Friday, September 29, 2006

Seeing too far & too clearly...

I made a comment yesterday in Kristina's Autismland blog that I found myself trying to live up to yesterday... :) It concerned trying to stay off the roller-coaster of reacting to every individual event by looking at the gestalt, or big picture, of our life. B had a difficult afternoon at school yesterday, topped off by realising when we were leaving that he'd misplaced his lunchbox. We looked around the 3rd floor, checked the lost & found, & by the time we got back to his classroom one of the other teachers had found it by the lego station in her room. B was sitting on the landing at the top of the stairs because he was so stressed that he couldn't come back to the classroom area. I thanked the teacher profusely, collected B, & we left... not before he had a good head-knock on a locker, which I tried to re-direct toward my relatively softer shoulder. As he was getting in the car he began to tic loudly (the one-on-one aide of a classmate, who has become a major tic trigger, was going out to her car, too) & then dumped himself into the seat & started sobbing. He was utterly distraught about school, & somewhat incoherent, but every time I tried to introduce another topic to distract him, he'd start sobbing again. Sigh. He calmed down when he remembered that we had ramune at home for snack.

I hoped that sipping ramune together would help him recover from his day, but there was so much on his mind that he started crying again when he was done with the drink. I led him into the living room so that we could sit & hug & talk. Unfortunately, B went into meltdown mode when he got to the sofa, but I hauled him back up on the sofa from the floor & put my arms around him & told him he could cry but not melt down (so many of his meltdowns happen on the sofa, because it's soft & safe, that C & I have decided that sometimes just being on the sofa can precipitate a meltdown). He seemed to accept this & started sobbing & moaning about how horrible school is. He said that the whole purpose of 5th grade is to prepare him for high school, where there's tests & detention ("ok, too much Kim Possible" I thought...), & what's the point of going someplace where you can't learn what you want to? Why do people have to go to school so they can learn to get a job & make money so they can live? Why is everything based on money anyway? Why can't he learn by himself, learn what he wants to? Even in his favourite classes like science he has to spend time writing or typing, why can't he just enjoy learning things? His conclusion was that he hates the way the universe is set up & doesn't want to live in it...

It was clearly not a time to try to reality-check him or make pollyanna observations about the way things could be different. It was time to listen. I did mention that I had to write the results of my experiments when I was a scientist, so I could share them with others, but basically I think that his points were much more global... One thing I think that B was saying is that school is not being fun right now. He's not finding the joy in learning now that the ante's been upped & there are more expectations of him. He's heard very clearly that many of the things they will be learning in 5th-8th grade are specifically to prepare them for high school. I think that B is still too overwhelmed by the changes this year (new floor, new classroom, new kids) & higher expectations to be ready to meet the challenges. I'm wondering if he's feeling insecure about his ability to be successful, not only in school but in his life. I wonder if he's telling us that we need to meet him in the middle, rather than keep upping the expectations, particularly when it comes to communication (writing & typing). Although it was clear that B was experiencing some extreme feelings, I think that many of his concerns were right on target.

After he wound down, I told him simply that I was sorry that the universe seemed an awful place to live, because I couldn't imagine a universe without him... & he said he couldn't imagine universe without me or Rufus, which got us both crying. When we were calmer I decided to change the subject by confessing to him that I'd put a photo of Skitty in the blog yesterday (he was hugging Rufus & Skitty through it all) & he perked up & wanted to know why. So I explained that I'd been writing about how he was telling Skitty about things & I thought everyone should see how cute Skitty is. He smiled at that & made Skitty noises ("neh! neh!") & soon he was ready to move on... He asked me to sit with him while he played the bionicle game, so I got my knitting & sat with him a while, but it was obvious that he'd reached an impasse with the game, & eventually he made the very wise decision to do something else on the computer...

The rest of the evening went well. We had leftover pizza for dinner which was a real crowd-pleaser :) B had a bath, legoed (he's trying to recreate all of the rahi from the game), & played some more on the computer before it was time for story & sleep. We are getting to some intense parts of "Over Sea, Under Stone", so I read a bit extra so he'd feel some resolution before falling asleep. After he was asleep, C & I sat & processed B's day. We both came to the conclusion that our B sees too far ahead & too clearly for comfort (his or ours). Grandma called it "borrowing trouble" :) As admirable as it is for him to be so perceptive, we don't want him making himself crazy with worry about the future. C reminded me that one day's woes don't make for a whole school year (remember the gestalt thing?). I just want B to find a sense of comfort with where he is at school because I think that will lead him back to the joy. I want us to be open to the possibility that he may need to find alternate ways to communicate his learning- tape recorder? voice-activated computer typing?- & not assume that the way everyone else does things is ok for him... I began to consider home-schooling for high-school (C says it's too early to decide, but I want it to be well into my consciousness by the time we have to :). I don't want him isolated from others because a lot of his learning comes from other kids. I just want him to feel competent & happy.

