By Maxine and Daniel
You may approach the bench:
Ask anyone who is raising a child with Asperger’s and they’ll tell you: man, can our kids negotiate!
And by negotiate, I mean tell you over and over again, in many different ways, what they want, why they should have it, and why you are wrong for keeping it from them.
Oh sure. They’ll let you get the odd word in edgewise, but they’ll listen to you only long enough to find a hole in your response and then BAM!!, they’ll lawyer you into a corner. Head bowed, you hand over the game controller and slink out of the room. You caved (again), but console yourself with thoughts of him growing up to have a successful career as a litigation lawyer.
In my house, we call this getting Danned. Now a man of 24, Daniel could always calmly, rationally, tirelessly reason with me until I was tied up in a great big knot and slapping away imaginary mosquitoes.
Things got easier for me and for Daniel as I learned more about Asperger’s. The more I knew, the less conflict there was in the home. As my understanding grew, my actions geared toward supporting Daniel became more relevant and more successful. Changing understanding changed actions.
Let me share some of the things I have learned over the past two decades that contributed to my child’s wonderful (exhausting), exceptional (nerve-wracking) negotiating skills:
1) We can teach children to think rationally. Who knew!
When you get a thought in your head, a typical person will go through these steps. They include consideration of consequences, implications, and impact of our thinking. Children with AS don’t always go through this process naturally. They can be taught, and can become very good at weighting the pros and cons, but don’t assume they will think everything through.
2) People with AS may not know that you think differently than they do. Theory of Mind is the ability to know what others may be thinking or feeling from their body language, tone of voice, and context. It also allows us to know that other people may have different thoughts and feelings from our own. If she wants that horse play-set and you are telling her she has enough horsey toys, you’re wrong (in her mind). You just don’t get it and she is trying to set you straight.
3) Many people with AS are prone to obsessive thoughts. If they have been hurt by someone—particularly if it relates to a social interaction or faux pas—they may talk about the incident over and over and over again. They get caught in a loop and can’t let go of the thought. Often, when someone is repeatedly hurt in a social context (think bullying or being left out of social opportunities), individuals can show symptoms similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: they relive the indignity over and over again. They may ask you, ‘Why wasn’t I invited to Mary’s party? incessantly over the weekend, and nothing you say can make it go away. In this case, the looping can be a symptom of an anxiety disorder.
4) Many people with AS are very logical. If they are convinced they are right, and that you are wrong, it would fly in the face of logic to accept your position. This black and white, right and wrong view of the world is common, and can be the cause of many tiring debates.
5) Many people with AS will go to great lengths to spend time involved in their special interests or areas of ‘expertise’. If you try to get him to transition from building his LEGO Death Star to his language-based homework, expect some heated discussion/argument/looping/grey hairs!
6) Have we taught our child to do everything we are expecting of him? Sometimes our child will refuse to do something because we have not taught him all the steps needed to be successful with the task. There's a very good chance that if he 'won't', it's because he 'can't' do what you are asking of him right now. The result? He’ll lawyer you into a corner to avoid doing something that makes him feel incompetent. Here’s a good example:
Many parents think the child should just know how to make the bed or clean his entire room. However, for most of our children, it takes direct teaching of each step, along with checklists or a visual task strip, in order to help him be competent and confident in cleaning his room.
Some steps, like making a bed, can take lots of patience and skill to teach.
Our children can have challenges in proprioception, motor planning, and visual processing and visual working memory that can make this a real challenge. When we break the task down into small steps, teach one step at a time until he's got it down pat, the successes soon add up.
The great news in all of this is that each of these issues can be mitigated or overcome once we know what we are dealing with and how it relates to thASD:
Children can be taught the parts of thinking;
They can develop Theory of Mind skills to understand that other people have different thoughts, feelings and experiences; http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/book/9781849058971
We can help improve their success in social interactions, help them manage anxiety, and teach resilience along the way.
It all sounds so simple easy tied up in a neat little paragraph. I’m not suggesting it is easy at all. Finding the right help can be a challenge; learning new ways to speak to our child can feel unnatural. Over time, though, as we become more confident in our own ability to support our child and understand his behaviours, our responses become more intuitive and we become calmer in these interactions with our kids.
Conflict can be reduced. Our child can feel accepted, understood, and happier in all settings.
...and that, in the end, is what we want for all of our children.
I rest my case.