I knew that video games were going to be the easiest part of my son’s life.
Everything with Brady is either Easy or Hard until we sort it out.
Video games are easy. People are hard. Science is easy. Small talk is hard. Math is easy. Showing your work is hard. Patterns are obvious. Social conventions are ludicrous.
When the choices are between easy and overwhelming, it is hard to move out of your comfort zone. That’s called “rigidity.” and I point that out to Brady when I experience it, or when he is demonstrating it. I’ll say, you are feeling rigidity about that, and it’s not serving you well. You are missing out. Sometimes he takes a leap of faith and sets his rigidity aside, sometimes not. But at least he knows what is holding him back. That matters to me.
If you are born with an autistic perspective, then it is all you know. You are not aware there is another way. Think about that. That’s your truth. You can let the world teach you that other people feel differently about things. You can make mistakes. Experience social isolation. Become a leader— you don’t know how to fit in. Naturally you can either lead or you can be alone. But fitting in with the group is rare unless you work in tech or found your niche. Likely, grade school is not full of people that share your perspective, so you will have a cultural disconnect to say the least.
What can you do about that?
You can acquire some self knowledge from autistic adults who have been there and save some time. Ideally, you stay innovative and fresh but you spare yourself some embarrassment. The best of both worlds. I hope that by teaching Brady manners, he can treat people with courtesy but hold onto his fresh viewpoint. It’s a tough path to navigate, luckily as Brady matures, I leave some of these decisions up to him.
What is it like to be autistic?
Imagine traveling in a foreign country, for the first time. Going into a new restaurant that caters to a different clientele. Like, maybe you usually go to Appleby’s, but you go to an Ethiopian restaurant. People eating with bread and their hands from a common bowl. And your brain slows down and all you see is the bowl. And people on the floor. And all the stuff that does not look like what you expected. And they are eating with their hands? What? No silverware?
You feel slowed down. That’s your brain processing all of the novelty. You can’t assume what comes next–how does that make you feel? Uneasy? Maybe you are nervous about making a mistake. Maybe you are confident and sit right down and bumble through it. Maybe you end up offending everyone. Maybe you shut down. Maybe you don’t even eat at all. And maybe you never go to that restaurant again unless you have a friend that likes it or someone makes you. Imagine if people important in your life where there and they expected you to just know what to do and when you did not do it the right way they ignored it but judged you. Or laughed at your? Or rejected you? Because how could you get so many obvious things wrong.
Have you ever attended a Catholic Mass as a non Catholic? That’s pretty terrifying. Sit, Stand, Kneel. What do I do? Do I line up for bread and wine? What no? Or maybe you do line up for Communion and find out later that is a big no no. Or worse yet, they put the consecrated wafer in your hand (but you don’t know it’s consecrated because you missed that part, noticing the light through the stained glass windows instead) so you put it in your pocket. Ouch!
Have you ever had jet lag, and had to function? Or if you were pregnant, that ninth month and it’s August and you are DONE. That’s what it feels like to be overtaxed and overstimulated. We all have that feeling, just with an autistic person, it happens more frequently.
People with ASD are frequently overwhelmed in a new situation. Which leads to meltdowns.
Meltdowns are something that most folks are afraid of. The feeling of being unsure in a new situation is a constant–after all, you live in the sensory world. The social world is confusing. You don’t pick up the way to join in the group from watching other children. Body language is lost on you, unless you are trying. You keep waiting for someone to say what they really mean instead of hinting. And even if they do tell you explicitly, if you are overstimulated, then you might not be able to process what they said anyhow. You know when your child is excited, how they don’t listen. That’s what I’m talking about.
This is a small reason why, in a world when things are easy or hard, that your Asperger child comes home and gets on the computer and plays games. He needs a respite. It’s been a long day. It’s been one of those days. Or maybe he doesn’t know what else do to that is easy. Maybe his short list of things that are not effortful is too short for a kid that wants to play.
