The older I get, the more I realize that I was greatly helped by old fashioned 1950’s methods for teaching children social skills. Mother had good instincts on how much to “stretch” me so I would learn. To develop, I had to be continually moved outside my comfort zone. In our neighborhood, the rules were the same at every home, and good manners were always expected.
When mistakes were made, I was given proper instructions instead of mother or a neighbor saying “No.” If I wiped my mouth with my hand, my mother would say, “Use the napkin.” The mistake made by many parents and teachers is to say “no” instead of giving the instruction. When I twirled my fork around my head she would say, “Put it back on your plate.” Today, too many people say “no” instead of giving proper instructions. In elementary school, I lapped a bowl of ice cream with my tongue. A teacher silently took it away and said, “You are not a dog.” She did not get mad, she just said it real matter of fact. Back then, manners were always taught in a calm, neutral tone.
At a young age, all the children in our family had to be party hosts and hostesses. My brothers, sisters, and I would greet party guests and shake hands with them. Unfortunately, I am seeing too many kids today who are not learning to shake hands. By age seven or eight years old, I was good at this. Even though I hated the parties, my brother admitted that learning to shake hands and being a good party host helped his career. Having these skills made it easy for him to make a good impression on his bosses at the bank and he is now a senior vice president.
In the 1950’s, all kids were taught to shake hands by demonstrating the act. I had to learn to use the correct amount of pressure and to do two or three shakes while looking at the person. Back then, young children were taught manners and social skills that are now reserved for older children on the spectrum.
Why not have the same expectations for children today? Reserve praise for a really good art project, don’t give it for normal things that are considered polite, such as saying “please” and “thank you.”
Recently I was at a formal dinner with a fully verbal 12-year-old with autism. When he started to eat sliced chicken with his hands, I said, “Use the utensils” and he did. He not only followed my instruction, he even tried some new foods! Teaching kids on the spectrum the formal social skills of the 1950’s can create a respectful child who will be respected.
Temple Grandin, PhD, is an internationally respected specialist in designing livestock handling systems. She is the most noted highly functioning person with autism in the world today. For more information, visit her at www.templegrandin.com.