I finally have it! The most perfectly encapsulated snippet of time that perfectly illustrates Asperger's Syndrome. So perfect, in fact, that I fear it will come across as contrived. You be the judge.
4A is a Girl Scout, and I am her troop leader. Those of you who have or were GS know about Thinking Day. Thinking Day is the most important day of the year for a GS; on that day, she celebrates herself as part of a worldwide movement of GS and Girl Guides, reflecting on how she can change the world. Cool stuff!
Where we live, the GS in our area get together to celebrate. This year, we all selected different countries, showcasing for the girls the things that GS/GG do all over the world.
One troop represented Russia and asked some dancers to come and give a demonstration. The young man was dressed in traditional garb, and he and his female partner described the garb. Apparently, the garb has some romantic significance, and these two, teenagers that they are, were a little silly about describing said romantic significance. The young man was a wonderful presenter: confident, humorous, and showy. All 135 girls in the room felt at ease, cheering or laughing where socially warranted. The silly mood had been set, and it had worked to enrapture the girls.
Now as this all unfolded, the young man described the differences between the way males and females dance in the culture. He made a big show of how male dancers put their hands in fists at their waists to show off their muscles and strength. He even asked two brothers in the group to come up and demonstrate their manliness. Pretty jokey and overdone but all in good fun. Girls and grownups alike giggled at the silliness, enraptured.
The young man then went on, with the help of his female partner, to explain how females dance with their hands open on their waists to show that they are pretty and feminine. Point demonstrated and belabored again, to the giggling delight of all in the room.
Okay. Now the demonstration officially begins. Those NTs in the room were signaled to the fact that it was time to be serious by the change in the young man's tone and expression, the inclusion of music, and the grown-up inspired hushing around the room. All NTs in the room were very clear that the serious portion of the demonstration was about to begin.
At this point, I saw 4A sitting in the front row. I remember feeling vaguely aware that she may be inappropriate, lacking a social filter between her mind and her mouth, as she does due to her AS. But, no matter. We were within the safety of our fellow GS, folks who, whether they know her or not, are bound to be sisterly towards her.
I knew she was going to do it the moment before it happened. I watched the young man begin his serious dance with his hands in the female position. I noticed it. I figured other NTs noticed it. But, none of us was going to say anything, of course, because to do so would have been socially inappropriate. This was, after all, serious time.
Not my Aspie. Hell no! Why would she do that? This young man had just gone on and on about the requirements of hand placement for male and female dancers, why the placement is important, and announced a perfectly valid rule for all of the world to hear. He then violated that rule. He was a boy, but he used open hands at his waist. HE BROKE THE RULE!!
Lacking a social filter to know that it would be inappropriate to call him on it in front of the group during serious time, 4A blurted out, "You're dancing like a girl" in her monotone Aspie voice. Most of the girls and grownups in the room giggled. Why? 4A said what they knew to be true but wouldn't dare say themselves.
Partly because she liked the laughter, I suspect, and partly because he then continued to break the rule by not only using open female hand placement but also by flailing his arms around which he had previously said male dancers don't do, 4A said, loudly and drily again, "Now you're really dancing like a girly-girl."
Uproarious laughter now ensues amongst nearly every one of the 135 girls in the room. Now, the grownups in the room are uncomfortable. Here this sweet teenaged boy had the gumption to get up in front of a room of 135 girls and their moms and dance and actually talk to these girls about why he was doing it, and now those ungrateful little shits are going to LAUGH AT HIM!?!?!?!?! For shame!
So, one leader, loudly and boldly says, appropriately, "Knock it off, girls. This man has shown a lot of courage by getting up in front of you and doing this demonstration. Let's show him a little respect."
She was right, of course. Except that 4A didn't mean to do anything wrong. She made a very factual assessment of the rule violation that she saw taking place in front of her. She didn't say those things to be rude or hurtful or disrespectful. She said them because they were true.
Now, NT kids who heard her comments laughed because maybe they, too, felt awkward that he had violated his own rule. Maybe they just laughed because they thought she was taunting him and being funny. Maybe they just laughed because they got caught up in the mob mentality. Who knows? Who cares? Kids are kids.
One inappropriate comment was socially forgivable. Two, apparently, was not. Now, this grownup who called 4A out had no idea that the speaker had autism. This grownup just heard two socially inappropriate comments and treated them accordingly because she was one of the grownups in charge of the group. I would have done the exact same thing had I heard another kid say something so brass.