True Story: I worked for a tech company, I had to book travel tickets for my team to fly to the West Coast. I was 25, had a masters degree and had a good mid level job. I had never booked tickets before, but said sure, I would do it. I researched and found the cheapest tickets to the West Coast. I think they were $176.00 round trip. Also, we changed planes 6 times. I didn’t mind. I liked seeing all those airports and I was terribly excited to travel. I thought it was awesome. I thought it was so amazing that I did not notice that my boss, who was a single parent and had a 60 minute commute at work was ready to kill me–she looked at her tickets and probably thought something very hostile about me.
She had good manners, so she expressed it by treating me with coldness. I did not notice. That’s pretty embarrassing to write, but it serves to illustrate a point. A point about being oblivious, about making big mistakes, about how I should have known but I just didn’t because I looked at the world a different way, I always had. People said things to me like “you are so unique” I didn’t know what that meant. Sometimes it sounded good, over time it started to sound like a polite way of saying “Psycho.”
I ended up making an enormous mess of the whole thing. It took me years to put it all together, what I could have done differently. My brain is cluttered with memories like that. It is not esteem building to constantly learn from mistakes and seldom get it right the first time. It is not esteem building to look back on so many disasters, but it has made me a compassionate person. I’m the last one to judge someone. I’ve done too many stupid things myself.
As a parent, I’m eager to save Brady from learning the hard way. So we have the list of 10,000 things.
The list of 10,000 things is a family idea. We all have a list. That way, my kids are treated the same way. And like most lists in my life, it’s not written down. It’s just an idea. I told the boys, they have to do 10,000 new things before they are 12. Not a problem for Max, but for Brady a big problem. He only liked about three things and one of them was video games.
The other two were rules and numbers though so, he bit. When he was little and went outside his comfort zone, I could carry him into the new place and carry him out. I could make him do the thing he feared to do.
I said “This is distressing not dangerous”, I said “you can do hard things”, “You can take things in part acts”
and I said “I am proud of you for trying, not for the result. It just matters to me that you tried.”
And when we do something new it goes on our list. And we have another list, of things we like.
That list keeps growing.
- exotic birds
- being gentle with animals
- running super fast
- roller coasters
- the beach
- soft blankets
- recess because he can play with his friends
- imagination games
The list evolves, and they add to the list. I don’t say what they like or what they don’t like. I let them tell me. And if they don’t like it, they have to do it three times to be sure they really don’t like it. It might have been a bad day. We are very dispassionate about the don’t likes, but very interested and excited about the new additions. Like rock climbing! Hey! that is one more for your list.
We use the list for token management, when he is depleted and normally would sit down and play a video game, because of the list of 10,000 things, he has a habit of knowing he likes lots of things,
- He can call Tyler or Evan or Thomas or Adian.
- He can swing at the park.
- He can go swimming.
- He can throw all the blankets and stuffed animals down the steps and make a nest.
- He can do Suduko.
- He can line up all of his crayons to match the spectrum.
- He can do science from Bill Nye or Dr. Mad Science or Steve Spangler.
- He can do parkour, rainbow loom, clash of clans, rainbow milk, bathe the dog, origami, spirograph, play perfection, play headbandz, write a secret language, spy on me….
I could have made this list 70 items long because we can easily think of that many things he likes to do. And that’s how we keep video games in perspective.
Because we have tried 10,000 things and some of those things are just as good or better than video games.
I’m protective about predicting what they don’t like, I was sure he would not like imaginative play, he never did it. He played with magnets and blocks and ball drops. Until he went to school and met Angelina. She taught him to play Puppy Power and Diamond Dog. Her made up games. She tells him the story and he goes along with it. He loves it. I was going to keep him home to do something and he said, no, I have to go to school because Angelina and I are playing at recess.
Never forget that your child is a child and they don’t know how the story ends, they didn’t hear all that scary stuff you heard about what they are supposed to be like. And if you let them feel Safe. Accepted and Competent, your Asperger kid will turn out to be a kid. Not a doomed child. A child. And it’s beautiful.
So get going on your list of 10,000 things. I want to hear all about it.