I have so many posts swimming around in my head. So many resources gathered for sharing. I promise that I will get to it...one day, but life has a funny way of getting in the way of plans. How I LOVE the following quote: "Life is what happens when you're busy making plans."
Today, I need to talk about an Aspie and her self-esteem. This is kind of a misnomer, I suppose, because self-esteem, while it describes the esteem you hold for yourself, is really a social construct. Most of us perceive our worth based on what we're good at, how we feel about our selves, what we like. While ideally those things are intrinsic in and of ourselves (and once we become grown adults they usually are), those "things" that make up the esteem we have for ourselves are socially-bound, meaning that they derive definition or explanation or "meat" from social perceptions and social relationships. How would I know to have esteem about my kindness towards others if I haven't had a social education in what kindness is and what it feels like? Without getting too heady, I hope to have established that self-esteem is at least partly socially derived. Pyschologists can explain "self-esteem" better than I can, so I leave it to them (lame-o reference to Wikipedia pardoned, please).
So it is that many Aspies, because they have neurological social impairment, struggle in this regard. In fact, a friend, who herself has an Aspie child, once asked me about 4A's self-esteem. I was so confused that I flustered and fumbled through an answer. It was only later that I did a little digging and research to figure out why the heck that question was so hard for me to answer.
I contended at the time that self-esteem is something an Aspie can't really feel or get, certainly an 8 y/o one. By this, I think I mean that because she has neurological impairments that make it difficult for her to connect socially to the world and people around her that she has/will have difficulty in assessing her connections to groups whereby most folks gather their self-esteem. I *think* I still mean that.
But, here's where it gets murky. And, to be clear, being a NT living in an Aspie's world always feels murky. Fair, I figure, because it always, ALWAYS feels odd and hard and confusing to be an Aspie living in an NT-world. I digress...
4A is having such a hard time this year: with academics, with executive functions, with social connections, with everything! I guess I should really say that she's not having trouble organically; what causes the trouble is the NT mold/model/perception to which she's expected to conform. An example...All third graders should be able to record their assignments in their agenda books and manage their materials. NT third graders will get that with instruction and either (a) remember that when they get a shitty grade and have disappointed their parents and/or teacher or (b) they'll never get that far because, being NT as they are, they'll want to please their parents and their teachers and themselves, so they'll get it right quickly. An Aspie third grader can master this skill with modification; use a checklist for a visual reminder, reinforce the use of the checklist with immediate and long-term reinforcers, reinforce it further by letting her "earn" no checklist with compliance, reinforce further by reinstituting the checklist when she fouls up...over time, she'll learn to master that skill and wean off of the supports.
Why, you ask, does it take so darn long if she's so "smart?" Because the motivator for most children to get with the plan is SOCIAL; they don't want to get a shitty grade, make mom mad, or piss off the teacher. Conversely, it feels "good" to do things right; that "good" is a social feeling. Aspies have neurological social impairment, which means that they derive no benefit from this system because the reasons to get with the program are social and, thus, lost on them. You can get them to keep that agenda book complete and bring that shit home, but you're going to have to create incentive to comply artificially because the usual NT reason for complying is absent or lost.
Okay, so trouble and reason for said trouble have been established. Back to the murkiness.
I know that self-esteem is going to be hard for 4A because of her autism. I understand why. It actually makes sense to me (thank goodness I decided to be a lawyer and that I rejoice in logical exercises!). But, I don't know what to do about it. When one of my other NT children struggles in this regard, I'm all set and ready to go. I have books I can read about how to help, stories I can share with them, journals we can pass back and forth to talk if we can't do it face-to-face, and heart-to-heart chats all planned and at the ready. I've been trying these things with 4A a LOT, and we aren't making progress.
That part's easy. Because we are talking about social issues. Having a best friend but being ready to move on when the friendship changes. Best friend or group of friends, which works for you? Having a bag of tricks at the ready when you're feeling left out. Handling bullies and gossip and fights and all the absolutely horrifyingly degrading and maddening and demeaning shit that goes with being a pre-adolescent girl. It was absolute hell the first time around for me, and I can only imagine how much worse it's going to be as I vicariously live and parent it three more times.
