Saturday, December 18, 2010

Make Me Laugh Please!

As humans, we like to laugh.  We value wit.  We are drawn to people that we think are funny.  It's a compliment when someone tells us we have a good sense of humor.

Because we are not robots and are unique individuials, what is funny is a very subjective thing, viewed through our own individual prism influenced by everything that is unique to our life.  Culture, heritage, age, ethnicity, social economic status and where we live, all of these things and more, combine to give us our take on what is humorous.  What makes us laugh depends on our life experience and circumstance, and what I think is funny may be perceived as rude or insulting to someone else.

Jacob loves to be funny and he tries very hard to make me laugh.  Two of his favorite shows are Family Guy and South Park, which is pretty typical for the kids in his culture.  Yeah, I know what you are thinking.  Those shows are pretty inappropriate and politically incorrect.  But as any parent of a teenager with autism will tell you, short of violent video games or inappropriate behavior that would get him in trouble with the law, you'll encourage anything that will help your child fit in with his peers.  Both Family Guy and South Park are popular with teenagers, and though these would not be my first choice as shows for Jacob to watch, it gives him something to connect to with his classmates.  Fellow parents - back me up on this please!

In an effort to connect, Jacob likes to share with me stuff that he hears on these shows that he thinks is funny.  Sometimes I laugh, but most times the jokes are out of context and the humor is lost.  It's taken alot of time explaining this concept to Jacob, and I think he's finally starting to understand.  But for the longest time, he just couldn't get why that if he repeated something that was extremely funny to him why it wouldn't be funny to me as well.

I remember when Jacob was an adolescent, he liked to tell the same jokes over and over again. I can't remember any of them now, but there were many. As we know, after a punch line is revealed, a joke isn't funny any more because the element of surprise is what makes a joke funny.  He actually asked me once if a joke is funny why wouldn't it be funny if he told it a second time.  Luckily, he did finally grasp this concept , but it took a really long time for it to finally sink in.  At the time, he was around 10 and enrolled at an NPS school for children with social communication disorders.  Translation: he was surrounded by students just like himself so his quirkiness didn't stand out.  If instead he had been mainstreamed in a public elementary school with typical peers, repeating the same jokes to his classmates would have been viewed as annoying.  Maybe not, but I'm guessing that he probably would have been an easy target for bullying, and that's something I can't and don't want to imagine. 

The main reason for Jacob's lack of understanding why others don't like his humor is because he don't have what is called "Theory of Mind".  This is a common deficit for people on the autism spectrum.  "Theory of Mind" is the ability to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one's own.  People with autism think in very black and white terms and are rigid in their belief systems.  Because they are concrete thinkers, anyone that disagrees with them is automatically wrong.  This is a big reason why adults with autism have a difficult time in the work place and in personal relationships.  Think about it.  If you're always right, why should you listen to your boss if you don't agree with him.  If you can't understand another person's point of view, how can you ever repair a disagreement in a relationship.  Being firm in your convictions can be a good thing, but it's a huge problem if you tell your supervisor or your professor he's an idiot or you can't ever figure out why you should do something to make up with your girlfriend when the only way you can resolve the disagreement is if she admits she was wrong.

The humor goal is not something you can write as an IEP goal.  It's a social skill that your child has to learn on his own.  It can't be meaasured on a standardized test.  You either have it or you don't.  And since we like being around people that make us laugh, people with autism have a really tough time in this area of social communication.

Do I ever expect Jacob to the be the life of the party, the guy that people are automatically drawn to because he has a great sense of humor?  Or course not.  I've learned to set my sites on something must more doable.  Like him not being annoying.  That goal I think he's accomplished most of the time.

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