I can't make sense of my kid, but there are wins

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, July 15, 2020, 8:45 PM | comments: 0

I've had a bunch of seemingly thoughtful narratives in my head about how I can relate to my boy, and what it means to be wired differently, and a hundred other things, but I think I'm trying to talk myself into nonsense that I don't really believe. I've tried to write these thoughts down a dozen times in the last month, and I just don't believe any of them. Autism is hard to figure out.

The short story is that I'm just impatient with him. He shouts across the house to try and converse, which we've told him is not OK. He can't understand why talking back is a negative behavior, and he can't reconcile what punishment is, that there's a cause and effect. He views meals as a restaurant operation, and we're the servers. He seeks help for things that should be self-care. There are still meltdowns over seemingly insignificant things.

But when he falls apart, when he's in that state that he can't reconcile a situation, its cause, and its potential resolution, I get him. I was there as a kid, and those memories are vivid and intense. I don't know how many of the stories I've told, or to whom, but I know the anguish that comes with the impossibility of reconciliation, because I likely have ASD as well. They didn't diagnose it when I was a kid, so I only have the knowledge that two therapists suggest I likely have it, but developed the coping skills in my teenage and young adult years. (Therapists apparently can't formally diagnose this sort of thing, because you have to be a doctor.) It explains most of my childhood difficulties. So I get where he's at when he's in his worst state, but I don't know what to do with him, and I probably agitate him more than calm him.

So if I'm wired differently, I can look at what my coping mechanisms are to roll with neurotypical people, but I don't know how I arrived at them. For example, I recall as a child wanting to interject into adult conversation and demonstrate intelligence because school taught me that this was valuable. I believed that was the social contract: When you know something, it's appropriate to share it. What it comes off as to others, kids and adults, is a kid who is a know-it-all who "thinks he's so smart." (My step-father belittled me for this constantly, which did a lot of damage that I still haven't fully repaired.) I see Simon do the same thing sometimes, and I'm horrified when my instinctive reaction is that he's being a know-it-all and I should be embarrassed for him. I know from experience that his motivation is not to seek approval or attention, it's just the idea that knowledge is valued and you should share it, that it's how you contribute.

With that empathy, that perspective that may be similar to his, I feel for his behaviors that others may find "weird" or "annoying," but I want him to be him. I'm just continually fearful that he will struggle as I did, maybe worse, and that makes me incredibly sad. I don't know what the right thing to do is.

It's not all struggle and despair though. I remember the days when he did not engage in imaginative play. It's that classic difference between parking toy cars and driving them. ASD kids line up cars, while other kids drive them around. You could see it all of the time. But eventually, he started using train tracks and blocks and to create "rides," inspired by the things he saw at the theme parks. They didn't entirely make sense to us, and even today they often don't. He'll use Lego bricks to make things that don't resemble anything from real life, but they slide over each other in a way that he finds pleasing. There's an abstract mechanical thing going on there, but only he understands it.

This summer, I'm seeing another breakthrough. He obsessively watched videos about the new Mickey Mouse ride at Hollywood Studios (which we did not get to do before the closure). He began to build it out in Minecraft on the Xbox, with a surprising amount of detail, like the movie screen that "rips open" in the queue before the guests walk through it. He was replicating what he saw in real life (or video, as it were), which is something I've never seen him do. Now, in the computer game Planet Zoo, he's combining the two things, the abstract mechanical things, and the real life things, and composing new things. Even three months ago, all he ever did in Minecraft and the Planet games was download the work of others. He's composing now, imaginatively. That brings me so much joy. This is a kid who wouldn't draw a stick figure before.

(There's a sidebar here... parents often want to force their kids to play sports or limit their time on electronic stuff, but at the end of the day, letting them pursue what interests them has great benefit, provided it's not just passively watching stuff all of the time. Almost no one encouraged my interest in computers, and some adults looked at it as burdensome, and I think it set me back.)

Certainly I worry about Simon's social development, but I'm hopeful that limitation has only 6 to 9 more months. In the mean time, I see real development for problem solving and imagination when it's things he's interested in. Getting back to math, or even typing practice, is already a struggle, so I'm not excited about how that's going to go. I feel there's something wonderful inside of him, I just hope we can get it out of him without making childhood miserable in the process.


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