Monday, January 23, 2012

He Doesn't See The Clues

Did you know that I'm really shy at heart? While I love hanging out with friends and talking to them and spending time around them, I always feel a little shiver run down my spine when I have to approach a large group of people I don't know - or don't know well. It's that reaction of a new girl walking into the high school cafeteria again.

I know what to do, though, and I generally do it well. I know what the situation calls for. I pull my shoulders back and lengthen my stride. I look directly at people, choosing when and where I'll make a good entrance into the conversation or group. And then I have fun. I turn on that extrovert portion of my personality and make it work for me. And I enjoy it.

Then I'll go home and just look for quiet. I'll enjoy sitting by myself and reading a good book. I need to take the time to recharge and gain the energy that I'd spent around all those people so I can go do it again. That doesn't mean that I don't love to entertain and spend time with people - I absolutely do. It just takes energy I need to replenish.

Fortunately, depending on the situation, there are different traits needed, and I adapt. So do most people. While we may tend to be either more introverted or extroverted, we can still pull out the qualities required from other personality traits to - for the most part - succeed in each of those situations.

Yesterday in church, we said the Our Father, as we do every week. At the end, everyone lifts their linked hands. We all lift them to about eye level, bending our elbows to keep it comfortable. As I looked down at Mister Man, He had his hands lifted as high as they go, his shoulder scrunched up. It's a little thing, but it's something that sets him apart.

I talk a lot to him about using the clues of people around him to help him in social situations. When he talks about something he's interested in, he walks. He doesn't pace or walk in circles or anything so regular. It's almost like rocking but not in place. It's really hard to talk to him when he's doing that, as he's frequently not facing the person he's talking to - and thus unintelligible. Or he's playing with children and as they approach that invisible line, all the kids back off, but he doesn't notice and continues until way after that line is crossed.

He misses the cues, sometimes the big ones and frequently the small ones. And my heart aches, not because I need or want him to be the same as everyone else around him, but because it separates him from his peers in a way that makes his path harder. He gets frustrated because situations don't work the way he wishes they would but doesn't understand that much of the reason for this is his inability to to adapt his personality to the situation at hand. He is oblivious to the cues around him, and that keeps him from being as happy as he deserves to be.

Is it better to be an introvert or an extrovert? No. And I mean that - it isn't better necessarily to be one or the other, but we all need to be able to take bits and pieces of other tendencies to get us through life. But how do you teach that?

In the interest of full disclosure, this post was inspired by the book "Quiet" by Susan Cain as part of the From Left To Write book club. I received a copy of this book as part of the book club where we write posts inspired by the books rather than reviews of the book. I received no compensation, and all opinions remain my own.


Frosted Fingers January 23, 2012 at 9:54 PM  

I would have never guessed you are shy.
I'm very shy, too, until I get to know people I keep to myself. A lot of times I hear that people thought I didn't like them at first. I just don't usually talk to people I don't know.

Lisa Hanneman January 23, 2012 at 10:28 PM  

I think you're right on. It's all about adapting and reading the situations we're in.

And that's what is the most frustrating about the events us bloggers are usually invited to. They get full of small talk and awkward introductions when all we really want is to connect and catch up, right?

Thien-Kim aka Kim January 24, 2012 at 12:26 AM  

I can be shy in the beginning as well. Sometimes it just seems like too much work to break the ice!

Heather E January 24, 2012 at 8:24 AM  

I think that it's best to be somewhat in the middle- there is a time and place for everything and every social situation. But I have a feeling that as Mister Man gets older, he'll start to pick up on them. Maybe not all of them but he will get some of them. All you have to do is be there to guide him along the way.

melanie January 24, 2012 at 11:01 AM  

michelle--i'm like you. i get nervous for the big group things. that's why i'm always happy to latch on to people like you and lisa at the blogging events!

Pat January 24, 2012 at 11:28 AM  

I wouldn't have guessed you were shy at heart, either. I am too, and I also know how to make small talk and seem good at social interactions, but I also go home feeling drained after big gatherings where there are people I don't know. I liked your description of pulling out the qualities required from other personality traits to function in a social setting. I'm sure that with time and continual training, Mr. Man will learn to observe cues around him and act accordingly. There's an 18-year-old autistic girl at my church whose parents have worked tirelessly in helping her to have adequate social skills and she has come a long way since I first met her at age 6.

Michelle January 24, 2012 at 12:54 PM  

Paula - I am... or I should say I can be were I to choose to let myself be. I love meeting new people and going to new places and doing new things, though - so to do that, I turn on the extrovert part of my personality. Go fig!

Lisa - Adaptability is key. I'm actually ok with the small talk and introductions because that's how you get to meet new people and connect with them - eventually. But you're right, I would love to catch up with the people I know, too!

Kim - It is work to break the ice, but for me... it's worth it. It isn't for everyone, and that's fine, too. If you're happy not doing it, then it works for you - and that's what matters.

Heather - I don't know that it's being in the middle as it is knowing what makes you happy and being able to do that. If Mister Man weren't frustrated, that would be different. It's the fact that it makes him unhappy that I wish it were easier for him.

Melanie - It is definitely always fun to find those familiar faces in the crowd, isn't it? That said... it's sorta fun to meet some of the new ones, too!

Pat - That is the kind of thing I need to hear. I love that there is change and progress. Here's hoping Mister Man has the same kind of success!

Tara R. January 24, 2012 at 3:17 PM  

My son socially is about 4-5 years behind his peers and sometimes that causes problems for him in friend relationships. The gap is closing, but it's hard sometimes trying to explain why situations don't turn out like he wants.

tiarastantrums January 30, 2012 at 10:46 AM  

oh my - I think you are always so cheerful and friendly! I like to be around you b/c of that! me on the other hand, I have HUGE issues with talking to strangers. SO HARD! One of my goals this year to put myself out there more - but I'm not doing very well yet!

As to little man - it so hard - so very hard!! It takes awhile to learn those cues from people. Right now, my son thinks everyone thinks he's weird (and he is a bit b/c of the SPD), but I always tell him he's not and to just keep trying! He's a CLOSE talker and very touchy (sensory issues up close and personal) and kids don't always like that.

Jen @ TheUnProcessedKitchen March 28, 2012 at 8:16 PM  

I love this, I connected with every bit of it. I am outgoing and friendly, but shy at heart too. I love being around people but they make me tired and I have to re-charge after a while. My son... oh yes. We talk so much about looking at faces, trying to remember clues - his school has a "special friends" group {} that meets once a week with the social worker to try and learn social skills. I know the heartbreak you feel not because he is different, but because of what being different means. Loved this post :)

Michelle March 29, 2012 at 9:42 PM  

Tara - It does cause problems, and it's so hard to watch as a parent. It does give you hope that the gap narrows though, but ... if only that gap weren't there!

Teresa - You are far too kind :) Yep, the sensory seeking is hard, too. I sort of wish he had more friends like him, but then I wonder if that would slow his general progress in general. Fortunately, he's happy at the moment - and that's what I care about!

Jen - Mister Man goes to a social group, too, that does what sounds like the same thing. Fortunately, I don't believe it's called special friends, although I believe there is a group by that name in the middle school. Thanks for "getting" this post!

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