Social skills are a necessity in life. No matter who you are, how you were raised, or what you believe, there is a general expectation of behavior and interpersonal communication that we have of one another. I have a different face for the public than I do for people I know and can be myself around and I can switch gears fairly easily. I respect people’s spaces, mind my manners, and can adjust to social cues when I feel like the situation has become awkward. Standing in line and waiting my turn without bumping into the people around me is easy. I can walk through my favorite store without having to touch everything and if I am shopping with someone else, I am patient while they shop even if it is for something I have no interest in. I can listen when it is time to listen, sit quietly when it is time to be quiet, and I can be still for long periods of time if I have to. Conversations are two sided and I am able to focus on what the person is saying as well as respond appropriately. When I was younger, these social skills were more difficult but as I matured my skills evolved more quickly. I am still awkward more often than I care to admit but I recognize it and I work on it. This ability is not so easy for my son Kody or many people with different disabilities that desire and require relationships.
Interpersonal communication opens or shuts doors to opportunities and relationships. People do not always give each other the benefit of the doubt. We pass judgment before we understand the situation especially if we are made to feel uncomfortable. If we are offended, we react with negative intentions and draw conclusions about a person’s character based on a moment of interaction that was less than pleasing. We do not consider why someone has acted this way, just that they have.
Social situations are stressors for my little family. Sometimes they are a nightmare. When Kody was a toddler, I can remember sitting in a restaurant with his three siblings and the look of sheer embarrassment on all of our faces as Kody created quite a disturbance by screaming out in short bursts for no apparent reason. This was common during this period of time for him. It did not deter me at that time from taking my family out to public places, but eventually it would. On this occasion, it drew the attention of a manager who made sure we had two servers and free ice cream to help keep him calm. It was a kindness that washed over me and a relief for Kody’s siblings who had no control over how he behaved in public. I will never forget it.
Kody grew out of the screaming stage after a couple of years as his speech developed but his social skills are still developing. It is incredibly hard to watch my son around kids his age. He wants to fit in but does not fully understand the reason for or accept social rules. Unfortunately that is a turn off for kids his age and most people in general. That includes those closest to him. Conversations with people are usually one sided and only about what he wants to discuss. His idea of funny is usually obnoxious to others. He is impulsive and can put people on the spot. If he has something on his mind he wants to say it right away even if that means interrupting a conversation. Though he is 14, his sense of humor rivals that of an eight-year-old boys where bodily functions are hilarious and annoying others tickles his funny bone. When he is mad or frustrated he wants to hit or kick things. He tends to protest the consequences of his behavioral choices by refusing to do anything at all, negative self talk, and the occasional meltdown where pent up hurt and anger come out at the top of his lungs with great rage and many tears. It is heartbreaking to watch and frustrating to deal with.
The other side of Kody is a young man full of courage, brave enough to take on the world full steam ahead. He is a great witness for Jesus Christ and will not hesitate to point his friends to Him as their Savior. Kody is sensitive to the needs of others and wants to protect the weak. His compassion for the less fortunate is deep and sincere. I believe if he had his way, we would personally house all of the homeless in Houston. His humor is not always obnoxious. His witty observations and fun facts leave me in stitches and he loves to perform for small captive audiences spontaneously. Movie theatres are a perfect example. From the moment we walk into the theatre and find our seats, Kody is performing for anyone who will give him their attention. He is the pre-movie entertainment. Whether it is a little dance or a complete mime routine, he loves to make people smile or laugh. Kody is creative. His escape is his imagination. He dresses up in costumes and fully takes on the persona of his favorite characters. Many a Star Wars space battle has been fought right on our front lawn with lightsaber in hand. He wants everyone to be happy and to have fun. It is the most important thing to him. Social skills are not at the top of his list.
It takes a lot of energy and a great deal of patience to get to know Kody. You have to be willing to be uncomfortable and love him where his abilities are right now. People with disabilities offer humanity an opportunity to show and grow in compassion, love, understanding, devotion, and courage. It will make you a better person. It will make you stronger. Your time and effort is appreciated by parents who desperately want for their family member to be loved and accepted and it is rewarded by your Father in Heaven who loved these special human beings even before they came into this world. Speaking for Kody, “Please socialize my skills.”