Au-kward Moment of the Week

A Friendly’s Song

I feel like I have au-kward moments every other day, rather than every week. This makes sense, though, considering I have two twin sisters with autism that are very vocal, charismatic, and outgoing.

Luckily, this week was extra special. I went home from college for the weekend and went to Friendly’s with my mother, father, and sisters. We went at prime time: 12 o’clock noon when the restaurant was filled with children. Since most looked to be around age 12 and under, I assumed most of those children didn’t understand autism up-close — let alone from afar — so I was already preparing myself for their curious stares when one of my sisters was guaranteed to give them something to talk about! And she did: Emma gave them a fun-filled example!

Sesame-StreetMy sister Emma has been on a YouTube-kick watching this particular Sesame Street clip with lots of high-pitched singing. Emma is the queen of repetition, and decided not only to sing just as the characters do, but extremely exaggerated. It was like Sesame Street Live!’s Broadway show without costumes. Needless to say, we all got the deer-in-the-headlights stares from the kids and perfectly practiced eye rolls that we were waiting for from the parents. But, oh, how my family laughed at her on-point spontaneity! For a moment, I wished I had the courage to entertain via restaurant cabaret, too.

And you’re welcome, parents. Your children got a free show with lunch. 🙂

— Diana Alessandrini

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Monkey Business

During my time as a summer camp counselor working with children on the spectrum, we took a field trip to the local zoo. I stepped away from the group to take one of the younger girls in the group to the restroom. Once we got there, this young girl noticed an older, African-American janitor cleaning outside the door. She pointed at the janitor and asked very loudly, “Why is she so dirty?”

I am not sure if my camper had never seen an African-American woman before, or if she simply forgot, but regardless it was very “au-kward” and the woman was blatantly offended.

I ushered my camper into the stall and rushed out to apologize and speak with this woman. Before she could start yelling at me about the comment, I quickly began explaining that the girl was on the autism spectrum. Since the woman was unfamiliar with autism, she claimed I was making up excuses for the girl’s lack of manners. I gave her a brief lesson on Autism 101 and explained that many children with autism often have a difficult time understanding what may or may not be socially appropriate. You can read more about this here.

Eventually, the woman softened and appreciated my explanation. My camper came out of the restroom and apologized. The situation may have been pretty “au-kward” at first, but it ended well and the woman from the zoo learned something new about autism that day.

— Lindsay Rosen

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I Mustache You A Question

mustachegirlsIn college, I worked as a Community Support Worker for a 12-year-old girl on the autism spectrum who had a funny obsession with mustaches. During the holiday season, we went to the mall wearing fake mustaches per her request, and while we stood in line waiting to meet Santa, a young boy in front of us kept turning around to stare at her mustache. To encourage social interaction, I finally said, “Why don’t you tell him about your mustache?” She looked him dead in the eye and said with a completely serious face, “It’s real,” then turned away. The boy looked very confused and did not know what to think of the small 12-year-old girl with a real mustache. I think someone felt a little au-kward!

Written by Grace Bourey, intern at The Autism Research Foundation

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Confused Cheerleader: A Lesson in Miscommunication

As Communications Executive of both The Autism Research Foundation (TARF) and Athletes 4 Autism (A4A), I helped coordinate A4A’s filming with the NESN sports channel last February. The filming featured Sean Escobedo, a defenseman for the BU men’s ice hockey team at the time, and his A4A buddy Derek. Although Derek was one of A4A’s first participants, this was the first time that I had met him and his mom. When we were introduced, Derek barely acknowledge me, something I had expected would happen as it is a behavior I have experienced with other children who are on the autism spectrum.

Throughout the beginning of the filming, every time Derek did something well, he would look to the hockey bench for approval and praise. As an observer, I would cheer Derek on to show my support and to prove that I was a friendly face he could count on. I loved that he was already looking for me; that quick bond is unusual for kids with autism, but we had made it! It was the greatest compliment anyone could have ever given me, until I realized that Derek was actually eagerly waiting for his mother’s approval, not mine. Talk about au-kward!

But I continued to encourage him anyways — I was so genuinely proud of the progress he was making even though I had just been reminded how insignificant I was to Derek.

