Lately it’s been tricky around here. And I know that it’s supposed to be. Almost 1 year ago, I attended a conference held by Social Thinking. I listened to Michelle Garcia Winner talk about social thinking and older teenagers on the Autism spectrum transitioning into the adult years. Of the many “ah-ha” moments I had there, the one that sticks with me is this nugget: “By the time kids with Asperger’s and high functioning autism reach adulthood, their parents are exhausted and done with them. The kids, with their quirks and difficult behavior, have used up most of their parents’ goodwill.” So it makes sense that I feel, every once in a while, DONE with my eight year old aspie. It’s been that kind of off-schedule, snow-day week that brings out the worst in all of us, and activates my very last nerve.
Example: “Mom, does Mulan wear makeup?”
“In some scenes in the movie she does.”
“If Mulan wears makeup in some scenes of the movie, why can’t I wear makeup to school?”
This is an example of the literal, obsession-minded Aspie thinking. And also an example of perseveration (we have had this conversation and ones like it, oh, 100 times). Wearing makeup and Mulan are two of her current obsessions. Here is, possibly, the thought process: “I like Mulan, and I like makeup. If I like both of those things, and both of those things sometimes go together, then why can’t I have what I want, which is to wear makeup, like Mulan did (in some situations), to school?”
And, having to break every rule down, understand it, and memorize it, is what we do right now to get by. Sometimes we also perseverate on the unfairness or illogic of said rule.
What has really been squeezing my heart lately is the notion (and I don’t disagree with it), that kids like my Aspie may never have a social support network as an adult. Winner has been studying this more than anyone else, and with a rigor and flexibility that no one else can even approach. She has recently released her new Social Thinking – Social Communication Profile. What it says about people like my daughter is that, because they are, in Autistic terms, so “high-functioning,” they appear to be neuro-typical to most people. However, because they appear to function well and be smart, their issues are not thought to be a disability by their peers, more of an annoyance or behavior problem, which makes it hard to build social relationships. Huh. Their ability to be high-functioning leaves them at greater risk for poor social support. Smack-in-the-face.
I recently saw Temple Grandin speak, and she described what it is like to think in pictures and have a mind that thinks from the bottom-up (from details to generalization rather than the other way). In her words, every word is associated with a visual image, and every rule has to be applied over and over again to every situation.
That feels very familiar, and we are all learning to speak this way, in pictures, and to explain rules in terms of individual situations. But it can be hit-by-a-bus, forget-what-I’m-saying-next, loose-my-goddamn-keys exhausting.
I don’t know what the reality is of Temple Grandin’s peer relationships. I do know, though, that every person in the room was riveted and there was a long line of people wanting her to sign their books – books that Dr. Grandin had authored.
Tattling is kind of a big deal right now in school. For my Aspie, but also for everyone. We have been reading A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue, by Julia Cook. We love it, because it gives concrete rules, and it shows a couple of situations where you can apply the rules. Huge PASS.
And it was really pleasing to overhear a play scenario taking place the other day in my child’s room. Playing “teacher” is serious business – those poor American Girl Dolls really do have to toe the line, and very often they are sent away to write “plans.” In this instance, however, the teacher was MAKING VERY CLEAR the class rules about tattling, and other IMPORTANT ISSUES.
Reading the work of people like Michelle Garcia Winner grounds me in the reality of my child’s prognosis. But, when I watch my Aspie play, hear her ideas, and see her generalize the rules in a novel way, I think it’s OK to transcend reality every once in a while, like Dr. Grandin did, and hope for better.
But, maybe, all I’m doing is using the same kind of Aspie-thinking that my daughter uses when she wants to make her wishes a reality:
I love Temple Grandin + Temple Grandin is successful + I love my daughter + my daughter can memorize rules in a book and generalize concepts in new ways = we all live happily ever after and she figures out a way to have peer relationships without me intervening.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Jennifer Minnelli, M.S., CCC-SLP