Thursday, March 17, 2011

Small Talk

M1 cracks me up with his bluntness sometimes. He embarrasses me at others. Sometimes he manages to do both at once.

We've been struggling lately with the idea of small talk. For example, when we went to a store to get him some inserts for his tennis shoes, the young salesman there introduced himself first to me and then to M1.

"And what's your name?" he asked M1.

M1 froze. Literally. Then he choked out his name and breathed a huge sigh of relief. He'd gotten through an introduction successfully. He usually does. Those are pretty well scripted, so he can manage them. But then the salesman asked M1 his shoe size.

Insert gaping mouth and frozen eyes.

"Seven," I answered a few seconds later, saving M1 from having to try to respond to a question he didn't have in his mental script.

The guy nodded. He got the insert. He came back, and M1 found his voice. "My feet are huge. My mom calls me a moose. I'm only eight years old, but I wear a men's size 7. I'm tall for my age, too, and my daddy was tall for his age, but he wasn't as tall as me. He was never the tallest in his class until he was a teenager."

"Oh yeah?" the guy asked, genuinely trying to feign interest. I gave him big kudos for that.

"Yeah, my mom has pictures, and they show that my dad was only the third or fourth tallest in his class. I'm going to be tall like my dad someday, maybe taller, but my mom doesn't want me to be taller than him because our doorways aren't tall enough, and we have ceiling fans, too. My dad is 6'8". My sister's tall, too. She's only five and she's four feet tall. Someday she'll be taller than my mom, and so will I. My mom's going to be the shrimp in the family."

By this time, the poor salesman has the inserts into M1's shoes and has been trying to get a word in edgewise for about 15 seconds to ask him to stand and see how they feel, but it's hard to stop M1 when he gets his lecture on.

And this is a typical exchange. Most of the dialogue I've written above has come from things that either A) M1 has heard me say to friends or other folks a few times or B) a well-worn script that M1 has developed over the years on his own.

We talked about it after we left the store, and M1 admitted that he totally freezes when he has to talk to anyone he doesn't know very well. He also admitted that he doesn't understand when other people want to talk. And as for the notion of choosing a subject? Fugettaboutit.

This has left me with the parent-of-an-ASD-child dilemma of having to explain the entire concept of small talk to an 8-year-old boy who has NO CLUE.

I went at it a bit backward first, trying to skip straight to 'safe' subjects and using short sentences and things like that. But I'm am realizing that the REAL first step is to get M1 to create 'social circles' in his head. His inner or "first" circle has to be his family, immediate and secondary, and maybe a few close friends, though we might have to tweak that circle a bit, too, eventually. More on that later. But those of us in the first circle are the ones who are used to him, accept him as he is, and aren't in the least bit bugged when he starts lecturing or when he freezes. We don't notice the difference!

The second circle are people who have met him more than once and whom we know and trust. These would be people in the mom's group, people in our homeschool group, etc. In other words, people who aren't strangers, but they might find some of his statements or actions a bit off sometimes. Not all the time, because all kids are weird sometimes, but once in a while you just get the 'weird' vibe. It happens.

The third circle includes strangers. Cashiers, salespeople, random folks in stores... all the people with whom one normally doesn't share the intimate details of your life/day/shoe size. Normally.

After the circles are established, THEN I can work within those parameters to create safe subjects and introduce the notion of not jumping from topic to topic or launching into a speech with no preamble whatsoever. The entire process is truly like programming a computer, only with a few extra lines of code in there that constitute human emotion and DNA.

Clearly I have my work cut out for me. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Once we get all this done, then I've got to hint at the idea of circles within circles. For example, my grandmother is one who needs to fall somewhere on the cusp of Circles 1 and 2.


When we went to visit her, M1 was talking to her and she asked him how Sunday School was going. My grandmother is a very religious Lutheran woman. It's just who she is, how she was raised, how she has lived, and how she will die. My mother has yet to tell her she's not attending a Lutheran church, and nobody wants to burst that particular bubble, because it won't be pretty. So when Grandma asked about Sunday School, my insides hit the roof and I mentally screamed, "NOOOOOOO!!!!"

Quoth M1: "Well, my mom's not really a churchy person sometimes, so we haven't been going. I go with my Nana sometimes, though, and it's fun."


I spent the next 10 minutes running damage control and attempting to soften the tractor beam of a glare that had directed itself at me.

Then, as we were leaving, my grandmother was hugging the kids goodbye and told them, "Come back and see me again soon."

Quoth M1: "Okay, but don't die first."

That one... well, that one just makes me laugh hysterically.

Small talk. Not such a small subject after all.

1 comment:

Beth said...

I had a long answer about this VERY problem but blogger nixed that idea... :)