“Ronnie, won’t you go outside and play with your friends? They’re all outside having fun”, the anxious mother asks. Huddled up in one corner is Ronnie, widely engrossed in the motions his fingers make as he waves them before his face. “Okay, if you won’t go out and play with them, I can ask them to come in and play with you”,the poor mother is visibly getting more flustered. Ronnie on his part gives a noncommittal grunt, showing no interest whatsoever in socializing with his peers.
This scenario is one that plays out a lot, but in different variations, with people who suffer from autism spectrum disorder. There is this disconnect between the autistic person and the rest of the social environment. It is almost as if he is more comfortable with inanimate objects and his own company as opposed to interacting with other humans. An autistic child, for example, may be taken out to a playground but will show little interest in actually playing, but will pick up a rock and start examining the patterns in the grain of the rock. At the moment, all that matters to him is the rock, and who are all these pesky people?
The autistic social problem can prove to be a real hindrance in developing and applying practical life skills. You see, a lot of our lives are tied up with other people. Our family, friends, classmates, workmates, sports buddies, fellow commuters, neighbors and a host of other people we meet in the day to day interactions in life. Now, a lot of practical life skills are passed from person to person. For example, the father teaches the son how to fix a car, a friend teaches him how to ride a bicycle, that friendly looking chef teaches him how to whip up a mean dish of lasagna. But for the autistic person who has a problem connecting with others, these practical life skills and many more might not be available to him as he is unable to socially connect with those who are to tutor him in these skills.
In the event that a practical life skill has been learnt successfully, it’s used might still suffer some impairment in the autistic person. You see, the successful application of a life skill sometimes requires the accurate reading of a social situation. A skill such as conflict resolution proves useless when you are unable to accurately read and understand the body language, unspoken words and non-verbal tics of the parties involved. How can one actually make a good bargain in an open market when he is unable to comprehend the facial expressions of the vendors? So, autistic people may face issues in effectively utilizing the practical life skills they possess.
So, what’s the hope for the future? You see, the root problem is impaired social and communication skills. From childhood, an autistic person can be immersed in a warm, caring and supportive environment, where he can slowly learn the meaning and value of relationships. In this context, he can question the need for certain social skills, fall, stumble, crawl, walk, run and fly in the pursuit of mastery of those vital social skills. When social problems are addressed, every other thing (including practical life skills) will fall in place.