Except, that the kid who said it has a neurological disability that made (or prevented her from) say(ing) it. She honest-to-God has no idea that what she did was wrong. Know how I know? Because I asked her about it on the way home, and she was confused as all hell. Me: "Do you remember getting yelled at during the dance?" Her: "Yes." Me: "Know why?" Her: "I know she yelled at me because I must have been saying all kinds of inappropriate stuff." Me: "Why did you say what you said?" Her: "He's a boy, and he was using girl hands." BINGO! I knew it! I KNEW it!
So, as her mother, what am I to do about it?
Berate the lady who berated her because she has autism and can't help it, damn it? Absolutely not.
Not address it with 4A because she already got hollered at about it? Certainly not. Hollering or explaining never works with an Aspie. They're immune.
Ignore it with 4A because she can't help it? Positively, absolutely no way.
I know, of course, because I have a brain and because I can read, that grown Aspie women (and I mean those who have actually been diagnosed as Aspies and not those who identify as Aspies; the latter hold no stature with me), that Aspies do not want to be changed. There is nothing wrong with them, you see. They are wired the way that they are wired, and the world needs to get down with that and leave them alone. In fact, many of these Aspies find their wiring to be preferrable and more advantageous than the NT wiring because it allows them the advantage of a lack of emotional need.
I know that. I get it. On every single level (except the last), I wholeheartedly agree.
I love that girl of mine. I love her wiring. I understand it. I respect it. I get it. I don't want her to change. She doesn't need to. She's just great just how she is.
But, I know that the world doesn't know that. Specifically, that little encapsulated world in that room last night that she is connected to by gender, age, locale, and membership didn't get it. As her mom, I know that's okay. It doesn't matter if they get it or not. I don't need to educate them. I don't need to change them.
I do, however, need to educate my daughter on when it's appropriate to say things and when it's not. That's my job as her mother.
Why is that my job? No one likes an asshole, even an asshole who has a medical reason for being one. Most folks are going to take her factual assessments of truth as socially inappropriate because most of the world finds them to be just that. She's not doing anything wrong. Please understand. However, she needs skills and tools to know what to do about her factual assessments and statements of truth in social situations.
Giving her the skills and tools is rather difficult. Social stories help, of course, but how can one accurately define and describe every single scenario in which it is either socially appropriate or socially inappropriate to voice a comment and then accurately delineate which comments are inappropriate when? Your head should be spinning; her doctors' and mine are. The better/easier/more effective approach is to make a blanket bright-line rule that she may not comment in large groups unless she runs her comment by a trusted grownup first and then reinforce her when she follows that rule or does comment appropriately. That requires, then, a delineation of which grownups can be trusted when and where for appropriate feedback and requires them to, in fact, reinforce her for doing it the right way. When it's appropriate or inappropriate to comment is largely objective, but there are times when it's subjective. Whether or not one would comment at a given time or place is largely dependent on conceptions of hutzpuh or "balls," if you will. Who decides who can have what size balls in which situations? You catching my drift, here?
So, sure, we could bypass this whole headache of trying to teach and just let her spout off whenever and wherever she felt like it, throwing our hands in the air and crying "autism!" If we allowed her to do that, we would have two very big problems on our hands. (1) We'd be shitty parents. We'd be allowing her to get away with something just because it was too hard for us to fix. Shitty parenting I can honestly live with. It's the next one that is the undoing for me. (2) She's going to get hurt.
Hurt? Yep. Again, I remind you that no one likes an asshole, even one who is only an "asshole" because of a medical condition. If no one likes her, she may be just fine because she may, in fact, prefer to be alone. But, she will be an adolescent. Adolescents, as we all know, are ALL about fitting in and friends. Even if she does have social impairment that allows her to escape some of those feelings, she may not like being alone all the time. And, even if she does like being alone, no one can stand being bullied without some big scars. Sure, I can give her tools to withstand the bullying. But, wouldn't it, in fact, be easier to bypass the entire thing by helping her know when it's okay to say something and when it's not? Whether that's a hard thing to teach or not is irrelevant.
It's my job. Nothing about being a parent is easy. Not one single thing. It's my job. And, I'm going to man up (pun intended) and keep teaching her to navigate the invisible social dance of life.