Last night, she cried and cried and cried herself to sleep. Her best friend had seen a picture of her when she was a toddler, taken in the TWO YEARS that she refused to wear clothes. The best friend laughed and said, "That's so weird!" Three years ago, a boy told her she was fat. Someone saw her glasses, 6 months ago, and laughed because they say "Skechers" on them and "Skechers" are for shoes, not glasses. Kids think she's weird. She's a loser. On and on and on.
The trigger? She had forgotten her homework assignment two nights in a row. On the first night, I dutifully took away 5 pebbles and the next morning before school, I reminded her to bring it home. I also prepped the overcorrection worksheet she was going to have to do for forgetting to bring it home (this is the work needed to artificially create a reason to comply since the social reason is missing). On the second night, I took away 10 pebbles, reminded again, and prepped some more overcorrection. Teacher, GOD BLESS THIS WOMAN!!!!, intervened, with my blessing, and kept 4A in at recess to do the worksheet.
4A couldn't explain it, but she felt embarrassed. A social feeling! Hurray! But, she doesn't know how to process that because of her neurological social impairment. Instead, she got off the bus cheery, and when I asked her about her day, she said (brace yourself, please), "Horrible because you blabbed your big fat mouth to my teacher and I had to miss recess." Interject my parenting for the disrespectful statement and my reassurance that teacher and I are a team, that it's our job to help her, and that 4A really only has herself to be mad at for forgetting the damn thing TWICE.
Fast forward through supper, Tae Kwon Do, drawing, TV, games, fun with her sister, and bedtime, and all of the sudden, it exploded. Silly me. I left a little journal on her pillow with a note asking her if she wanted to be my journal pal. She said, in her deadpan/Aspie tone, "I found rubbish on my pillow." Then, she wrote me a HORRIBLY awful note about how it was for babies, her blabbermouth brother would tell everyone at school, and everyone, even her bestie, would hate her.
From this, she digressed into a verbal diarrhea of all that stuff I mentioned four paragraphs prior.
I was quick on the uptake. Think, Hollie. Fast! She's black-and-white, literal, logical. Quick. Okay, kid said you're fat. Are you fat? 4A: "I don't know. He said I am." (She can't figure out who she is on her own.) Well, your clothes fit, you eat healthy, you're a normal weight for your age, and you do Tae Kwon Do. I don't think your fat. 4A: "Well, I'm weird. Everyone thinks I'm weird." Okay. What are you good at? What do you like? What do you think of yourself? What does Bestie think of you? What do Mom and Dad and the kids think of you? To no avail. On and on and on. Over a stupid fucking notebook. Excuse my French, but SHIT! Why the hell did I have to put that damn thing on her pillow?!?!?!?!?!?!
Good thing I did, I suppose, because I got a small glimpse of what it feels like to be her. Being a kid is hard enough. Being a girl is worse. Being an Aspie has gotta be even harder.
I am trying to do right by this kid, but I'm feeling lost. I have feelers out to all of her docs for resources and ideas. They'll know what to do. I don't have to worry. Except that I'm this lovely creature's mother.
How can I possibly get her to understand, neurological social impairment notwithstanding, how wonderfully amazing she is? She's beautiful and smart and funny and creative and cool. She has developed such wonderful empathy for her baby sister and folks in need. She can draw anything, and I mean anything, after only one look at the original. She remembers everything (and I mean everything, which can be a double-edged sword). She can read whole Harry Potter books in two days, as a third grader. She used to be unable to dress herself, soothe herself, or comply with direction. She can do all of those things now without missing a beat. She blossomed and developed into this amazing creature when many folks weren't certain that she could. She used to be inflexible
and terrified and anxious.
She still has moments of those things, of course, now, but they're managed, and she largely does the managing. She is amazing!
How can I make her see it?
I have always maintained that her autism is to be celebrated and shared and enjoyed. It is not embarrassing. It is not scary. It isn't "bad." She didn't do anything wrong. She isn't weird. People need to be educated to understand what autism is and why it happens. They need to adjust and grow and expand and move to comprehend her, not the other way around. Did I goof up? Have I made it harder for her because now on top of all of the other shit she has to deal with, she now has to deal with everyone knowing that she has autism?
Who the hell knows, of course. I'm not stressed. I'm not worried. I am a little sad. I am a little stumped. But, I have lots of support in her wonderful team. They'll know what to do. I just have to follow directions. That much I can do.