. And some of us autistic men are very attractive to women. I fit this category. I am extroverted and popular and women like me.
We autists are generally lousy at doing routine things like maintenance and we often have trouble getting and keeping employment. Doing routine things saps our energy. We need to develop skills to reenergize and encourage ourselves so that we can recover from doing maintenance.
I am probably one of the top success stories of autists. Some of my work is used by NASA for space exploration and in medical diagnostic equipment. Other work was used in computer programming. I’ve been married 30+ years with kids who are college grads. I became very skilled at soccer and dancing, which tend to trouble autists.
How did I succeed? What can parents of autists do to help their kids?
I loved playing games and reading. Playing games helped me with sports, which helped me with socialization even though I was terrible at sports.
When I was young my friends would come looking for me to come out and play with them. That surprised me when I realized that recently. I’d be happily reading a book or watching TV and my mother would tell me that my friends were outside waiting for me. We’d go play football, generally, up at a friend’s house and I’d stay there all day on weekends, excepting lunch. Now I really sucked at sports, so I wondered recently why my friends wanted me to play. Numbers were part of it, but I think that they also appreciated that I was fearless. I didn’t hesitate to take on the toughest kid. The toughest kid and I were best friends, so maybe social proof was part of it.
Our group also played follow the leader, jumping from roof to roof. My smaller size and relative weakness didn’t stop me from following. I figured out how to be successful and fearlessness was encouraged. When I was older, I’d ride my bicycle down the street and close my eyes and continue riding, opening my eyes from time to time. One time I crashed into the curb, lol, falling and hurting myself.
Maybe I was unconsciously practicing Game by making my friends come looking for me. Maybe it was an accident and I discovered some elements of Game because of it. In any case, my love of games likely helped me figure out social tactics to some extent. Social tactics = Game.
My kids played soccer. I tried to learn the game as well and figure out tactics and skills without relying on others. Practicing the skills helped me sharpen my motor skills so that I had no trouble playing at a high level with Brazilian soccer players in games. They invited me to play and I was consistently underestimated and congratulated on making some skilled and tactically-advanced plays. My spatial intelligence really took off because of playing soccer. My mental development occurred past the age of 30. My social skills continued to develop in part because soccer is a social activity.
I got into lead/follow dancing. Lead/follow dancing necessarily involves physical communication between the leader and the follower. The leader must observe the follower to be able to lead certain patterns, so calibration is essential for the leader. Can the follower keep time, how strong is the physical connection/frame of the follower, how strong a lead does the follower need, and what foot is the follower on currently are things that the leader must be able to ascertain.
The leader must be careful not to over-dance the follower. The leader must understand the state of mind of the follower. Sometimes the follower cannot dance a pattern if she lacks confidence, so calibrating a follower might require calibrating a follower’s level of confidence. Leading is many-faceted and difficult.
With progressive lead/follow dances especially, social agility is also required to avoid colliding with other couples. Instant spatial intelligence and tactics are required. Throw in leading complex patterns and the challenge becomes even more difficult. Add in dancing to the music and you have an additional dimension of challenge. It was especially difficult for me at first, yet I eventually excelled to the point of having taught hundreds of people to dance. All the while, I was learning. My social intelligence and social ability improved through dancing. I became more observant and my ability to discern what I was observing improved. I learned more and more social lessons.
What helped me to succeed? I think that it was a combination of things: I used my obsession as a superpower to overcome developmental challenges, I leveraged my love for playing games to help me with sports and Game, I learned to be fearless from playing with friends and from fighting, I was extroverted and didn’t quit despite the challenges posed by autism. (My family thought that I was introverted, lol.) I didn’t realize that I was autistic until very recently. I learned Game and lots of social principles became visible to me.
My mother encouraged me to play with other kids despite my social awkwardness and didn’t overprotect me. She encouraged me generally and let me fight my own battles, generally. My mother was also very social herself and I learned by observing my mother. My mother taught me the sexual strategy of playing the field.
My mother didn’t try to steer me away from my love of games or shame me for obsessing about things.
Parents of autists would do well to instill habits of maintenance in the autists and teach the autists how to re-energize themselves after doing maintenance.