We have so many kids running around with diagnoses of one kind or another that I'm honestly getting a little worried about it.
I recently had the most ASTONISHING conversation with a young man whom I am guessing was around sixteen, give or take a year.
He got my screen name through a mutual friend. He had asked me to help him put together a couple of screen caps where the camera had panned--that way you get a big picture with the whole background.( An example under the cut if you don't know what I'm talking about )
I was perfectly willing to help him, I know a fair share of tricks. However, it quickly became clear through the conversation that he wanted me to do it FOR him because learning to do so would be "too stressful".
I said I honestly would be busy for three or four days and wouldn't have time, that I could answer questions now, but I would not be able to do it for him.
He said he was very eager to have the picture completed, and said he would check with me again to see if I had time.
Well, as it turned out, I was busy for much longer than I expected, over a week. And this kid messaged me a couple of times, politely, but I was still busy. And when he messaged me the third time, I said "look, here's the problem. I've had a few things come up that couldn't be foreseen, and I think that I'm going to be tied up for at least another week and maybe two. Why don't you give it a try? That way you won't have to wait on me to do it, and if you learn how, you can do these kinds of pictures anytime you want and not have to wait for them."
He was skeptical but I coaxed him to open up his program. He said he sucked at it, and I said it was all right that he sucked at it, that we all had to start somewhere and this was his moment.
I explained that I could do my work and help him at the same time because it didn't involve my having to sit down and spend an hour at it, and when I explained I'd been so busy that when I had a free hour I wanted to do my own stuff, he seemed to understand.
So I spent about two minutes if that explaining just a couple of simple things he could do to get the pictures lined up with each other. He started to get interested, he'd never thought of doing these things. And I said "this is why I wanted to tell you how instead of doing it for you, it's much faster and you walk away knowing how to do it for yourself."
He said he wasn't any good at it, and I suggested he try. I made sure he grasped what I had said to do, and he said something about sending the picture to me afterwards to see if it was any good.
I said that he would know it was good because he would be happy with it.
He said that he wasn't sure about that because "People with aspergers syndrome can't tell sometimes."
It was with great satisfaction that I informed him that I also was an Aspie. He seemed completely stunned.
I tried to give him a little bit of a pep talk about how being an Aspie could also be a help with something like this--the combination of mono-focus and an eye to detail can really help you learn a lot and do some good work--and his picture DID come out just fine.
But it left me with a grave feeling of disquiet. What are we doing to these kids, that they feel powerless to do things or have to avoid them because they are too "stressful"? What kind of messages is this kid getting that he felt he couldn't even *try* to do this, even with help from a person who had done lots of those kinds of pictures?
You know, I am all for reasonable accomodations for people. If an autistic person is prone to overload, for example, you're not going to hear me saying they need to be forced to sit in an environment that will lead to overload and then be punished for melting down. That's completely counterproductive.
But by the same token, are we really doing these kids any favors when we treat them like they are incapable? Obviously, this kid was told he was helpless and told to avoid things that frustrated him--he didn't want to get too stressed.
How on EARTH will this sort of thing produce independent adults? I mean, wtf? Isn't part of being a grown-up ideally learning some self-discipline, which includes learning how to handle frustration and do things you don't necessarily want to do?
Wouldn't it be better to actively encourage the child to seek ways that are positive for him to ADAPT to circumstances? Like with frustration, to encourage a deep breath and walking away, and praise for doing so? If the autistic person can't stand crowded, noisy places and is told it's okay to avoid them, how the hell are they going to manage to go grocery shopping or attend college or manage all the little things that involve being around other people?
Wouldn't they be better served if we actively encouraged and supported them in finding ways that they could endure such an environment for the greater good of their independence? Why is it suddenly off-limits to push the child a bit? Mind you, I am NOT advocating the kind of pressure that would make the child feel overwhelmed, but isn't part of the parent's job to teach the child to overcome limitations, no matter what they are? Don't we all have to learn to push ourselves a bit? I think that gentle amounts of that are healthy and give us the power to get off our asses and go to work even when we'd far prefer to sleep in on a rainy day.
I just don't get this. If a child is born blind, nobody thinks twice about them being taught to navigate with a cane or to read braille or any of the other adaptations that makes it possible for a blind person to maximize their independence. Why aren't we thinking this way with autistic kids?
See, to me, it's all about the power. If we can't do for ourselves and believe we can't do for ourselves and don't even try, we are then at the mercy of those who are doing for us, and they may not act in our best interests, no matter how well-meaning they may be. I want every autistic person to do for themselves as much as is in their capability to do, and when you encourage people to look for meaningful, positive adaptations, it is astonishing how they blossom as they realize that yes, they indeed CAN do a thing that they thought they couldn't do. They may do it differently than an NT, but that doesn't matter because they can get it done.
That empowerment also can lead to healthy negotiation and working with others in a positive way, because rest assured, no matter how autistic, you have strengths that are not only valuable to you, but valuable to others, and instead of the help you may need being grudgingly tendered, you are now an equal. You may suck at dealing with the grocery store, so I handle that, but you're a whiz at making the meals so you do the menu planning and we make the shopping list together. There's no "help" there, that's just two people working together to make a job easier on both of them.
I think what's worst of all about this is that I believe it makes the disabling aspects of autism even worse. This kid was so helpless he wasn't even willing to try. And yet he's presumably had every benefit of modern psychiatry. What kind of success story is that?