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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
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Copyright 1998 Roger N. Meyer




[This post was written in early 1998, and shared on the ANI list as well as the St. Johns ASPERGERS MAELSTROM discussion list.]



     I'd like to share a post I made today to a person on another list.  Not formally diagnosed, she considers herself on the spectrum.  She has a teenage daughter 16 years old, and the struggle between mother and daughter, normal at this age, has assumed monumental proportions.  When the daughter was younger, just into middle school, she was cautioned not to mention her religion to schoolmates.  All Hell broke loose as the consequence of her having done so earlier.  Recently, she tried out for a high school musical, despite the fact she cannot sing on key.


     The mother is truly concerned.  She asks how she can cope with a daughter who doesn't have a clue about the consequences of her decisions.


     With editing to protect the identity of the persons involved and to add clarity, here is what I wrote.




     You say  Meagan repeatedly takes no heed of  your warnings about the bad consequences of her behavior and decisions.  Might I suggest that the global messages you are sending her just are not getting through?


     In order for folks to learn the act/consequence thing, it may be necessary to start with very, very small training lessons, not something so complicated that the message is lost in the rich tapestry of real life surroundings.  In the two cases you cite, Meagan  wanted to do something where it was impossible for her to control the environment, guarantee others' measured responses to her behavior, and to otherwise "be in charge."  I'm afraid all that I would do in such a circumstance is feel that I am a total failure as a result of the consequences generated by my own behavior.


     She apparently has very little sense of what happens with global aspects of her behavior.  Remember, wanting to sing in a school musical, especially if she can't carry a tune, presses a lot of buttons.  Presenting herself "naked" (as it were) and almost defiant of others guarantees the very results she really fears, despite her statements to you and others to the contrary.  Having announced her Wiccan identity in the wrong way, in the wrong surroundings, with the wrong information, and in response to the wrong question from perhaps the wrong person, what other results could she expect to encounter?  Just warning her of the consequences, frankly, was not enough. She simply "doesn't get it."


     This is no criticism of your parenting skills.  It is evident that she has benefited from your and Jim's strong interventions.


     No one starts out wanting to have their lack of judgment, savvy, sensitivity, common sense and  low self-esteem affirmed.  Faced with repeated instances of that, and in our own crisis and depression following such encounters, we are least able to benefit from  "lessons," or "I told you so's."  By allowing her to set herself up time after time in no-win situations, she is literally deaf to your warnings that she will get no "support" if she persists.  Support, despite our stubbornness, is what we all want.  As a child, as an adult, I need it.  So do you.


     I think everyone honest with him/herself  wants it.  When we are unable to get what we want, no matter how badly we try, or how bad the try, we do become frustrated.  And angry.  And depressed.  And whiny.  And impossible.  And needy as all Hell.


     At a time she is least invested in a "crazy" idea is the time to teach cause/consequence stuff.  Stuff unrelated to a big wish.  Persistently.  Hour after hour.  Lord knows she is not stupid.  Nor is she stubborn.  Nor can she know it all.  Tamara has a fundamental kind of learning disability.  Part of the disability is evident in the lack of generalization skills.  Generalization takes time to teach, especially with almost mature adolescents, but, to some extent, it is teachable.


     Thank God she is high functioning.  With a great deal of persistence, she may be able to learn how to generalize, how to connect act with react.  Some of us, bright as Hell we, still have trouble with this, and may have trouble all of our lives.  Now is the time for her to learn work-arounds, ways of self monitoring where she is and what she is actually doing  All of this is by way of her asking herself  what may happen as a result of doing or saying something.  It really is an mature version of Stop, Look, and Listen.


     If we can't do that, and many of us can't, then we learn to avoid situations where those challenges arise.  Or we learn to redirect attention away from ourselves, or gain recognition for the things we really do well, and hope those will overshadow our limitations.  Even that is like play-acting, and like good acting, it takes practice, practice, practice.  You can't expect a completely green actor to learn all his lines in King Lear at the first reading, or perhaps after many readings.  Even if it's a couple of lines.  Especially, perhaps, because even a bit part, acted well, takes a great deal of rehearsal.


     The moral [I think it was the Simon and Garfunkle Song "Teach your Children Well" or a title to that effect]:


     Start simple.  Determine her level of sophistication in understanding the consequences flowing from antecedents by determining her "baseline" of understanding.  Do a bunch of "check-in's" with her.  Take absolutely neutral, unloaded acts, behaviors, and phenomena.  They must be totally unloaded, so that if the connections are not there, she need not feel dumb or that she should know what  the connection should be.  That's the basis of any good structured testing and learning.  It's always best not to react negatively to what she doesn't know.  Negative reinforcement doesn't work with kids.  Through the process where both of you do this together, you'll both be  learning a new way to break problems into their simple parts and assemble them one by one without hurry, without feeling overwhelmed, and without the need to accomplish  as particular goal by a particular time you set under pressure.  She in turn will realize more about how she learns, and once some progress is made in grasping the process from understanding one- to- one repeatedly and then moving on to two-to-one, then two-to-two, she will appreciate how complex behavior really is.  In doing so, and in your modeling of patience and support with her, some of yourself, the cycle you see being repeated in her, may begin to soften, and, hopefully, be unlocked.


     If you can pull it off, you will have accomplished something truly remarkable.  She may understand what learning a different way is like.  In your patience and love for her, she will begin to experience a new kind of identity for which she is truly the person in charge.  By doing so, it may be possible for both of you to separate when the time comes, mother from daughter, and later to reconnect friend to friend in a way different than when you parted.  Done well, the fallow time between release and return could be quite short.  Maybe the most unexpected thing may occur:  she will know that despite the past, it is possible to change, and through the doing, to think of herself as a candidate for a different kind of adulthood and motherhood.


     That would be the most miraculous thing of all.



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