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Two Steps Forward

January 23, 2013

Ugh…punch in the gut.

You know that feeling when you get those butterflies…that nervous, anxious sensation?
Great, he’s done something again.
Something that has gotten him in trouble.
Something that I will have to get him through.
Something he will have some consequences for, and I will have to deal with the fallout.
Something that he will feel bad about after the fact, and thus his self-esteem and self-loathing will take another hit.

I arrive at the high school to pick Red up for his regular Monday therapy appointment. I pull up to the portables where he should be waiting for me. He’s not there. His regular special education teacher is not there, either. A beautiful female teacher comes to the door and says hello, as if she knows who I am. I don’t ever remember seeing her before.

“Hi. I’m looking for Red.”
“Oh, he’s in the A.P.’s office with Mr. H. He had a bit of a melt, and Mr. H. called me to come over and cover his class.”

Great. The punch. Ugh! You see, I had been floating through the day thinking all was relatively well and now… this.

The boys have been going at each other a little more than usual lately, if that is at all possible. Red has been more impulsive. Blue – a little more anxious because it’s the first week back to school. Neither one of them seem to have the capacity to mind their own business. And they both seem to feel safe taking out their feelings about the rest of the world on each other. Silly me, I scheduled therapy for both of them back-to-back.

I have to go to the Assistant Principles office to retrieve Red. I can hear his voice from outside the door. He is agitated. I go inside and listen to much of what is nonsense spewing from him. The A.P. gives me the rundown of what took place according to statements.

Blah blah blah, blah blah blah is what I hear. I’ve heard it all before. It’s the same kind of crap that I have been dealing with since middle school. Perhaps even fifth grade. When will he ever get it?! This is what I am spending hundreds of dollars in therapy for, and he still doesn’t get it!

Sure, things are better. He is a little more in control of his anger than he used to be At least now he’s not yelling and cursing at people (well not often), but his behavior and social skills are still behind. He is so angry that on the way out of the building, he slams the door open. I am coming out of the other door. If it weren’t for my quick reflexes, the damned door could have knocked my glasses into my face or broken my freaking teeth!

I won’t get into the details of what exactly happened with Red. Let’s suffice it to say it has to do with…
- being impulsive
- misinterpreting social cues
- wanting to feel included in a group and feeling left out
- wanting to feel loved and accepted, but going about it in the wrong way
- not connecting the dots as to how some of his behaviors can make other people feel

And at this point, I am weary that he may NEVER connect those dots.

High school can be torturous for a lot of kids. You don’t know who you are. You’re just trying to fit in. For him, torture is putting it mildly. High school for my Aspie is like an alien world, and he has no idea how to relate to its citizens, who, by the way, speak another language. He tries to speak the language, but somehow they still don’t understand him. They know he’s from another planet, and most of them do not accept this foreigner into their culture.

Red has taken so many steps forward in the past year. His conversation skills have improved probably by 90%. He is taking Theatre Arts and I think he has learned to play the role of having socially acceptable, and socially “expected,” conversations.

He has become very close friends with another young man who is on the spectrum, who seems to do very well socially. Through this friend, Red has started going to a new church where there are many peers from his high school and surrounding area high schools. He has gotten pretty good at “playing the role” of a Christian. I am sure that his faith has been strengthened and he really believes in trying to follow the example of Christ. At the same time, I think that he sees this role as a way to make friends and influence people.

You see, before he didn’t know what to do or say, what to talk about. Now he follows the Christian script. That’s what he does, he follows scripts – using words from movies, television shows or from other people that he is impressed by. It used to be his older brother. In fact, he still hangs on to some of his lines. He thinks his brother is so cool, and after all, he knows how to get girls. They may be the wrong girls, but they are girls, nevertheless. Sometimes he uses the lines of his father, especially when he is trying to correct his younger brother. Lately, he sounds very much like his new friends.

Yep, he’s playing a role because his own personality has not gotten him very far socially. How hard must it be to not be able to be yourself all day long? How much energy that must require! Not only that, he is looking for a rather instant payoff. By smiling and being socially appropriate, he is looking for girls to come up to him and like him, hug him…maybe even want to be his girlfriend. I mean, why not? He is good looking and dresses nicely; playing the part of a totally cool kid.

He wants people to totally forget about the negative, angry, intense person that he used to be, not all that long ago. That person whose ugly head still comes from underneath the surface, on occasion. Forget about the barrage of negative, angry messages he put out as his Facebook statuses when he is angry, talking about how his life sucks and F*#% this and F*#% that!

Now, I’m a nice guy! Can’t you all see that?!?! Like me, damn it! I want to be popular. Oh yes, he’s actually reading articles on the internet about how to become popular, as if there is really some magical formula that gives you charm and charisma, that makes you funny and endearing.

There has also been a lot of positive feedback from his new attitude. There are a lot of people who smile at him now, say hello and exchange cordialities. The kids with more severe disabilities that he helps absolutely LOVE him. He does have more friends than he has ever had in his life. And I’m talking about good friends, the ones who know the real him and reach out to him and hang out with him on a regular basis.

He is a perfectly nice kid. In fact, just the day before this punch in the gut, a teacher crossing the parking lot said to me, “I just wanted to tell you that I have been at this school for 15 years, and I have never seen such a breath of fresh air as your son. He is so kind and he has made so much improvement in the past year. He’s just incredible! I will have to sit down with you and make a list of all of the wonderful things I see him doing.”

This was less than 24 hours before I went to pick him up, only to find out he was in the assistant principal’s office. Yes, it felt like a punch in the gut. It took the wind right out of me, and left me feeling completely deflated, wondering… will he ever get it? Will he ever connect the dots? Will he ever be able to make it in the real world when – despite his gifts and abilities – his social inequities just end up blowing him out of the water?

I try my best to remain positive. But when you get punched, it takes a few minutes to just feel the pain, maybe even cry, so that eventually you can catch your breath.

Karen Wesley is an Autism advocate, writer and mother of three. She has written for many online outlets on the subject of parenting and autism, including her Facebook page and blog, Confessions of An Asperger’s Mom.

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