Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Aspergers - Innocence - your child being taken advantage of

We have this reoccuring theme in our house.

Our daughter, sitting at her computer IMing people for hours, will ask her brother to "please go get me a Capri Sun" or "please go get me a cookie." Will is more than obliging. He likes doing things for people, and he LOVES his sister, so he runs to get the cookie or the Capri Sun. This happens multiple times a day. Is the situation ever reversed? Does our daughter ever get anything for Will? Hardly ever. Every once in a while, we try to convince Will that he doesn't need to get his sister anything, that he's not her slave, that maybe it's HER turn to get them a cookie or something to drink. But he refuses -- he says he loves her, and he's going to get her whatever she wants.

I'm not the only person a little concerned about this. His social skills class "manager" is also trying to teach him "assertiveness training," trying to let him know that it's OK to express anger. As she puts it (so eloquently, I thought) -- "Will, it's OK to be angry. It's not OK to not be nice, but it's OK to feel angry." They are trying to get the kids in the class to express their anger rather than surpress it, but to express that anger in socially appropriate ways.

So, the other day, we are watching television together, and there comes on the screen a situation where a group of people are taking advantage of an individual. I, of course, want to point this out to Will, trying desperately to make a point, so I say "Will, see those people? They're trying to take advantage of that guy. That's not right. He's not their slave. That's like what your sister does to you sometimes. You don't have to do everything she asks you to do!"

His reply --

In his best "exorcist" voice --

"I don't care."

Ya know what? I give up . . .


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Pushing the Envelope -- Part 2

Did you read "Pushing the Envelope" -- Part 1?

Well, we had an experience last week that fully explains the WHY you have to push the envelope sometimes.

The 4th grade Chorus Concert is coming up (tonight, in fact). There are about 30 speaking parts along with all the singing. There are 150 students. Will has a "back-up" speaking part, which means that if someone is sick, then he goes on! I must admit, I was a little disappointed that he didn't have a speaking part. He is one of these guys that LOVES to be in the limelight. I actually have to sit on him a little bit to get him to not run up on the stage at Barnes and Nobles and perform for everyone. Sometimes, if there's a nice little kid who wants to be read to, I'll let Will read from the stage. But other than that, I put the kibosh on the acting in public. But at school, hey, they kid memorizes his line and everyone else's lines, and he knows how to emote, and enunuciate, and he's just flat out GOOD! He's a great little actor.

So, he doesn't get a line in the show (unless someone is sick -- and we can't wish for that, that would be totally uncool). He's a little bit miffed. So, to display his miffedness, he decides that on Thursday and Friday, he's boycotting singing in the chorus. His teacher doesn't know what to do, the Chorus teacher doesn't know what to do -- up until now, he's been all for singing in the chorus, and has enjoyed every minute of it! So I get phone calls from his regular ed teacher and his chorus teacher, telling me of the situation. The chorus teacher sounds worried -- she's never talked with me before, doesn't know how I'll respond (with laughter, of course!), and doesn't understand why Will is suddenly so uncooperative! The regular ed teacher, though, knows me, and knows how I'll respond, and basically just asks "So, can you kind of take care of this?"

So, when I finish laughing my head off, I pull Will into the room and say -- "so, ya know this chorus concert that's coming up? Kind of disappointing to not get a lead part in it, eh? Well, you know how many kids there are in the 4th grade? And there are only so many parts! So, sorry, but you can't always get a part. But that doesn't mean that you just up and quit! You have a responsibility! You don't renig on a responsibility! So, are ya gonna sing next Tuesday night?" to which he answered "Sure!" and the whole thing was over with.

Ya know how I was talking about in "Pushing the Envelope" -- Part 1 , how obstinate these guys can be? THIS IS A PRIME EXAMPLE! Do we let him continue to be obstinate? NO! Did I push him down a hill? NO! I just made sure that he's still going to enjoy the chorus concert, as he was planning on doing, without letting a little thing like not getting a speaking part get in the way of this wonderful memory of the 4th grade!

[and by the way, we are signing him up for an acting/singing class or camp immediately . . .]


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

When YOUR kid is the best socialized in the bunch!

Last weekend my son and I went bowling with the cub scouts.

It was perfect, because there was only one other mother, and two other scouts, and so it was a nice group to be going bowling with. We had a great time. Well, most of us had a great time.