B was ready for school this morning, in spite of his upset yesterday. We filled out his engine chart & he made toast himself for his breakfast. So far, he still has trust in school & the possibility that good things can happen, thank goodness. On the way to school we talked about how the attitude with which you apporach something can affect what actually happens. I told him that I try to put myself in a positive state of mind & only imagine the things I want to happen (not the "nots") when I go into unfamilar situations. I told him that trying to see the humourous sides of things can really help, too, & we reminisced about my fall at the grocery store a couple weeks ago & how it had ended-up being funny. B was giggling at the things that had happened (scaring the lady next to me when I fell, ending up with a lap full of ice) & what I'd been thinking when it happened, which I think contriubuted to it turning out to be funny. When we got to school I made sure Cherie knew some of what we'd talked about yesterday, & she told me that they are working hard to clean out a broom cupboard so that it can be turned into a private/safe space for B to work in when he's overwhelmed. (It's right outside her office) B went into his morning knowing that I'd be picking him up early today, per our agreement, & that we'd be off to McDonald's for the next part of the bionicle promo, before going to see his psychiatrist at 3:00. Somehow, I suspect that'll get him through a fair amount of what school throws at him today :)


At 11:39 PM, Blogger Zilari said...

I agree with a lot of your kid's appraisal of school, and I honestly do think that the education system overall is quite broken in many ways. There are kids who WILL actually learn plenty on their own and would benefit from a less traditional classroom environment, but unfortunately the system tries to be "one size fits all", and even the best schools aren't immune to having to standardize things to some extent. In any educational system or class, the most important thing is that the kids are learning.

And one thing to remember is that when someone really CAN'T see the point of something, especially someone on the autism spectrum, trying to force attention to it can be like trying to pull an object three times one's body weight up a hill. Even if you can achieve it for a time, you pay a price later (melting down, shutting down, not having the energy to engage in rewarding non-school activities, etc.)

It isn't a matter so much of choosing to do something or not, or choosing to behave or not (which I'm sure you probably know) but a matter of being able to explain the necessity for an activity in a logical manner. Attending to something that one is frustrated with or not able to see the relevance of is as difficult, in my experience, as being forced to listen to people speak a foreign language you don't know. It doesn't accomplish much and though you might figure out a word here and there, most of it just sounds like noise -- noise which is very easily lost under the stimulus of one's own busy inner life of thoughts and imagination. The key is to find a translation code so you can understand the language and its relevance to you.

Does B have any very long-term goals for the future (career, areas of study, etc.?) One of the things that finally helped me deal with math homework was internalizing the fact that if I didn't understand that sort of thing, I would never be able to accomplish my dreams of studying advanced science and physics and such. Brendan is very perceptive indeed to note that "passing tests in high school" ought not to be an end unto itself. He might actually NEED to think bigger than this in order to see how the stuff he doesn't find very interesting might fit into his own paradigm and set of goals. He sounds very philosophical (I would not be at all surprised if he comes home talking about existentialism one of these days!) and it is paramount to help him put the new challenges of school into a philosophical framework that makes sense to him.

As far as the "translation code" goes, he needs to be able to hear something (say, in school) and fit it into something that converges with one of his own goals.

I've had to deal with a similar sort of feeling in relation to "grownup responsibilities"; whenever I have to do something that is necessary for self care or maintaining employment, etc., I have to put that "something" through a sort of translation function that relates it to one of my longer-term or more interesting goals. It can take a while to determine what the translation function is. And of course there must be some level of optimization: not everything HAS a translation function, and that can indeed sometimes mean there really is no point to doing something (for instance, in my case I was very upset with myself for years for not being able to drive, but I figured out that obsessing over not driving was taking away energy from other things I could be doing, and driving would NOT actually help me to reach my longer-term goals.) There's no hard and fast rule for determining what is worthwhile and what is not -- it usually needs to be figured out analytically in each case.

At 8:38 PM, Blogger Lisa/Jedi said...

Thanks so much for your input, Zilari. I think I'm going to print out what you've written & take it to school- I think it'll help B's teachers as well.

At 1:32 AM, Blogger Natalia said...

i agree too with this whole thing of not having the priorities i am "supposed to" in adult life, unless or until i really "get" WHY it's important to do that thing in that way. or even if i can't manage to feel that their reason makes any sense, well, i can do it so i don't get fired. ...
IF i can realize that it's THAT important and THAT consequential.

At 11:44 AM, Blogger Kristina Chew said...

I will have to borrow that phrase, "borrowing trouble." Charlie has a lot of trouble with the same thing as you describe about B already worry about high school---I also call it "anticipatory complex." I try like you to talk about what will happen in the context of what Charlie is or might be feeling-----like B, once Charlie goes into anxiety attack mode, and then if he does something harmful, he's a mess afterwards. Feels bad that he feels bad and that he did not hold himself together! And certain locations also seem to precipitate behaviors----like your couch----it was a certain restaurant last night-----Sometimes I think they only thing I can do is wait it out, let the storm pass.

I remember Over Sea Under Stone---


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