i burst into tears yesterday over a passage (no, actually, it was a list in the sidebar) in the book i’m reading on asperger’s and parenting. the heading of the sidebar was behavioral manifestations of anxiety. all sixteen of the listed items applied to quinn. i hadn’t fully understood all sixteen of them as manifestations of anxiety, though, until i saw them all listed in one place like that. it has me experiencing a little anxiety myself, but i’m going to keep breathing and keep reading and see what i can learn. come along with me as i process…
one of the bits i keep hearing from professionals and books is that aspies engage in a lot of black-and-white thinking, and that abstract concepts are hard for them. quinn has his moments of being able to hang with abstract concepts, but he does often take things quite literally, he does often see only either/or options and fail to see the many alternative solutions to a problem, and he expects to be perfect at what he does, which is yet another form of black-and-white thinking. this book (parenting your asperger child, by sohn and grayson) is saying that the black-and-white thinking arises from anxiety, especially that caused by difficulty with understanding the world around him.
the book approaches things from a different parenting paradigm than the one i inhabit. trying to find a frame of reference for what we are experiencing compared to neurotypical children, to determine if quinn is other than neurotypical, i can find very little in the book to help me. when there is a list of motivations behind the behaviors of an asperger child, the afterthought is that these anxiety-driven motivations set the behaviors apart from those that are merely attention-seeking or “just plain misbehavior”; is that what the authors believe is more likely the motivation behind neurotypical children’s problem behaviors? that has never been my worldview. i’m more aligned with a ya-ya sisterhood view of children:
just what if god didn’t intend for everything to be perfect? what if he knew it was going to be a holy mess, and he loved us anyway? what if adam and eve weren’t sinning? what if that prenatal original sin stain on our souls is not even there?
…when my boys were born, i looked at each one of them and said NO to that original sin shit. i looked at my babies and thought, you are pure, holy, perfect, complete and undefiled. and nobody can tell me different, not the pope his royal self. believe it now.
i’m reading ya-yas in bloom, by rebecca wells, to balance out my asperger parenting manual. i believe that children are innately good, that they want to belong and behave and thrive and are driven to do so by their own fully intact inner nature. i have never been a believer in “he’s just doing that to get attention” or rather, when children seek attention, i think they should be given attention. and i couldn’t resist the timeliness of the quote about the pope.
and i wouldn’t be doing my worldview justice if i didn’t mention ani:
when i was four years old they tried to test my i.q. they showed me a picture of 3 oranges and a pear they said, which one is different? it does not belong they taught me different is wrong
the only other line (back to the non-fiction title now – sorry to jump around) that gives a frame of reference so far briefly mentions that the behaviors in an aspie might be more of the same you’d see with any other child, the difference being a matter of degree, intensity, or frequency. leaving me still searching for a frame of reference, alas.
i have been mindful of eliminating expectations from my life in an effort to reduce my own tendency to be uptight and resentful when things don’t turn out to match my search image. it helps me go with the flow to show up with a blank slate and discover the boy who is in front of me. if i had a real clear expectation in my mind of what a six year old boy was supposed to be like, and could clearly see how we deviated from that set of expectations, i might have a better grasp of this label business. i have a grasp of who quinn is, but not how he compares. i have a really deep sense of what makes him tick, and when i read lists of reasons for rigidity in an aspergian child, and can check off every single one of them for things i see quinn reacting to, i turn the page looking for how this is a deviation from a neurotypical approach. are nt kids never rigid? if they are sometimes rigid, is it because of the same motivating factors like fearing change and not understanding intuitively how a certain interaction is usually done? is it the same as nt behavioral motivations, only more intense? am i just over in some other city in italy, or am i way over in holland? i guess i am looking for the authors to state what must to them be the obvious.
i still think the book has something to offer in terms of strategies for introducing more flexibility when a child becomes rigid, and showing him how to see more middle ground, more gray areas.
let’s say, for example, that you have a list of guiding principles that you have developed together and discussed over time:
- honest (this is a newer one we’ve recently added to the list)
- golden rule- treat others as you would like them to treat you.
and say you are working pretty hard on helping your son remember to be honest: even when you think we want to hear “yes” when we ask if you brushed your teeth, we want you to tell us “no” if no is the true answer. however (****gray area alert!!!****), there are things people keep in their head and are not technically honest about, like when you like the store waffles better than your mama’s homemade ones.
the one thing that really hits home for me in the published strategies for handling skill-teaching with asperger’s children is the need to take things step by step and explain even things that seem obvious. the idea is, there are things that are obvious to many of us that are a complete mystery to someone with asperger’s. quinn often needs things spelled out. there are many messages we receive that are subtly implied, things we just “take in”, that an aspergian is not “taking in”- they are not reading between the lines the same way that most of us are. if that makes him sound slow on the uptake then i am doing him a disservice with my words- quite the contrary, he can be told once and have something memorized for life, but if it’s delivered in the wrong packaging, he may never receive it, even if he is told a thousand times.
of course, there are things all children need to be told a thousand times.
it’s working out well for us because one of my conclusions about parenting early on was that it always seemed to help to state the obvious with quinn. i began doing this when he was very young and experiencing strong emotions, and whenever he did cry or get angry, i would name the feeling he was having out loud. “you’re feeling sad. you didn’t want to stop playing with that.” i think this is helpful in building any child’s emotional intelligence, but with quinn, in retrospect, it might be the reason he has an emotional iq at all. it is one of the many ways he doesn’t fit the aspergian mold: he can name his feelings. he still has a hard time understanding what other people are feeling. are there are lot of six year old boys who are experts at this?
sometimes i think maybe he is an aspergian with a lot of neurotypical quirks he has developed from having a quirky mama.
thanks for reading along while i process. i’m so grateful for all the thought-provoking comments and emails i’ve gotten about all of this, and as always would love to hear your thoughts, ideas, further reading recommendations, etc. have a great weekend!
p.s. experiencing driftwood block envy? go here.