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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
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--Communication and Trust--

Copyright 1999 Roger N. Meyer



     [This article was written in response to a post by a mom of a teenaged boy who had become very secretive to her and to his teachers.  She would get very upset with him, and start to badger him for information.  Following my first post to her, she mentioned that when he does confide in her, he is effusive in his thanks to her for listening and understanding.  He does so in a "babyish" way.  The second part of this article describes steps to help her son move beyond that behavior.  Her teenager has Asperger Syndrome.]


Part I


     Part of what you describe is teenageitis.  The other part is behavior of a kid who wants greater control over things in his life--read self-control--in addition to being granted greater independence about making decisions


     You can help him in both areas by backing off and determining which things he does are worth going after and guaranteeing a meltdown, which can be negotiated with him, and which you place in a third category of nice-but-not-now things which can move into the second category.


     I'm using Ross Greene's "baskets" category concepts in his book, "The Explosive Child."  In it, he describes the positive behavioral interventions and cognitive behavioral techniques parents can adopt towards this type of distressing behavior.


     The first thing to consider is whether what you are insisting on changing is worth the fight, and whether changing it in exactly the way YOU or the school folks shows any likelihood of succeeding.  If yelling, threatening, times-out, and all the other things you have tried don't work, accept it.  They don't work.


     Don't initially focus on the behavior.  Try to work with him to determine the CAUSE of his reaction, because what you are encountering is the reaction of a youngster who is already beyond the point of reasoning about what is tripping his hammers.  Don't attempt to do this while he is in the midst of an episode; it will only frustrate and inflame him more, and also tend to make you more aggressive and tendentious.


     From what you describe, it sounds as though he has major trouble in making decisions.  This isn't unexpected in kids with autism; no matter how "bright" they appear, and no matter how "logical" even the smallest decision making event appears to a parent or a teacher.  The fact is, executive function deficits--part of the way his brain is wired--prevent him from making the kinds of cause and consequences, act-reaction, prioritizing, use of time and sequencing behaviors that most kids and adults do intuitively.  In short, he has major troubles in planning.   It is likely that he isn't sure of decisions he DOES make, even after having made them, because the process he uses to arrive at decisions isn't clear to him.  He is doubtful about being a consistent decision-maker, or calling upon that same process in the next five minutes when another opportunity arises to make a similar kind of a decision.


     In a word, the issue is self-trust.  Kids with classic indecisiveness--our kids--have a big problem in this area.  Until and unless his own feelings over this area change, with your help and that of others through consistent, positive training and role modeling, he can't move ahead.  I say "can't," because for him, it is as though he "can't."


     This has nothing to do with defiance or obstinacy.  Those behaviors are reactions of a kid whose frustration with his own level of trust and sense of ability to arrive at decisions independently is very shaky, and very fragile.  Just having attained the age of 15 doesn't mean that you are dealing with development in this important area that is that of his age-peers.  It most likely isn't.


     You have hit it on the head when you speak of this being a forest for the trees problem for you.


     Good insight.


     It's exactly that way for him.


     You may wish to have a family conference with him at a time when he hasn't come down from one of these events, and at a time and place not connected with the last outburst.  Believe me, context, environment, timing, and tone of voice are everything.  Try to collect your wits before speaking, and try not, as well, to let your frustration and disappointment with him show through.  We (and in this I include myself as an adult Aspie) see through disingenuousness in a flash.  Your words have to be as real as your thoughts.  A tough job.


     But then who ever said parenting is an easy job?


     Good luck, and try not to be too hard on yourself.  It's a learning process for everyone.


Part II


     How wonderful that he can express his gratitude to you, even if in a way that is babyish.


     I'm going to guess that he hasn't developed the proper "words" and behaviors of an older child, because he can't intuit them like NT kids.  At times when he isn't in this mode, you may wish to explore these sentiments and feelings with him through a social story, or a series of social stories that helps him by "training" him in alternative behaviors which are age-appropriate.  For a while I may be that he doesn't seem to progress, but constant reinforcement and praise for him when he does, and not as much of a response when he doesn't usually works.  Even without his knowing "logically" why mom offers more emotional feedback for the "good" words and behaviors, his own internal logic will help him figure that out in its own way.


     Be prepared for frequent needs to "update" behavior, or to help him following a period of regression or temporary backsliding.  Consider it just that, a reaction or response to a particularly challenging day or some new frustration haunting him into less mature responses.  We all learn by taking an occasional step backward, if only to provide greater momentum for each successive forward motion.


     By the sounds of it, you are doing everything right, and your own thoughts on the manner show that you are in a good place, mentally, to continue on the path.  Parents have to provide the perspective their children lack, even their non-disabled children.  It seems as though you have the supportive formulas down pat, though they set you seething inside sometimes.


     It's OK to share reflections of your inner turmoil with him, just as it's OK to model a healthy response to inner conflict.  These reassurances go a long way to help him understand and begin to accept parts of him he is most anxious about.  By being non-judgmental and sharing your story with him in your own words and at your own pace, he is learning how to engage in reinforcing "self-talk" just like his mom.


     What a great gift you are giving him.


Copyright Issues


This article is copyright, all rights reserved by the author, Roger N. Meyer.  It may be reproduced in single copy once for personal use, and in no more than ten copies total for educational purposes.  Fair Use is authorized for all purposes and under conditions established by US Statute and the International Copyright Convention, to which the United States is a signatory nation.  No person shall publish, distribute, copy, or by other means make this material available to others for purposes of personal gain or professional self-aggrandizement.  Individuals wishing permission to exercise other than fair use or limited distribution as outlined above must contact the author, in writing, and receive explicit written permission from the author prior to engaging in further use of this material.

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