Friday, December 16, 2011

Please Leave My Kitchen

I've made a few huge strides in learning to speak Asperger's in the last few weeks. Part of it is that John is able to communicate better as he gets older. Part of it is discovering Wrong Planet, a forum that includes mostly adults with Asperger's. I'm realizing that experts in the field of Autism can only give us Neurotypicals their observations about Aspergian behavior and thought patterns. That's like learning about a culture from someone who has only studied the culture, not lived it, let alone, been born into it.

Wrong Planet gives me the opportunity to learn from people who have Aspergers and have lived long enough to be able to speak NT fluently enough to help me understand their perspective. The same phenomenon exists after reading Look Me in the Eye and Be Different, books written by an Aspergian to explain his point of view.

Those new insights, combined with consideration for John's own unique personality, the way our family works, and lots of talking with my mother who has her own unique insights into why children behave the way they do, have led to some important discoveries. I plan to share them over the next few weeks here. One such discovery, I blogged about on Mamaholly.

Another discovery is simply asking John to leave my premise when he is being obnoxious or belligerent or argumentative or even, uninvited assistant parent. I have spent years, before realizing his neurological differences, punishing his disrespectful behavior. I've tried to explain why his behavior was inappropriate. I've also "tried to be patient" and explain the expectations and why he was receiving whichever consequence I had contrived at the time. I've tried stickers and rewards and many other techniques. If anything worked, it worked only for short periods of time.

John's behavior can be infuriating and, apparently, so can mine, as is seen in his frequent rages. As I've learned more about Aspergers, I'm learning how frustrating it can be to him to communicate or to keep his mouth shut when he disagrees. I see it is common to have a hyper-vigilant sense of justice, such as I've always seen with him.

I thought I had the key as soon as I learned John had Aspergers. I thought he just didn't understand social cues and all I would have to do is teach/explain/draw/write out the expectations and he would become cooperative and grateful for my guidance. Yeah, it's been nothing like that.

Now I know, that that is a flawed outsider's perspective. Yes, it is true, that many Aspergians don't pick up on subtle social cues, body language and idioms. But, I am learning, that some who learn the expected pattern disagree in principle with the concept. The social pattern of greeting someone with the question "How are you?" and the expected response of "Fine" is a perfect example.

Some Aspergians think the social convention of a contrived question in the form of a greeting call and response is ridiculous. I can actually see their point. So, some of them, either choose to go along with it, begrudgingly, because it is more important to them to maintain certain relationships or consider themselves something of social idiocy rebellion leaders and will painstakingly tell you in great detail exactly how they are because you actually asked.

I think John falls into the second category on many occasions. He frequently sees a social convention and makes the valid choice not to comply. There are consequences to making such a choice, as there are to any form of rebellion. Unfortunately, if one doesn't play the expected social game, one can find himself isolated, not welcomed into relationships or gatherings or even the victim of ridicule or bullying. I have actually come to admire his audacity and willingness to lose for the sake of doing what he believes is right. I've decided to give him much more freedom in this manner.

Unfortunately, what he believes is right frequently flies in the face of what I believe is right. While I now recognize it is a valid choice for him to make, I also realize that his rights frequently preclude my rights for not being abused verbally. I've adopted a pattern of politely, sweetly asking him to leave my kitchen (or any place I own), when he is doing something that bothers me, as soon as it bothers me. I used to try to be patient, a practice which succeeded in sending mixed signals and allowed me to become frustrated and angry in ways that were not becoming to me as a parent.

I have started trying to visual how I would react if he were simply an annoying or bothersome adult I happen to know. If the annoyance is mild, I usually overlook it and then just avoid making plans with that person in the future. If it persists, and the relationship is valuable enough, I may have a conversation explaining my boundaries. Sometimes, I just avoid certain subjects or nod my head instead of sharing my opinion. If it's bad enough, I leave or ask them to leave depending on the location. In none of my interactions with fellow adults do I try to tell them how to behave or punish them.

As my latest self-defense mechanism I started asking him to leave as I would a persistently annoying adult. He has routinely, calmly, maybe with some muttering, left. No throwing. No screaming. No arguing. It was actually a little eery at first. Even eerier, a few minutes later, a very meek John would approach the doorway and say something like "May I come back in?" followed with an "I'm sorry if I was rude."

In my excitement, I decided to put my teacher hat back on, subconsciously. I found myself saying, "That was rude. Please leave my kitchen." But that didn't work. He didn't always agree that what he was doing was, in fact, rude. He respects the fact it is my kitchen and I have a right to choose how I am treated in there, but he feels the need to argue when he believes his character is maligned.

Most of John's annoying or inappropriate behaviors build, so I just ask him to leave as soon as it starts, before either of us is angry. It helps that I accept it isn't my failing that allows him to speak that way. It is simply a choice he has made, on his own, though it isn't the choice I would have made. The result is more peace than I've experienced since I taught him, a screaming, 20-month-old foster child to sign "please" before I would pick him up.

Telling him not to be rude, or to come back and say something in a respectful manner, or to apologize, or just to close his mouth is viewed as impinging on his rights. And in a logical extension of that, he is willing not to impinge on mine by continuing to berate me in my own kitchen. Oh, and interestingly, this peace has extended to his interactions with his sister because he's not constantly fuming about the way I've disrespected him.

Asperger's word of the day: Respect. Yep, even in speaking Asperger's, you have to give it in order to receive it.

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