Our next piece of the pie is Social and Recreational. This area is perhaps the most challenging
because it is a core area of deficit in autism.
Daniel Tammet says, “I consider social skills a bit like learning a
language. I’ve been practicing it for so
long over so many years I’ve almost lost my accent.” He is not the only adult with autism to
compare social and communication skills to learning a foreign language. As a bilingual elementary education major in
college, I had studied a foreign language for 8 years before I had the
opportunity to go to a country where the language was spoken. A semester of immersion in the language was
more valuable than all the years of study.
Despite advanced methods of practicing the language, nothing could
replace the authentic need to use it to communicate with others who did not
speak my native tongue. Daniel Tammet’s
quote highlights this phenomenon and parallels it to the need for individuals
with autism to practice social skills in an authentic environment daily. There is nothing that can be done outside of practicing
in an authentic environment that can cement the social and communication skills
that are vital for success in life.
Because of this reality, it is important for all activities in all categories
of our pie chart to take place in the community. Most adults with autism have learned what
they can in an academic environment as children and must now practice their hard-won
skills daily to maintain and expand them.
Looking for opportunities to teach social skills in the community as
they are needed is important for continued growth in this area. Humans are social beings, and all societies
are constructed of social activities.
There is a social element to everything from finding food, shelter, and
clothing to religion. The inability to
participate in these activities bars individuals with autism from participation
leaving them in exile from society.
There is a vast body of research which points to the necessity of social
connections for well-being and happiness.
Further there is link between a lack of social connections and
depression, heart disease, stroke, dementia, and premature death. We have scientifically proven that “No Man is
an Island”. The truly hard part of not
being an “island” is that just because we are not good at social interactions
and relationships does not mean that we don’t need them. The need is no less for individuals who have
challenges in this area than it is for individuals who do not. Once we have learned how to be successful, we
need to practice, practice, practice. Similar
to learning a foreign language, social skills can be lost through isolation. After working in a profession that required me
to speak my second language daily, I had children and stopped using my foreign language
skills. Years later, I can barely recall
simple words that came to me automatically.
Social skills wither and die in the same way that a second language does
if they are not used. For this reason, all
activities must be done in the community and recreation is a part of our weekly
schedule. Some recreation may seem to
serve no purpose, but it offers a plethora of social opportunities that cannot
be found elsewhere.