I have Asperger's syndrome and I have known quite a few others who also has Asperger's syndrome. I'll share with you what I know about hobbies and social life for me and those others. Keep in mind, this is me sharing my own experiences and my own perspective on things. You can pick what you think applies and forget about the rest. I can't guarantee that any of this makes sense to you and your child but I'm hoping you can use at least use some of it.
I've compiled a short list of hobbies that I and my friends have (or have had). These might not necessarily fit your son but they will probably give you a general idea of what aspies often like (I can only assume the same goes for "pure" autism):
- Learning certain things by heart:
- The digits of pi
- All the countries/capitals in the world
- All the states/capitals of USA
The list goes on and on. As you can see, these are all things you can do alone. Generally, at least for aspies, it's not that we don't like being social, it's just hard. Certain social situations are much harder than others, though. These are things that can make it really difficult:
- Many people (10+)
- People I don't know
- Sitting/being close to others (I love my brother to death and I hug him every time I see him but even that is hard)
- Talking to or touching people I don't know
- Girls (they make me nervous because I don't know how to treat them; I don't know how many times I've stepped on their toes when that was never my intention)
- Small-talk (it bores me and I have a tendency to turn the conversation into something inappropriate or awkward which is even worse than small-talk)
- Alcohol (I feel pressured to join in on the drinking even though I don't want to)
There is one more thing but this one requires a little more explanation. I don't want to feel pressured into being social. I'll be social when the time is right and I'm comfortable. Discomfort follows when someone initiates a conversation with me because that usually means I'm not ready. Also, birthday parties and other such almost obligatory arrangements usually make me feel like I have to be social, and that can ruin the whole thing.
Here's a setting where I'm always comfortable: When I'm in a place I know with people I know and not too many of them where I have the option to talk to people or just be if I don't feel like having an actual conversation, and the people there don't fill the whole room, if that makes sense. Some people, when you're around them you can just simply relax, and others will just drain your energy. I have no actual source for this but I have a feeling the energy draining affects us more than it does others.
Next on the list: develpment of social skills. I can understand that you don't want your son to left behind but to be brutally honest, he probably will. Social interaction, reading cues, expressing yourself clearly, and behaving appropriately are generally things people like us have to learn the hard way, and genreally this happens when others would probably call "too late". Until the age of 14 or 15 I had little interest in others, and when school ended (9th grade, 15 or 16 years old), one of the girls in my class encouraged me to spend the next year trying to be social, and that's what I did. In 10th grade I was probably the most popular in my class, and I do have a guess as to why that is:
- I was smart so I could help the others with math problems
- We all liked computers, and I was better at it than they were
- In my attempt to help my classmates, I would ofte fail miserably trying to explain simple concepts and then turning them into long and complicated explanations that only I could follow. It was like a monkey trying to ride a bike. It was funny. This, in turn, gave me a pretty good idea of what people thought was funny, and I actually learned to be funny.
- I tried to be somewhat impulsive
They liked me and I liked them which made me open up more. At one point my wallet was stolen, and I was afraid someone would steal my computer as well, so I did what any unreasonable person would do: I made a screensaver which looked like the computer rebooted and crashed again and again, and you needed to input a password to close it. Nobody touched my computer after that, and I made special copies to several different people who all thought it was the most brilliant thing ever. One day, one of my classmates had bought one of those dirty magazines, and in this was a link to a website where you could vote on which of twenty girls was more hot or something like that. It was a contest of sorts. He asked me if I could make girl number 19 win, so I made a small program that would cast votes on girl number 19. In that week we probably sent some 30 million votes on that girl (only 5 million people live in my country). Needless to say, she did win, and I was even cooler than before.
All I'm saying is, my hobby actually helped me later in life to gain popularity, and my hobby was computers. Another great point to make is that, since I had to learn all the social stuff the hard way, analyzing, studying, interpreting, reading between lines, I became pretty good at it. In certain situations I do better than most people because I can read more cues than most people can (a test I once took confirms that). Even expressing emotions non-verbally has become a great tool that I use in everyday conversations, and it really livens up the situations. I've also become pretty darn good at pretending to enjoy some forgettable conversation with a random stranger, and I feel like every time I do that, instead of deceiving people, I'm putting smiles on their faces, and I like that. Even if I won't remeber the conversation, I'm hoping they will. Being social has almost become an art form that I have to understand in order to paint a real picture, and that, I believe, gives me a few advantages that I often see "normal" people lacking.
The gist of it all is, autism in any form has it's ups and downs but I'm sure your kid will be fine. When the time comes, even he will want to explore the social world. Maybe putting him together with other kids like him will speed up the process but I'm almost certain it will come automatically, just give him time.
Here are a few other things that I want to tell you that I wish my parents knew:
- Bad grades do not necessarily mean a lack of skills.
- Be firm, not tough.
- Reason over authority. If he asks why, always have a reason. "Because I said so" is the worst thing you can say to a person with an autism sprectrum disorder. This will relieve your kid of many headaches, I'm sure.
- Your kid is different, and he feels different, I can assure you. I have yet to meet someone like me who did not feel different. So don't treat your kid like he's different, just affirm that he is and that he's loved.
- Remember, extrovert people recharge in other's company, and introvert people recharge when they are by themselves. Alone time - even in the company of others - can be a good thing.
- Social norms and daily/weekly planning, even if it doesn't make sense, is still important. Shower and eat regularly, have a set bedtime, brush your teeth, etc. This seems obvious to everyone else but I have met several people where eating, brushing your teeth and showering just isn't part of their routine so they forget about it.
- Your kid is awesome. All of my friends lie on the autism spectrum because they're just that much more interesting that most other people.