dealing with emotions

If you haven’t read The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, can I recommend you consider doing so? Not only does the story offer some extremely interesting insights into Asperger’s Syndrome as an adult, but it is a thoroughly good read.

There are multiple scenes in this novel that resonated with me, but none more so than the following:

I decided it would be helpful to provide an example, drawing on a story in which emotional behaviour would have led to disastrous consequences.

‘Imagine,’ I said. ‘You’re hiding in a basement. The enemy is searching for you and your friends. Everyone has to keep totally quiet, but your baby is crying.’ I did make an impression, as Gene would, to make the story more convincing: ‘Waaaaa.’

I paused dramatically. ‘You have a gun.’ Hands went up everywhere. Julie jumped to her feet as I continued. ‘With a silencer. They’re coming closer. They’re going to kill you all. What do you do? The baby’s screaming —’

The kids couldn’t wait to share their answer. One called out, ‘Shoot the baby,’ and soon they were all shouting, ‘Shoot the baby, shoot the baby.’

The boy who had asked the genetics question called out, ‘Shoot the enemy,’ and then another said, ‘Ambush them.’ The suggestions were coming rapidly. ‘Use the baby as bait.’ ‘How many guns do we have?’ ‘Cover its mouth.’ ‘How long can it live without air?’

As I had expected, all the ideas came from the Asperger’s ‘sufferers’. The parents made no constructive suggestions; some even tried to suppress their children’s creativity.

I raised my hands. ‘Time’s up. Excellent work. All the rational solutions came from the aspies. Everyone else was incapacitated by emotion.’

The ideas in this excerpt are rather disturbing. Putting that aside though, I had to ask myself why this piece resonated so much?

The answer? The last sentence.

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Emotions can be a hindrance to logical thought and processing. (Image courtesy of prawny at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

 

Geordie is not devoid of emotion; however, he looks at things in a very black and white way. Facts are facts.

I have written previously about his ability to ‘cope’ with the deaths of his grandfather and great-grandfather. Now I also have my own breast cancer diagnosis.

I was so worried, when I was first diagnosed, about how Geordie would manage this. How would he cope? How would he react?

Well — he appears to be dealing with it better than anyone else. (I emphasise ‘appears’ here, because things could change in the blink of an eye. We are trying to be alert to that.)

He is very fact oriented. If he has the facts, there is no need to wonder, worry or second-guess.

My mum has breast cancer, which has spread into the lymph node.

This is going to make her sick. She is not going to go to work while the treatment is happening. Some days she will feel ‘normal’, other days she won’t.

Mum has to have chemotherapy first. It is working to kill off the cancer cells, but it does other things to your body too which are not nice — like making your hair fall out, making you feel sick, reducing your white blood cells.

‘You have hair all over your back, I’ll brush it off. It looks weird.’

The chemotherapy is making mum tired. She never sleeps during the day, but this is the chemo doing this.

The chemo killed off all the white blood cells, so mum had to go to hospital until she was well enough to come out. We visited, but I hate hospitals because they are boring.

Geordie is acutely aware when we do not tell him the whole truth.

Some people try to protect their children from the truth; worried they will over think it, or not understand it.

For Geordie, it is the opposite. If we don’t level with him, if we don’t tell him what’s going on — that’s when his mind goes into overdrive and starts coming up with all sorts of horrible scenarios. Having the facts calms him down and keeps the damaging emotions at bay.

It’s not a case of showing no emotion either. He does indulge in emotion, he just expresses it differently. There’s a look he gets — he watches me intently, just staring without blinking. It’s a bit creepy, but it’s like he is analysing. He also comes in for a snuggle, pushing his arm, leg or whole body up against mine. I can feel his tension when he does this, and then I feel him relaxing. The emotion is there.

Not everyone can process facts in this way. We are lucky Geordie has this ability. We are lucky he can take the facts and organise them in such a way they comfort him and calm him. It is probably quite a rare skill to have, whether you have Asperger’s or not.

And, it’s another example of being wired differently.

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high school

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Choices are difficult for a child with Asperger’s. Too many can be overwhelming, but it is important to be given the opportunity to make them. I firmly believe Geordie should choose his high school for next year. (Image courtesy of Master isolated images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

It is coming up to high school enrolment time.

