Several times in the last few months, our boy has mentioned that he seems different from other kids his age. He feels they think in a different way than he does.
He isn’t wrong, since he’s on the Autism spectrum. If the DSM-V hadn’t changed everything (okay, not everything), he would be diagnosed as having Asperger’s. In fact, his earliest diagnosis listed him as an Aspie.
We have never told him, concerned that it might make him feel different, or that he might use it as an excuse. “Well, I just act that way because I have Autism.”
However, since he already feels “different,” we’ve been thinking that maybe we should tell him.
A couple weeks ago, the kids and I were watching Girl Meets World, a spinoff/sequel to my childhood favorite, Boy Meets World. In this particular episode, one of the characters had testing because the adults in his life suspected he might be on the spectrum. He was agitated and concerned over the idea that he might be Autistic. I didn’t really like the way they portrayed that part because the tone made a diagnosis sound a little scary. Test results showed the young man does not have Asperger’s and he seemed relieved. However, one of his close friends was disappointed because she is an Aspie and was hoping his diagnosis would make her feel less different. The show ended as the kids assured the girl that they all love her just the way she is.
Overall, the episode does a pretty good job of showing kids how to be inclusive. The portrayal of nervous tension about the testing, both for the parents and for the child, seems fairly accurate.
I wouldn’t really know, because we didn’t tell our boy we were getting him tested (yearly psychs are run of the mill here, so he didn’t even notice) and I was ECSTATIC to receive the diagnosis.
Still, I felt they could have done a better job of portraying the diagnosis as something less scary—or even cool, because truly, Spectrum Kids are gifted.
As the show closed, our boy stared me square in the eye and asked,
What do I have?
Not quite ready to have the conversation, I hedged. “What do you think you have?”
He thought for a minute, then said, “I think I have the illness of aaaaaaaaaaaa(thought he was going to say it)aaaaawesome!”
When your mom borned you, she took one look and threw you in the trash.
The classmate who delivered this charming nugget to my son probably had no idea how close he was to the truth. No concept of how deep his words would wound.
Afterward, we had a long talk about how it’s okay to want to punch someone but it’s not okay to actually put hands on someone. I am proud that even in the face of such soul-searing spite, our boy did not retaliate.
I suggested that he find a constructive way to deal with the painful feelings. Punch a pillow. Draw a picture. Write your feelings.
Tonight, I take my own advice.
Our son’s teacher vacillates between understanding and intolerant.
She is personally offended by his need to draw while she talks and doesn’t understand his Aspie idiosyncrasies.
But after Dad died, she gave our boy a lot of grace as he worked through the grief in the way all the articles predicted: a nosedive in school behavior and performance.
My emotions conflict often when dealing with her.
Today, I received a text.
I saw your son violently kick a student from another class. Please encourage him to behave appropriately in school.
The text bothered me.
If he “violently” kicked another child, I should have been picking him up from the principal’s office, not finding out after the fact.
This was followed by,
He didn’t eat his lunch today.
During the test today, he took a red pen and drew on his arms.
This last one, I’d already noticed, a fabulous red dragon tattoo. Although I’ve asked him not to draw on himself, I’m not that concerned about impermanent ink decorations. If he sneaks off to get a real tattoo, well, that’s a problem. No tattoos until you’re 25, when your brain has matured fully. That’s the rule.
I responded, “Yes, I saw. Did he do anything right?”
She didn’t answer.
I added, “He mentioned that his friend showed him new shoes that change color and invited him to hit them with his foot. Was this the kicking incident?”
No response, then,
He asked permission to bring a cannonball and a bullet to school. He said you will help him bring the cannonball to school. Cannonballs and bullets are not allowed in school. Please discourage him from bringing these items to school.
Good grief. A family friend gave our little history buff several artifacts collected over the years. Our guy’s first response:
“We’re learning about this in history! I bet my teacher would love to see these!”
I told him that he couldn’t take them to school but that possibly I could get special permission to bring them in so the kids could see the display. Evidently he was too excited and brought it up to her.
This is the kid who smoked me in the “Jeopardy” category World Wars and corrected his teacher (accurately) when she taught about Pearl Harbor.
