Monday, February 23, 2009

"I think I have a problem..."

I've been dreading this inevitable moment:
Ben: Mommy, I think I have a problem at school.

Me: What's the problem?

Ben: It's at [Montessori] not at Tilden.

Me: Okay. Can you tell me about it?

Ben: Well, sometimes J. yells at me "Go away!" I chase him and copy him and he yells at me.

Me: It sounds like that makes you feel sad.

Ben: I feel a little disappointed.

I knew that a few of the kids in Ben's afternoon program have been teasing Ben and excluding him sometimes, but this was the first time I heard from him that he's aware of it.

And I suspect that he's more than just "a little disappointed."

In the short term, we need to help Ben understand that not all kids like to be copied - even though his older cousin accepts that this is Ben's form of hero worship.

In the long term, I don't know how to help Ben understand and deal with teasing and cruelty from other kids. I started working on some strategies with him this weekend, like going to get help from a teacher, or finding some different friends to play with.

Ben has got some of his own ideas as well.

"If a friend is teasing me, I can tell him to stop or kick him."

Okay. Partly right.

I think real root of my dilemma is that I don't think Ben fully understands the ways in which he's different from the other kids, and right now, there's something really great about that.

But as he grows up, I want Ben to be self-aware and conscious of his strengths and challenges. I want him to be proud of his abilities and his identity as a person on the autism spectrum, understanding that there are aspects of life that will be hard, but that he can learn and adapt.

So when do you start that conversation? I get what that conversation might sound like at 10 or 12, but what about at 5? It doesn't feel like something I should bring up before he begins to discover it and talk about it on his own, as painful as that process may be.

Ben's differences aren't physically obvious - such as tics or stims - and they are hard to put into words a 5-year-old with information processing difficulties can understand.

For now, I just plan to take things one issue at a time and keep addressing some basic social skills, hoping that the deeper understanding will unfold naturally, over time.

I'm looking for your guidance on this one, friends.

How have you helped your child with issues of teasing or exclusion or being different? When and how did you help your child develop self-awareness and self-advocacy? How do you talk about your child's differences without allowing him or her to become defined by them?


thelittlefluffycat said...

The thing about our kids not modeling well is, it's never a matter of a single teachable moment.

For my kid, with something like that, I might say, "It's good that there are lots of different people to play with, isn't it? Did you go look for someone else? No? That's a good thing to do, next time."

I'm just seeing in the past 3 or 4 years (actually, since his diagnosis at 12) that he's different -- but he's always, even at the worst times, found people to be friends with, by simple dint of learning early that everyone is not friends with everyone, and that that's okay.

md'a said...

Can't help at all with what to do now, but I'd encourage you to talk to Ben about his condition once that seems age-appropriate. I say that because I have an acquaintance who resides somewhere on the spectrum and yet clearly has no idea, even though he must be like 35 or 36 years old. So he sometimes does stuff like audition for on-camera film-critic gigs, because nobody has explained to him that his entire conversational demeanor is unusual in the extreme. (Basically he has no grasp whatsoever of nonverbal social cues; it's a bit like talking to a robot.) If I were him, I'd really prefer to know what my limitations are, and then strive to overcome them as best I can. I wouldn't want to just be totally unaware.

Drama Mama said...

We did a heck of alot of role-playing in the living room; we made it a game to figure out what people were thinking or feeling, or what constituted appropriate spatial relationships, touching, etc.

I did what I know how to do.

I also really liked using Michelle Garcia Winner's worksheets and books (Miss M was an early reader too) along with our play-acting.

Hard stuff. Hang in there.

Penguin Lady said...

I am sure you've thought of this, but is his SLP working with him on problem-solving in any pragmatics sessions they do? My son just turned six, and started this type of class when kindergarten began last fall. They role play, videotape themselves and watch back, make comic strips of nonverbal msgs, etc. He has come LEAPS and bounds in appropriate social interactions - working very intentionally on beginning, conducting and ending a conversation. We're getting there. He's hyperlexic, spectrumy, but can seem asymptomatic to many - unless you know him well or are around him for a while. One child told him last year that he really needed to get some more words b/c he was perseverating so on something. I have not told him about his diagnosis, but we do talk about his strengths and challeges a lot now - and he knows he's in speech and occupational therapy to help with his "nonverbal messages" and "fine motor" (he will tell you this). He seems fine with it - but he goes to a school for students with learning differences and is among very similar peers - so EVERYONE is working on something, ie., adhd, dyslexia, ASD or SID, etc. Hope this helps!

Anonymous said...

I've been tackling the same questions. I wish your child was two years older so you could share your insights with me on this matter. But I do have a recent experience to share & how I worked it out.
My son is 7 1/2 and has the "I can conquer the world" attitude. But recently he had a type of small awakening to that he is "different" from other boys. Unfortunately, it too, was brought about due to other children teasing him. (He is athletically challenged...i.e. slower, lacks coordination). He had a mini anxiety attack/melt down (was shaking, crying & became physically ill) as he shared the negative remarks the other boys made about him. I had to hold back the tears.
I pulled out a pad of paper and drew and wrote. I used his strengths to help him understand. I demonstrated how he is spelling and reading at a higher level than most other kids his age.(My intentions were not to make him feel superior rather that he can see how people have strenghths in different areas). I showed him how with practice he could improve upon his athletic skills levels. And of course, we went over the finding others to play with etc.
He smiled and was soon back to "conquering the world".
I think your right. We take it a day at the time and give them information according to when they are ready. I couldn't see having had this talk at five. I know this is the first of many talks that will take place in the next couple of years.
Just as an ecouragement, my son is mainstreamed (doing well) and has friends at school. Also, your son WILL leave Thomas the Train behind someday soon but he'll replace him with some other sort of collection. LOL!

Anonymous said...

My son is 7, and from nearly the beginning we used the "everyone is different, everyone struggles with something" bit to try to offset those feelings of being overwhelmed, the why-me kind of stuff that comes from knowing on some level that you have to work harder to "get" it.

At about 5 or 6, I explained to him (w/o mentioning the diagnosis) that his brain was like a giant railroad or super highway (it's all about transportation around here...) I said sometimes there are roadblocks or dead ends or roads that are still under construction in your brain and you have to figure out another way to get where you're going. And he really understood that in an age appropriate way.

Very recently (in the last few months) we gave him the word "autism" and a little more information. We felt it was time. His self-awareness in relation to his peers, noticing all of a sudden what the other kids were doing, not doing, etc. just peaked one day. It was like he was only aware of himself, and then suddenly, he was aware of other kids.

I see us moving forward in the same way. In increments. With tons of modeling, social stories, and if/then role playing along the way.

The fact that he will have to navigate public school for years to come, in some sort of an "inclusion" or mainstream setting, motivates me to help him find supportive peers. Peers who will "protect and serve" if you will.

leila said...

It sounds like your son could benefit from a social story (if you know how to draw, you can make the little illustrated "book" yourself") explaining to him that kids get annoyed at copycatting, and maybe suggesting other ways to play with other kids...

I've seen this happen so many times with my 5 year old, when he's following and immitating the other child so much that he (it's usually a boy) tells him to stop and go away. But my son keeps on doing it anyway, I'm not sure if he understands the rejection yet. He's not verbal enough for us to have this type of conversation.