We're struggling... a lot

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, September 1, 2020, 5:00 PM | comments: 0

Life is pretty hard right now. I think that's the case in general for people, but I've been trying to figure out how to talk about it, or if I should at all. There are two areas that are particularly difficult for me right now, but I just want to talk about the parenting aspect for now. All of the earlier challenges with Simon were easy by comparison.

I want desperately to try and distill it all down to something that's easy to understand and packaged, but I think if it were that easy to define, it would be easier to solve. I think what I'm seeing is that the boy is easily overwhelmed by challenging things, and it doesn't matter how small the scope of the challenge is. By that, I mean it could be learning complex multiplication or brushing teeth, and literally everything in between. The moment he doesn't understand something, or can't immediately figure out how to react to a situation, he starts to panic, and it goes downhill from there. Meltdowns come hard and fast.

In the case of school activities, this is naturally aggravated by the remote learning. He's scared, embarrassed or ashamed (maybe all of the above) to ask questions, so if he misses an important detail or direction, the panic sets in quickly. We want him to be accountable and take responsibility, but it's difficult for him to do that when he slips into panic. What we've learned over the years is that he can generally be brilliant about anything, but only after he and his teachers (and often one of us) figure out how to teach it. This is definitely the case with math, though composition is harder, and things that are arbitrary with no "correct" answer are nearly impossible (art).

This translates into the most mundane activities as well. Last night he couldn't get comfortable in bed, which alarmed him so quickly that he couldn't be consoled in any possible way. The secondary layer to that is that he often wants someone else to figure it out for him, which we've been known to do. These things seem so insignificant, but you start to feel shitty when you realize that to him this is the worst thing in the world, and you're trying to invalidate his feelings by suggesting that it's not. Last night I got the "I hate you" and as much as you try to roll with it, it becomes hurtful when you hear it enough.

Diana takes the worst of it during the day at school, I tend to get it after dinner. It's exhausting, discouraging and disheartening. And mind you, this is all without the "normal" social challenges he would have under "normal" circumstances. It's not a good feeling when you feel as though your kid is miserable, all of the time. It's not a personality flaw, or a failure in parenting, but it sure feels like it.

I do think that there's another layer in this, and it's the part where a situation that can't be reconciled leads to the stress and reaction. Most meltdowns to date can be associated with situations he can't reconcile, for example a social contract you don't understand (you can't invite yourself to someone else's house) means that you can't join a group of kids playing inside (who are unkind and don't like you anyway). When you're in that end state, with no inputs you can change for a different outcome, the result is a frustration unlike anything most of us ever experience. Judging by the momentary and brief expressions he makes in the moments leading to a meltdown, I think he's cycling through some of the options and getting to the meltdown faster when none of them work for him. So for example, the bed comfort is irreconcilable because he has no tool that allows him to relax, and his most important job is to relax and fall asleep. In the case of the missed teacher instruction, the perception of classmates if he asks a question, the resulting inability to perform the work, and eventually a bad grade for not completing it, all happen in his mind very quickly. I talked to my therapist about this a little, and she believes without meeting him that these are likely issues of maturity. Autism and ADHD never go away, but by adulthood we're often able to develop coping mechanisms to operate as neurotypical people. That's not a thing when you're 10 but about as mature as an 8-year-old. There's no manual for teaching coping skills.

This is all easy to write down and think about in a calm moment sitting in a peaceful place, but trying to understand it, see it and react constructively to it in the moment as a non-professional is nearly impossible. It's not natural for a parent to be clinical. I don't like seeing him struggle, but I know he has to at certain things in order to build that repertoire of skills to be the brilliant person that I know he is. And yeah, you bet I'm projecting a lot of my baggage on him. I feel like we have to get this right not just out of love for him, but as a measurement of my own worth. The stakes are pretty high.


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