He’s really thrilled about history. Instead of encouraging that passion, she’s just annoyed.
My true difficulty with the situation is this:
I get it.
I understand fully that he requires ten times more direction than any other kid in class. He needs someone to help him see the connection between his actions and consequences (good or bad). He is frequently distracted by a buzzing light, a whispered word, a tapping foot or a bug doodling around the room. He doesn’t think through actions or words before he does or speaks.
I want to be on her side. I want to be a team.
Maybe the last two years (with fabulous teachers who recognized the diamond shine under the inches of behavioral coal dust) have spoiled me. We worked together to find solutions and they’ve offered advice for his current teacher. Those two years weren’t perfect and there’s no way to dream they were, no matter how flexible your imagination. But we worked together and tried each others’ ideas.
She discards ideas faster than I can suggest them.
Seriously, I just want us to work together to point this kid to success; the success I KNOW he can have. In a recent IEP meeting, his caseworker shook her head and said, “even with all his focusing struggles, he’s still keeping his grades up. I can’t believe it.”
I CAN believe it.
He’s brilliant. When he barely studies, he still passes (sometimes with 100s). With the right guidance and focus, he’ll be unstoppable.
Right now, though, she’s just telling him (and me) what he’s doing wrong. And that really gets me steamed. I have NO problem with consequences and the Assistant Principal can vouch that I lend full support to every intervention.
He responds to consistent recognition of what he’s doing right. If he knows he’ll be consistently rewarded for doing the right thing, he generally does the right thing. I say generally, because he’s far from perfect (aren’t we all) and it doesn’t always work, but 8 out of 10 times, it does.
She says, “it’s too hard” to catch him doing well. She thinks it’s ridiculous to give him a “good” point for eating lunch (which the psychologist suggested as at least one guaranteed good point for the day). She argued against most of the interventions that everyone else (school counselor, head psychologist, principal, case worker, mother) agreed upon. She has 20+ other kids and doesn’t have time to devote to my kid. Just “thank God” when he’s quiet and ignore him.
I get it.
But this constant “tattling” (because that’s what the texts above felt like) is just wearing me out. Tomorrow I’m taking the conversation to show the principal, then asking what can be done.
The last time I asked, every other class was maxed out and there’s no possibility of moving him to another class.
Maybe there’s no solution other than,
“Hang in there.”
We’re in school for about four and a half more months. Almost an eternity, yet I know the time will dissipate like clouds puffing past a skydiver.
Fifth grade is not the end of the world. No one wants to know, “How were your marks in elementary school?” No one asks, “Were you ever sent to the principal’s office before middle school?” Maybe we just need to make it through.
In the meantime, though, Hubby takes me for walks and I write.
Tonight, as we trudged down the moon-drenched driveway, I said,
“I want to punch her in the face.”
This is not entirely accurate; I don’t actually want to punch her because then I’d have to deal with legal action (this is the forethought I hope to instill in our boy). However, I want to write about it, and thereby feel better. And so, with a tip of my hat to the best rhymer ever, I write.
I must not punch her in the face
Though maybe just a spray of mace
Just a smidge, only a sample
No, I must be an example
Must not, must not kick her knee
Shall not, will not put a bee
In her coffee piping hot
Flick her? No.—NO! I cannot.
When I am so mad…I’ll write!
Get some extra sleep tonight.
Go for long walks down the drive.
In her car hide a beehive.
Oh, wait, that last one is wrong;
Instead I’ll sing out a song
Whisper a soft little prayer
That she will lose all her hair.
Oh, no, there I go again.
Paying vengeance is a sin
I must let it go, be done
Show forgiveness for my son
That boy’s always watching me
And I so want him to see:
Great achievement’s possible
Mercy is unstoppable
Even on the hardest day
Grace and faith will make a way.
There. I feel better.
And bonus, I’m not going to jail for punching a teacher. So, there’s that.
When life just isn’t fair, how do you deal with it?
I perched on a cold plastic chair, waiting my turn for a haircut, when he sauntered through the door, tall and confident.
Ex-military was my first guess. Who else shows up to a hair salon with quarter-inch hair?
