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?