About a month ago, I attended a Scouts "Basic Leadership 2" course and last weekend I finished off "Basic Leadership 3". The courses are a mix of written and practical work with a lot of group and "bonding" activities thrown in for good measure.
It was an interesting exercise for me because I got the chance to "return to school" but this time with full knowledge of my aspie condition. It enabled me to make some rather profound observations about myself.
More importantly though, I find myself wondering if this is what my son is going through at school.
Although the course ran from Friday to Sunday, a lot of people didn't turn up until Saturday morning. My group started off with three people and grew to five.
I coped really well with three people and I was able to participate in group discussions without feeling left out and without accidentally talking over the top of people. I mostly seemed to know when conversations ended and when it was safe to change the subject.
When the group expanded to five, I felt myself having to struggle more to hear and to be heard. It wasn't that the volume was wrong but that conversations tended to get away from me. I simply couldn't keep up.
My group discussion participation dropped to a minimum. I still knew the answers to all the questions and had no problems understanding the question - it was written down. My group was full of very friendly people who were eager for me to participate but I simply couldn't function with them all talking at once.
In the end, I started simply writing down my answers and my teammates would talk for a while and when appropriate, copy my answers. I was able to make non-verbal contributions.
I found myself wanting acceptance from others on the course but I felt so inept in conversation that I quickly fell back to the old staple; the class clown. I was by no means the wittiest person on the course but I can proudly say that I got our instructor to leave the class twice in tears (of laughter).
At the same time, I'm not quite sure if my humour was entirely appropriate or it it was irritating to anyone. Once or twice, I'm sure I overstepped the mark.
If I wasn't bobbing my knee, I was twirling my pen, drumming my fingers or flicking my tongue constantly on the back of my teeth. Sometimes several things at once. I felt much more secure and relaxed while stimming but I knew that there was a good chance that I was annoying people around me.
Eventually, I managed to stopped stimming - or so I thought. It was only after the course, when I looked at my course notes, artfully decorated with pictures of... "Rabbit Baden-Powell", a pack rat being teased by a safety badge on a mousetrap and various representations of our tutors that I realized I was stimming by drawing.
One of my many pieces of doodle-art. This one filled an entire A4 page.
While other people doodle, I produce artwork. I certainly don't draw at any other time. I need to draw and despite appearances, I am listening. Thinking about school and that oft repeated phrase; "put your pens down and listen!", I wonder if we're doing our aspie children a disservice? Maybe they too need to doodle in order to listen more effectively?
On both courses, the people I got on with the best were people with obvious disabilities. I'm not sure why. I didn't consciously pick these people, I guess I just found them more approachable. That's not to suggest that anyone on the courses was "unapproachable". They were a group of the friendliest and "down to earth" adults I've ever met. I just think that it's interesting that I should mix best with people who were anything but neurotypical.
Strangely, all of my best school friends were also "different" in various ways.
And the point is...
I think I learned just as much about myself as I did about scout leadership on the courses. Perhaps as parents, we need to try to remember what it was like to be students. Maybe then we'll be better placed to understand our children.