I couldn’t tear my eyes away from his broad chest. No question in my mind…definitely military. Eyes riveted, I nudged Hubby.
“Can I get one like that?”
He nodded. “Sure, why not?”
He’s so accommodating.
Then I asked the guy where he got his t-shirt, sporting a NATO/Military alphabet message.
And dissolved into giggles.
After I regained my composure, Hubby and I began deciphering the cipher.
- Whoa, That’s Fascinating
- We’re Totally Fabulous
- Why Tell Fibs?
- What Terrific Fannies
And yes, I know the phrase really means something less than appropriate, so I’ll probably never wear it…but it still just tickles me every time I see it.
Well, THAT’S Fantastic.
(With just a hint of sarcasm.)
Yesterday, as I helped our son with his homework, I pointed out a needed correction. He burst into tears. Unsure of the source (since the mistake was incredibly minor), I began to wrap my arms around him.
He pushed my arms away. Not harsh, but definitely firm.
“I just want to be aloooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooone,” he wailed, exploding out of his seat at the kitchen table.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot???
His moodiness is an on-again, off-again occurrence in the afternoons. He takes medication to help him focus at school, and to this point I’ve always assumed it stems from the meds wearing off. But before, I’ve always seen an obvious trigger (usually after a rough school day).
This was my first epiphany that the reaction might not be related to his dose.
(For more about the use of medication, read here.)
“Okay…I won’t hug you. How about you just lean against me until you calm down?”
Arms folded, he propped his back against my side.
Once his breathing returned to normal, I said, “Tell me what you’re thinking.”
“I’m just TIRED of all the crammed-up PEOPLE at school! People EVERYWHERE! Everybody smashed together.” He pressed his palms together as though squishing play-doh. “Too. MANY. PEOPLE.”
His breathing hitched and started getting out of control again. I put my hand on his shoulder, light in case he wasn’t ready. He didn’t brush it away.
“I’m sorry you’re feeling overwhelmed. Here’s the good news: you had a day full of crammed-up people, and STILL you got NINE green marks from your teacher. How great is that? It means you worked really hard not to freak out at school. Super job!”
He didn’t respond, but picked up a piece of notebook paper and a pencil and pulled out a chair opposite me.
“I know being around a lot of people and noise can be tough, but I have to tell you: especially in the last few weeks, Daddy and I can tell you are working very hard to deal with it. We are so proud of you.”
I waited a few moments, then looked over at the paper. He was rewriting the problem, this time sans mistake.
Once finished, he looked up at me with no more apparent angst.
“Thanks for always helping me. You’re a really good mom.”
If you’ve been part of the Hypervigilant community for a while, you may already know about his recent Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis. (If not, there’s the link.)
ASD explains a lot (Asperger’s, now considered part of the ASD spectrum instead of a separate diagnosis, is where our guy lands).
While we’re not letting the diagnosis be an excuse for behaviors that are outstandingly inappropriate (in fact, we haven’t told him), it supports our earlier suspicions that sometimes, “there are just
Too Many People”
and his sensory intake ability is overloaded.
We need to be sensitive and willing to accommodate.
Consider yesterday’s situation.
Assuming belligerence (which is how it appears sometimes), his pushing me away seems angry and rude. If I react with a consequence for being rude, he feels misunderstood, which escalates his reaction.
Understanding Autism, we realize that sometimes he’s overwhelmed and needs a minute. Allowing him to control the interaction and physical connection, while not letting him escape to his room, gives him the opportunity to grow socially.
If he seemed out of control emotionally, I probably would have given him the option of a cool-down in his dark, quiet room (door open), with a definite re-connection afterwards. We’ve done that before.
But he won’t always be able to flee overwhelming situations, and the best place for him to learn to self-regulate without running away is at home.
He’s a fantastic kid. Smart, artistic and musical. Really amazing. (And if you have any questions about World War II aircraft or ships, he’s got you covered.)
So I’m rethinking this whole WTF thing.
Fantastic + Autistic = FantIstic.
Wow, That’s FantIstic.
Maybe I’ll get that t-shirt, after all.