Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Self-Awareness, Radios and Railroads

"Mom, am I socially awkward?" Safety Guy asked me late last night.

How to answer that without being tactless ("Ya THINK?!") or rude ("BWAHAHAHAAAA!") or crying (because his sudden self-awareness took me by surprise and made me have a total flashback to realizing what his Aspergers would mean for his life when he was diagnosed) took a few seconds of iron self-control on my part.  Then I gently said, "Yes, honey, you do struggle with being socially awkward."

He wasn't upset to have his question confirmed; he was searching for answers about himself.  We had a long conversation, starting with his question about his social skills, and going on from there through his anxieties about the upcoming school year, his sense of loneliness and feeling like he's not fitting in even when he's surrounded by other kids, and wondering if his Dad really understands him (which is a resounding, Yes, very much so!).  He was so open and sincere, and so in touch with his emotions and able to express them.  I was floored.  He has taken a major, huge, MASSIVE emotional growth spurt this summer to be able to discuss his feelings and needs with us so openly, and with greater understanding than he's ever shown before.

Some of his questions were funny:  "Mom, am I a nerd?  Because I don't wear glasses, and they always dress up."  I confess I hedged a little on this one.  "Um, no, you're not really a nerd - you just have some of the characteristics of someone distracted by their own interests and way of seeing the world to the point of being socially awkward - kind of like a nerd.  But you're not - really."  Because he doesn't fit the stereotype, but I can see why some other kids might draw the parallel.

"Mom, why do you seem to GET me more than Dad does?  Sometimes it seems like you're reading my mind.  It's creepy!"  I explained that it was a Mom thing - most Moms spend so much time with their kids that they're naturally tuned in to how their kids think and what they need, and can anticipate how they'll react to most situations.  I explained that his Dad and I are like radios, and Safety Guy is the broadcasting station.  I pick up his "signal" a bit stronger than his Dad does, even though we're both tuned in to the same station.  Safety Guy liked that analogy.

He asked why he and his Dad sometimes don't get along.  I explained that it was like having two railroads running through the same territory.  Both guys are very linear thinkers, with a clear idea of how they expect a given situation to play out, how events should unfold.  When things don't go as they anticipate, they can get derailed (anxious, frustrated, or angry).  So when they're trying to negotiate the same terrain, and their linear expectations don't line up, sooner or later they'll cross tracks, and there will be some sort of crash, ranging from a fender-bender to mass destruction.  It's hard for Safety Guy to bend his line of thinking to parallel his father's when it's an authority issue.  Other times they both need to bend to get along.  And sometimes his father bends to go along with him.  Safety Guy liked that analogy too, since he's loved trains for as long as he can remember.

I was sad to realize how much Safety Guy realizes that he's different than his peers - but I also had to reassure him that his feelings are totally common for kids his age.  Very few kids are blessed enough to feel like they always fit in, always know what to say or do, and never feel awkward.  Feeling out of sync with his peers is exaggerated by his Aspergers, but he's far from alone.  He was glad to hear that he's not strange or broken for feeling that way.  He does feel set apart by his Aspegers (he's realized recently that AS can be a disability as well as a different way of thinking and relating to the world, as we've always told him).  He also feels set apart by his precocious physical development.  (The only cure for that is time, when his peers eventually catch up to him.)

I am so blessed that Safety Guy wants to talk with us about such personal stuff, that he trusts us to tell him the truth with kindness.  This is such a rough age - I hope he continues to be so transparent with us, and I hope and pray for the wisdom to give him good answers, and to know when to say "I don't know, but the Lord does," when it's appropriate.