As is often the case with boys, as the smallest and at first glance the least athletic boy literally pulverized the rest of us with his bowling skills, my son and his friend got angrier and angrier. They were upset because they were not doing very well. But what a fantastic teaching opportunity! The little guy, John, just happened to be great at bowling. He was patient, not in a hurry, and his slow roll of the ball was the perfect thing for getting the highest score. My son just couldn't get his execution correct, and so he had gutter ball after gutter ball. His friend, Cameron, who is the quintiscential super competitive boy, THREW that ball down the lane, and it too went into the gutter, at which point he completely lost it. This is a very nice kid -- he's just super competitive, and young. He threw a huge temper tantrum -- screaming, crying, on and on. He was never so awful that he didn't, AT THE SAME TIME, root for the other two boys (isn't that great?), but boy, was he mad at himelf. Will was mad at himself too, and I did quietly try to get him to control his emotions, but I didn't really need to. He did a great job. No tears, no hitting himself, no getting super upset. He was mad, for sure. But he didn't lose control. I was so impressed. Last year, he would have lost control but good. See what maturity can do for a kid?

This was a huge step for mankind, or boykind. I couldn't gush enough about what a great kid he was for handling a difficult situation so well. After bowling, we had to go watch his sister at her volleyball tournament, but then we went BACK to the bowling alley and practiced some more, without the pressure of friends watching. He did much better, and he was thrilled to be able to have the chance to try to improve his score.


Monday, May 01, 2006

Pushing the Envelope

The other day I was reading the blog of a mother who was questioning whether she should push her son with Asperger's into riding a bike even though he was resisting. I responded with a story of how I taught my oldest son how to ride a bike, literally PUSHING him into riding the bike after much resistence, and the backlash from my story was so interesting. A woman wrote in response to my comments, appalled that I would be so insensitive as to PUSH my child into riding his bike, FORCING him to learn something he was not wanting to do. I'm sure that what I wrote seemed very rigid and could sound close to something like abuse, unless you really have an understanding of Asperger's, and you have experience with these young men and women.

My story was that when my oldest son was seven years old, about to turn eight, and we were about to move to a new neighborhood in a new state, and I was concerned that he would be considered "different" because he still didn't know how to ride a bike. Now, this was back in the days when nobody knew anything about somthing called Asperger's Syndrome, and my son was not diagnosed. All I knew was that he was a sensitive, bookish child who had much more experience with knowing the name of every single animal in the zoo, and where they came from, and much less experience knowing how to hit a baseball. Dad was very busy at work at the time, and out of town constantly, and I had a little three year old girl at home as well as my oldest son. I could see him having less and less in common with kids his age, and yes, I panicked at the thought of him not being able to ride his bike. I could tell he needed something like the ability to ride a bike to be able to socialize in a new neighborhood, and yes, I became fixated on this. So after months and months of patient bike-riding training, with training wheels, I could see that he had the ability to ride without training wheels if only he would allow himself to try it. But he was clinging to those training wheels. Knowing what I know now, this would have been the common Asperger's trait of not trying any new skill if one thinks one will fail. So I took my almost eight-year-old son to the top of a hill, and literally pushed him down (not hard, just let go of the bike and let gravity take it's course). He fell, and I just made him get back up on the bike. He cried, and I made him get back on the bike. He fell many more times. I would not go home until he showed me that he could ride that bike without training wheels. Does this sound harsh? YES. I know that it does. Did he hate me at the time? YES. He most certainly did. I allowed him to call his grandmother who lived way on the other side of the country and tell her that he had the meanest mother alive. But he also could tell her that he had accomplished learning how to ride a bike.

I honestly understand that this does seem like a very harsh thing to do to a child. And I never did a similar thing to my son ever again. But I am still happy that he did learn how to ride a bike. It DID help him socially when he moved to a new location. It DID get him outside and do something other than read books about animals over and over again. He took a bike-riding class in junior high, where the kids rode bikes all over town as a class, and that was his favorite class ever! To this day, he is the kind of guy that likes to stay in shape, EVEN THOUGH HE IS STILL AN UNATHLETIC TYPE.

My point in this post is that children with Asperger's have an almost phobic thing about not wanting to develop a new skill if they think that they are going to fail. I've seen it time and time again -- Will included, and Will's friends at Wesley included. And there are some times, as parents, that we need to literally push these guys into trying things that our children are SURE they will fail at. They are so sure that they can't accomplish a certain feat, and sometimes they can't. But there are more times when they actually could accomplish a certain skill, and they just need someone to really show them that they can actually do this thing! Then, the feeling of accomplishment for them is AMAZING! And, that whole experience acts as a springboard for the child to accomplish other things. I really think it is wrong for a parent to always allow the child to back down from trying new things. Of course there are times when a child really can't achieve certain skills, and those situations should be avoided. But how will you ever know unless you try? And sometimes I think that an Asperger's child can actually accomplish things, but they just have to have more practice than other children. We don't want these guys to be the next NBA basketball star, but we do want them to be passable at basketball (and other skills) so that socially they can play in a game if invited.


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