 

This is scary on so many levels. I have been dreading this for years.

No doubt every parent sheds a tear and wonders, ‘Where have all the years gone?’ when one of their babies emerges from the relative cocoon of primary school to enter the rough-and-tumble, this-is-life world of high school. I know I did when my daughter made the move last year.

It is a massive step.

You no longer have the safety  of one teacher and one room. You no longer move around the school as a class group, lead by the teacher. You have your own timetable (which looks like a nightmare to follow) and become responsible for getting yourself to the right lesson, in the right room at the right time — repeat six times in a day.

And then there’s the homework.

No more ‘grids’ (I am celebrating that) handed out on one day, all due a week or fortnight later; instead you get random assignments throughout the term, handed out and due in at random times, from random teachers who don’t know or care what else has been handed out and may be clashing.

As I said, this is life! But the transformation happens overnight.

I taught Year 6 for five years. I thought I was preparing my students for high school. (As did my daughter’s Year 6 teachers, and, no doubt, as do Geordie’s current teachers.)

Yeah … no! Not even close!

My daughter has really only just got her head around high school (particularly the assignment part) — and she does not have Asperger’s.

All children with Asperger’s are different, but one frequently occurring trait, which certainly applies in Geordie’s case, is a difficulty coping with change. Not knowing how things are going to work, what is going to happen and what the expectations are can cause anxiety and meltdowns. All the changes associated with high school — new building, unknown teachers, different classrooms, unknown peers, plus the concept of the cyclic timetable — are overwhelming.

Being a proactive parent (and show me a parent of any special-needs child who isn’t), I decided I would take Geordie to a few high schools so someone could show us around during the school day.

I need the high school decision to be Geordie’s, knowing that if I push him in any direction, or try to decide for him, we could well be in for a horrific year next year. This knowledge was prompted by Geordie’s firm declaration (after being dragged to yet another parent information session two years ago when we were checking out high schools for his sister), ‘I do not want to go here.’ Here being the high school we eventually chose for her.

In saying the decision needs to be Geordie’s, I will add that any high school that doesn’t respond positively to my request is simply off the list. After all, if they are not interested now, how well with they accommodate Geordie’s needs next year? Not at all, I suspect.

At this stage we have visited one school … one. Judging on the response, it may need to be the only one we visit. It was our local high school; I will be honest, I swore neither of my children would attend this school because of its past abysmal reputation. This reputation, to my understanding, was not gained due to the staff or the programs, but due to the clientele the school attracted. To put it simply — students who didn’t enrol in private schools, or couldn’t get in to out of area ‘better’ schools went to the local school.

To be fair, there have been students who have chosen this school. The son of a friend did. He loved it. They both did and won’t hear a word against it. Then again, I’ve also heard some horror stories — just not recently.

And there are multiple positives:

♦ They are a small school, physically and in terms of population (less than half of the students that are at his current primary school). TICK!

♦ There is an inclusion support program, which Geordie won’t be in but he will be able to access the facilities. These include the ‘quiet lockers’ (away from the hubbub of the main corridor) and the ‘break away room’ (a quiet space for use if the student feels overwhelmed either during class or at lunch). TICK!

♦ They do not give homework! I kid you not (and have to wonder why all schools can’t be like this). Admittedly, this was the biggest seller for both of us. DOUBLE TICK!

We made an appointment and spent a lovely hour at the school talking to the Deputy, checking out the timetable (which actually appealed to Geordie’s sense of logic and structure), touring the corridors and watching a transition between lessons (surprisingly ordered and quiet).

Geordie was hooked. Number one was the no-homework policy, but he also liked the quiet lockers and the small size of the school. When I asked, he said he felt comfortable about attending this school next year. Did he want to check out another school? Not really.

While I am not in possession of a crystal ball and cannot foresee what the future will bring, this one visit has lifted a weight off my shoulders and I firmly believe we have done the right thing.

For me, it is so important to: be open with Geordie; include him in all discussions; and let him take ownership over decisions which will, ultimately, affect him.

Not everyone with children who are on the spectrum have this opportunity — I am forever thankful we do.