Monday, April 2, 2012

Personality and Socialization

We have been VERY busy bees since my last post.  The boy and I have been settling into our homeschool routine, but I felt that we needed a little break to restructure and have a little fun. The freedom to take a vacation any time we need one is one of my favorite things about homeschooling. We were a little burned out, so we went to The Dells for a few days before John's job transition. I think we all needed to stop, drop, and roll out of our routines for a little while. Now John is safely tucked in at his new job, I have a new plan of attack for the rest of the "school year," and we are all refreshed and ready to go after a three week break.

What I've really been musing over is where personality fits in when dealing with the whole "socialization" aspect of not only homeschooling but raising a child with a disability in general. It seems the general consensus among the homeschooling and special needs community is frequent exposure to social situations so that they can experience what "normal" kids experience. In the beginning, I definitely felt that pressure to get Perrin involved in extracurriculars, co-ops, and social skills groups so that he wouldn't be lonely and so that he could work on developing conversational skills. But the thing is, Perrin is not outgoing. He isn't exactly shy, but when he sees kids playing on a playground, his first instinct isn't always to run to them and join in. When he was in public school, he kept to himself much of the time on the playground. And this was considered to be socially inappropriate to some, because he was supposed to be working on his social skills. In fact, he often had the school psychologist shadowing him. This forced socialization with no regard for personality is one of the things I struggled with growing up as well. As a kid, I wanted nothing to do with the other kids. I just wanted to read my book and be left alone during recess, but I wasn't allowed to bring my book because I was supposed to be playing like a good little robot. Navigating that minefield of bullies and cliques only worked to elevate my anxiety and make it that much more difficult to get through the day without falling apart. By high school, I was a depressed, insecure ball of nerves convinced that I was defective because I couldn't conform.

John is an introvert. In fact, John pretty much defines introvert. He likes people, and he is a very kind and friendly person. He has a wickedly delicious sense of humor and is very fun to be around, but most people don't see this because they make him uncomfortable. He doesn't go to music festivals even though he and I live and breathe music, and I can see him tense up fairly quickly when we go to a party. As an adult, he can choose the amount of exposure to these environments, and he is allowed to avoid them altogether. But when our children have these same issues, instead of recognizing their need for withdrawal, we are told to continually thrust them into more situations that they are not equipped to deal with and may never be. Socialization isn't always about practice makes perfect. That's the point at which personality must be considered before scheduling playdate after playdate or deciding to shuttle the kid off to karate, soccer, and whatever else will guarantee that he get the maximum amount of social exposure needed to mold him into a more typical person.

Perrin lives in a world of superheroes. The real world is extremely boring to him, and unless we all turn into Marvel characters, we are all boring to him. Social rules dictate that I shouldn't allow him this obsession because it separates him from other children. But he's comfortable in his own skin, he knows who he is, what he wants, what he loves. How is this a bad thing? He lets me know when he's in need of a playdate, he has good friends who understand him, and he is much loved by them. Yes, he gets strange looks on the playground because he's making explosion sounds and acting out his favorite scenes from Iron Man, but he never notices it. He simply doesn't care what anyone thinks of him, and this is an awesome quality that I refuse to crush by forcing him to sit through a social skills class that will work toward teaching him to memorize small talk so that he makes other kids more comfortable.
I'm done doing that.

We live in a world run by extroverts where eye-contact, handshaking, and small talk is expected. There are many of us awkward people who are often made to feel defective because we aren't good at these things. We aren't defective. We shouldn't be forced to endure our own discomfort so that the majority of folks can feel more comfortable with us. I know that my little twitchy family makes people uncomfortable, and I've stopped caring. Let them stare. Let them think Perrin is weird. When our society can stop placing more value on other people's perception of us than on our own feelings about ourselves, we wallflowers may finally find our place amongst the social butterflies.

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