So remember back when I said we’d finally landed a new therapist for Monkey, but we’d have to wait a while to see her? We finally saw her. I can tell she’s going to be very good with him; there is such a difference, sitting down with someone who works with Aspies all the time, versus someone less well versed in “kids like him.”
“Monkey, why do you think you’re here?” she asked him, after some of the initial pleasantries were out of the way.
“Because my mom brought me here,” he answered, ever the literalist.
She laughed. “Well yes, okay, but why do you think your mom brought you here?”
Monkey pretended to think about this. “Maybe she didn’t have anything else to do?” It’s hard to get mad at him when he deflects, because it’s a skill he developed relatively late. If you appreciate the mental gymnastics required for a kid who believes in One Truth to dance around the edges of an answer—and I do—you just can’t get mad at him for it. But after some prodding, he stared at his lap and his voice dropped as he said, “Because I’m bad.”
I share this so that you understand I was in a quivery place well before what happened after. Of course we have told him that HE is not bad, that there are only poor choices, not bad people, and even Very Good People sometimes make Very Poor Choices, but that’s not how he feels. He feels like he must be bad. And now both his mother and his new therapist were launched into a tandem explanation of what he’s heard a hundred times before, and he nodded and waved his hands and turned back to the doctor.
“My mom says I need to figure out how to live in the gray,” he explained.
“Live in the gray?” She cocked her head at him. “And what does that mean, when she says that?”
“It means…” his fingers twisted and untwisted the hem of his t-shirt. “It means that for me, everything is all black or all white. All the time. And most people have shades of gray in-between, but I don’t.” She nodded, thoughtful. “Dogs are colorblind, you know,” he continued. “Everything is gray for them, probably.”
I stifled a giggle.
The conversation continued, and I was pleased to see that Monkey was comfortable, but the doctor never let him wander too far off topic, and he was willing to be led back around, because she was really good at setting up explanations and expectations of what they would do when.
He liked her. I did, too.
“Monkey,” she said, towards the end of the session, “what would you like to do here?”
Monkey was, at that point, exploring her wall of “stuff”—books and toys and games and everything a restless child could possibly want. “I would like to read all of these books!” he said, flashing her a grin complete with a generous helping of dimple. A mere mortal would’ve been slain, you understand. But this was SuperAspieDoc, so she merely smiled and shook her head.
“I mean here in your time with me,” she clarified, “in terms of changing something about your life. What’s the one thing you would really like to be different?”
We’d been there a good 40 minutes by then; we’d covered quite a bit of ground. Monkey had already allowed as to how sometimes his feelings are big and hard to control. He had even admitted that his temper gets him into trouble. And so I was ready to hear another variation of the “I am bad” theme; surely he would say he wanted to be more in control, or get angry less, and then we could say THAT IS AN EXCELLENT GOAL and agree to work on it together and go on our way.
But instead, he carefully put down the toy he’d been examining, sighed a small sigh, and looked right at SuperAspieDoc. “I would like to have more friends,” he said.
My breath caught in my throat. She took it in stride, nodding. “Do you have friends now?” she asked.
“I only have one,” he said. I found my voice and named his other friend (momentarily forgotten by him). “Okay, two,” he agreed. “I really only have two friends. I wish I had more.”
She kept nodding. “So would you like to have… like… a few more friends? Or a HUNDRED more friends? How many are we talking about, here?” I had to hand it to her. She kept it all very conversational. I thought her query was interesting, because was this a black/white “everyone has it better than me” kind of thing? Would he say he wanted a hundred friends, convinced that everyone else has an army of besties except for him?
Monkey took a few seconds to consider it. “I don’t need a hundred friends,” he said. “I’m not sure I know a hundred people. But… two isn’t very many. I would like… maybe three more?” SuperAspieDoc nodded and said something about that being a great goal. “It’s just… I’m not very likable all the time,” he finished, morose.
I blinked back tears. I had a brief but vivid fantasy of building a bonfire out of every book, article, and pamphlet that explains that kids on the spectrum are loners and unconcerned about the people around them, preferring to play on their own. Where’s the book about the kid who loves everyone and wants nothing more than to be liked and accepted, but gets overwhelmed by life so often that he melts down regularly and then the other kids start avoiding him, and he knows EXACTLY why it’s happening but feels powerless to change it? No one writes that book because that book is TOTALLY FUCKING DEPRESSING.
“Sometimes having trouble controlling our feelings can push people away, huh?” SuperAspieDoc said. Monkey nodded. “But I like that goal,” she continued. “I think we can work towards that. Because I can already see you are VERY likable.” Monkey ducked his head and became absorbed in a box of toys.
I feel like 80% of raising up a child to be a functional human is teaching them to understand the connections between cause and effect, and modify their behavior accordingly. Only for kids like Monkey, they’re often oblivious to those connections for longer than their peers… and then the cruelty: once they understand, it’s a long lag until the “modify their behavior accordingly” piece becomes doable.
So with him, we spent so much time and energy getting him to comprehend what he does not yet have the tools to change. Great, let’s celebrate the milestone of how he totally gets that his behavior drives people away! Shall we do it before or after it gets worse because the realization only exacerbates things? Let me know so that I can pencil it into my schedule!
So he gets it. He gets that he would like to have more friends. He gets why he doesn’t have more friends. How many more times, and for how many years, does my heart get to crack until he gets how to change that? How many times will I, against my will, wish he could just get it a little less, discover blissful ignorance, instead?
Here’s hoping SuperAspieDoc lives up to her name.