Thursday, April 05, 2007

Food chain...

Thank-you, Kim Possible. Not only have you given us Rufus, but you have given us a ready-made common vocabulary for Brendan to talk about one of life's most difficult stages- adolescence. Specifically, the way adolescents (or pre-) sort themselves into seemingly arbitrary hierarchies, which is what KP refers to as "the food chain". :)

Yesterday morning at breakfast, in a discussion aimed at getting at the root of Brendan's complete inability to remember to brush his newly-braced teeth after lunch at school (in spite of notes in his locker, lunchbox, & the re-location of toothbrush to his lunchbox), we came to the conclusion that part of the problem was that he & one particular friend begin playing their very imaginative free-time game (usually known as "The Pokemon Game) during lunch. It then spills over into outside time after lunch, & involves imagining themselves as various super-heroish characters & then acting out the drama on the playground. I'd gotten the clue about this being the "ish" (as KP would say) when I delivered Brendan's birthday meeting treat to school on Tuesday & was there for part of lunch time. Brendan & buddy were so immersed in the game that Brendan never noticed that I'd kissed him on the cheek & said goodbye... It's no wonder he sometimes comes home with part of his lunch uneaten. (I also have to wonder if getting completely immersed is the only way Brendan can participate in this game, since the friend he plays it with is also one of his major tic-triggers. Perhaps the intense focus allows Brendan to play the game & not get triggered...) In any case, I suggested that maybe he just explain to his friend that, until he's in the habit of brushing after he eats, they refrain from playing during lunch & wait until outside time. Brendan agreed, & we both realised that it meant Brendan sitting with other kids, since this friend is a juggernaut when it comes to this game & would probably have trouble switching gears if he was near Brendan. I told Brendan that I didn't want him eating by himself, either (lunch time is prime socialisation time, & socialisation is one of the reasons he's not being home-schooled). So, we talked about who else he could sit with... Now, I had noticed on Tuesday that Brendan & friend were the only 2 boys at the table during that lunch time- the 2 5th-6th grade classes had divided themselves up into a table of girls (+2 boys) & a table of boys, which was fine by me since I had some nice conversation with the girls as my kid utterly ignored me. When we got to imagining who else Brendan could sit by, he blurted out, "But mom, most of the other guys don't talk to me during lunch because of the food chain!" Thanks to KP, I knew immediately what he was talking about. Sigh. He then listed the hierarchical order that the boys had arranged themselves into, who kind of "floated" in status, & who had no status at all (he, his buddy, & one other kid who seems to kind of float through life anyway). He then did a comparative analysis of the girls' food chain as well. Not bad for an autistic kid, huh?

We then talked about how this all affects him. Brendan sees himself as a sort of free agent, not part of the hierarchy, but not really bothered by it either, except that it's inconvenient. He said that all of the kids in the hierarchy do talk to him at other times & he's played with them on the playground at times, too, & never felt picked-on. He's noticed that the kids who are trying to move into the food chain (but are not seen as "cool") get picked on, so he's decided to steer clear of this, although he's been known get involved to defend or comfort a friend who has been picked-on. His Pokemon game buddy exists on the outside of it all because he doesn't seem to notice that it exists, & we decided that that's why the higher-ups don't give him a hard time, either. It was comforting to know that Brendan has the savvy to see what's going on & decide just how much he wants to be involved in it, & that so far he's not being drawn-in hypnotically by the "cool' factor. I feel sad that the whole thing exists at all & remember acutely how much it all hurt when I was an adolescent.

Fortunately, Brendan's school is doing a great job of recognising the fall-out from food chain-related conflicts & is getting families involved, & has starting a series of socialisation workshops to teach the whole group some healthier ways of interacting. The consensus of his teachers is that the early intervention Brendan received for socialisation has really put him ahead of the game in this area- ironic, no?

At the end of our conversation, we decided that he might try sitting with the girls- there are 2 girls who also have braces & the 3 of them have been trying to remember to remind each other to brush teeth after lunch since Brendan got his. He's been with them since first grade, too, so they treat him pretty kindly. We shall see how this all plays out... "Will he remember to clean his teeth?" has receded on my list of concerns, though, after the food-chain conversation. Adolescence is here, whether we like it or not!

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