Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tough Questions From A 9-Year-Old

 A girl after my own heart - playing in dirt, looking for worms.

Aside from the fact that I think our daughter Princess Yakyak is totally cool and awesome, I am also uncomfortably aware that she's quite smart and insightful.  Not just in the way that most kids can be (in a seeing-through-the-words, cutting-through-the-crap kind of way), but also when it comes to living with her brother. 

She's reached the difficult point where her social and emotional maturity are starting to surpass her brother's.  That's one of the tough things about Aspergers Syndrome - generally their social/emotional maturity is quite a bit less than their chronological age, somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4 of their chronological age.  So our son, at 12, often acts/reacts more like a kid of 8-9.  (It doesn't help that he looks 14 or 15.)  For a while it was like having emotional twins in the house, only without that twin bond that might soften the rough edges.  Now she is realizing that she's ahead of her brother in many ways, and that gap is likely to only get bigger for a long time.  He might not reach his full emotional maturity until well into his 20s or even early 30s.  (Yes, we're already praying for his future girlfriend/wife.)

Princess Yakyak has asked us a number of tough questions about him recently: 

"Why does he act so much younger than he is when he gets frustrated?"  
      This one is easy to answer, but still very frustrating for all of us:  "Because his Aspergers means he isn't growing up emotionally as quickly as you are, and he acts younger because his emotions ARE younger.  He can't help it, but he can learn.  It just takes much longer for him."  I knew this day would come, when she passed him in general emotional maturity.  She's still just a kid, and I can't ask her to set the example for him - yet, she does whether she wants to or not, and will do so more as she gets older.  At some point I hope she will become one of his protectors, standing up for him when others put him down.  This in-between period will be rough, and there's no way around it.

"Why do you tell him how to behave, and he doesn't listen?  You tell him over and over!  It's not fair, he gets away with stuff!"
     The key phrase is "over and over."  He doesn't "get" correction the first time every time.  For that matter, no kid does, and we've pointed out to PYY that her criticism isn't entirely fair, since we've have to repeat things to her too.  Still, generally, he needs to have corrections repeated multiple times, in multiple situations, before he "gets it."  She thinks we aren't hard enough on him, because he "gets away" with stuff (i.e. does stuff he's been corrected for in the past).  The fact is, he keeps doing or saying inappropriate things, we correct him for it, and we have to repeat the correction the next time he does it again.  Repetition, correction and generalization, repetition, correction and generalization, repeat ad nauseum.  As I've pointed out to her (more than once!), it's not any more fun for us than it is for her or him when they don't listen the first time.

"How come he has so much trouble with math?  It's easy for me, and I'm only in third grade."
      His math learning disability is not related to his Aspergers, but his AS doesn't help how he deals with his math learning issues.  It doesn't help that his sister is quite good at math.  Her skills are at least equal to his right now.  Sometimes she gloats at this, knowing that she can do something better than he can.  This is really hard for me as a parent - I want her to be justifiably confident in her own skills, but not to elevate herself by putting down her brother.  This is the intersection of sibling rivalry and special needs.  It can get pretty ugly.  I understand that she can see that she's doing better at math than he is, but I will not tolerate put-downs over his math difficulties or his Aspergers.  I've had to come down hard on her for belittling him, which isn't fun for either of us.

"Why is his handwriting so bad?  And he draws like a kindergartner!"
     That really is related to his Aspergers - many people with AS struggle with fine motor skills.  I'm not flapped about it - he can type, and we'll be looking into voice recognition software so he can dictate his school work as he gets older.  Again, I'm glad that she has no trouble with fine motor skills, and is in fact quite good with writing and drawing - art is her favorite subject, and her cursive is neater than mine ever was.  But we will not tolerate it when she puts him down for his lack of fine motor skills (or anything else).  Again, he can't help it, and slow progress is better than no progress.

"Why does he talk about things over and over and over?  It's so BORING!"
     Ah, Aspergers - how do I love thee?  This is a totally, stereotypically AS thing, this total absorption in a topic down to the smallest details, and the complete disregard for whether or not others are as interested in hearing about it as he is.  Safety Guy cycles through several topics.  Right now he's stuck on vintage video games and game systems.  We are all heartily sick of hearing about them, in spite of our best efforts to redirect him, or politely tell him that he needs to talk about something else for a while.  I know his amazing memory for minutiae will serve him well in some future profession.  I think he'd make a fantastic museum registrar, or forensics specialist, or paralegal.  For now, though, I could happily go for a whole year without discussing the top 10 best and worst video game systems of all time.

"Why is he so selfish and mean to me?" 
     This one really breaks my heart.  Safety Guy has never really gotten over having a sister.  He has regarded her as an interloper in his world since the day she was born when he was just over 3 years old.  I know he loves her as his sister (in a general sentimental sort of way), but he also would much rather that she impinged on his reality as little as possible, and only on his terms.  It's the random factor:  he can't control her, or what she says or does, or how loudly or close to him she does it, and she really gets on his nerves.  He has little patience for her, especially when she distracts or interrupts him, and he's often not nice about it at all.  ("Go away!  Leave me alone!  Stop talking near me!  Stop making noise!  Don't stand near me!  Be quiet!"  And much worse.)  We've done our best to soften his rough edges with her, but the fact is that he can and often does come across as selfish, mean, and downright nasty to her. 

Only some of this "selfishness" can be attributed to his Aspergers - like the typically blunt, graceless statement of what he sees as his rights and place in the (center of) the world.  In his mind, this is HIS house and HIS space, and the rest of us should see and do things his way.  We are in his space, not the other way around.  There's precious little "we" in his emotional vocabulary.  Hardly a day goes by that we aren't refereeing between them, talking about using fair language (not "always" and "never" statements), talking through how something is said is just as important as the words themselves.  It makes me crazy, because we haven't raised them comparing them to each other.  They're each uniquely wonderful, so why are we having so much trouble with this?    

Sibling rivalry + Aspergers = heartache.