Christmas vacation is great, but can seem a bit long for teenagers accustomed to being with their friends and classmates all day. But what if the teenager is nearly nonverbal, gets really anxious in social situations, and is so hypersensitive to sound that he usually works in his own quiet room off the main classroom? We never guessed Peter might feel that teenage social pull, until he let us know in his own way.
Near the end of Christmas vacation this year, Peter got on his AT device (Vantage), and keyed in “I want car ride. School.” We asked, “Why school?” Peter replied, “Miss Laska (his teacher).” We told him, “No school yet, Peter. Why do you want to go to school?” As options we wrote, “Do you miss Miss Laska’s hellos? Miss your friends? Want to ask Miss Laska how her Christmas went?” Peter circled “miss your friends,” adding “I” before “miss” to make the sentence grammatically correct. “Oh, so what friends do you miss?” we asked. Peter got on his Vantage and navigated to a list of names of all his classmates. He then listed all the boys in the class, plus Miss Laska. We ended up having him write all those names down. The next day we went to school, Peter walked into the classroom, pulled out his list of names (with prompting), and said, “Hello…”, proceeding to read off all the names on his list. Then he looked at everyone, said, “Bye!”, waved, turned, and bolted back to his own little room away from the main classroom, his quiet haven.
That was enough for Peter. But I thought it was beautiful. Considering all the barriers to social interaction including anxiety, sensory hypersensitivities, and communication skills, he still had that desire for it, and even managed to express that desire. I’m not sure how satisfying it was for him to actually follow-through and greet all his friends, but the more practice he gets, the more automatic it may become with time. Hopefully at some point, the pleasure will exceed the work and effort, and satisfying that desire for social interaction will become easier. For now, I’m just amazed and grateful that he has it. Despite everything, under all those challenges, lies the heart of a potential friend.