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Derek (left) and Sean (right) prepare to face off.

Later on during the filming, Derek’s mom was being interviewed by the NESN staff. Derek was aware of this, yet he still continued to look to the bench for approval. There I was, cheering on Derek like I was his personal fan. When Derek’s mom was able to resume her duties as head cheerleader, I noticed that Derek would still stop and wait to continue his lesson, even after his mom praised his play.

I then realized that my constant encouragement had finally stuck in Derek’s mind and now he was waiting for my approval. Turned out, I wasn’t insignificant like his initial reaction had made me feel. It was the opposite; I was significant, but just reminded so on Derek’s terms, not when I tried to pull it from him with eye contact.

Needless to say, I made a lifelong friend that afternoon and learned a lifelong lesson. Now, when Derek walks into an A4A lesson, I am proud to say that I am one of the first people he looks for and greets with a big hug. And I will always be — less obviously — waiting for it.

— Kelly Landrigan

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How to Navigate Au-kward Social Moments

Au-kward situations come in all shapes and sizes. They can be big or small, loud or silent, seen or unseen. Sometimes there is no predicting an au-kward moment making them more challenging than most. The most important thing to keep in mind is that these moments are unavoidable. Even typical awkward moments are impossible to avoid! What matters is your approach when dealing with combating the situation and the mindset you keep.

Consider this scenario: my sister Emma is a flinger. She flings anything she can get her hands on – the problem is we never know WHEN it’s going to happen. One day when we were much younger, we went out to lunch at a restaurant that had outdoor seating. Emma must have felt that this gave her some kind of permission to fling things, because right when she got her fries, she took one, wound up, and flung it as hard as she could over her head, backwards. All of us paused in shock not knowing where the fry landed, waiting to see the outcome. Turns out it landed smack in the middle of the salad belonging to the man sitting behind us. He turned around and we braced ourselves for the looks of disapproval and frustrated comments, but he BURST out laughing! He couldn’t contain himself –he thought it was the funniest thing that had happened to him all summer. We exchanged some laughs and short explanations and went on with our lunch.

Moral of the story: don’t sweat it. Au-kward situations happen to the best of us. For times that you need a little navigating, here are some of my tips:

  • Laugh it off. Sometimes if you’re the one trying to hide whatever is happening, people will automatically feel tense and irritated. If you laugh and keep it light, most likely it will roll off their shoulders.
  • Keep distractions handy. For those times when the au-kward situation seems never ending, YouTube on an iPad is your BEST FRIEND.
  • Have a short and sweet “explanation” thought out in your head. My go-to line for my sisters is usually something like, “Hi guys, sorry to interrupt, she has autism and is easily overwhelmed. This is just her way of coping.” You don’t need to get into detail, just enough to define the situation.
  • If someone is really irritated by what’s happening, start with your “explanation”. If that’s not enough and they’re still on your case, don’t go into attack mode (although it can VERY be tempting at times). It’s ok to come to terms with the fact that some on-lookers just won’t accept au-kward situations for what they are. At that point, that’s their problem. I like to smile, nod, and move on.

Au-kward moments make life interesting. Whoever can’t handle it must just be boring.

If you have an au-kward moment, learn how to share your personal story with us.

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Why We Should Share Awkward Moments

My cousin has autism. When people we know learn about his diagnosis, their initial reactions are “oh, I’m so sorry to hear that!” While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it still just doesn’t feel like a good thing. First and foremost, Mikey is a person: who has hobbies, interests, intellect and feelings, even though you can’t always distinguish what those feelings are in the moment he’s feeling them due to his autism.

Because of that emotion-to-action disconnect, Mikey’s autism has landed us in some many awkward social situations. In the moment, these awkward events make us feel embarrassed: as if we have to explain ourselves, Mikey, and his autism constantly. But, the truth is, we don’t owe anyone that explanation; we owe ourselves the permission to look back on these events with a smile — maybe even a good laugh — and appreciate the life lessons that awkward moment taught all people involved.

We hope this blog will serve as a forum for you to discuss you and your family’s au-kward moments with others who can empathize. It’s meant to be light, fun, and fulfilling.

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For more ways to navigate awkward social moments, read here.

For more funny stories about au-kward moments, read on!

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