Children whose Autism Spectrum Disorder manifests as social awkwardness or avoidance are often put in a double bind. On one hand, we adults who care about them ask them to do something different in social context than what comes naturally to them, and on the other hand, their peers punish them for being fake, or putting on an act. "Be different than you are, but be authentic". Our brains are built so that when we detect inconsistency in what a person says and does, it triggers a gut level mistrust and avoidance reaction. There is an extraordinary sensitivity to body language, tone of voice, and the movement of the eyes. If a child uses a social skill that they have learned in a classroom setting in a way that is unaligned with the context, it will most likely make things worse, not better. The answer is authenticity. The Social Sensory Cognition Process that we use at Kids Cooperate is about guiding children to an integrated sensory experience that opens a space for real connection.
A recipe for authenticity:
- Help children to be comfortable in their own space. Their space consists of their body, feelings, and inner thoughts.
- Guide them to a place of seeing that other people occupy their own unique spaces, and have corresponding feelings and thoughts different but equally valid to their own.
- Nurture the development of clear communication. Perspective arises from sensory experience but is expressed through language.
I used to teach a maxim that is popular among social skills groups, "fake it till you make it". I no longer believe that. We must stop teaching our kids to be actors. We have enough adult actors in the world, and the world is not working. Authenticity is not a spectrum. There are no degrees of integrity. Our words and actions are either aligned with our being, or they are not.