Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Shedding Light on Why I Write (I'm a Poet!)

I began, and continue this blog as a means for my son and others with similar social communications problems to better understand some of the nuances of life in a social context.

The “why” of creating the goal is much more difficult to put in a public forum. This little blog is not only open to my son for reading, but I want him to read it; I want him to learn all the little things that are second nature to everyone else; I want him to know that he is smart and strong and loved and that there is no doubt in my mind that he will be happy and successful in life. Knowing he might (will?!) read this, how open and honest can I be in revealing my fears?

I fear, for example, that he will continue to struggle to make friends and cultivate relationships with peers, that he might not understand the unspoken guidelines regarding how to get and hold a job upon graduation from college, that this learning difference will hinder him from a having a fulfilling life.

I have written here about the email threads I receive through my membership in AANE, a local non-profit organization dedicated to providing resources for children and adults with Asperger’s syndrome or similar disabilities. Some I read and breathe a sigh of relief that my son does not have those particular problems, but many – especially those that touch on peer interaction – touch my heart as I see him struggling in a similar plight. Following are short edited excerpts from parents and AS/NLD young adults to illustrate these struggles.

Question: Just wondering if anyone's son has found a long term girlfriend?

Discouraging Responses:

My son… has not had a girlfriend. Not even a date. We tried E-Harmony but it didn’t work out so after the 3 months I discontinued. He is really depressed about not having a girlfriend.

My son is 20, and to date he has never had even a short-term girlfriend, to my knowledge.

… kind of depressing not having a girlfriend on Valentine’s Day.

[I worry that] life is passing by.… it is especially frustrating because there is so much [to] enjoy…. afraid of becoming the weird middle-aged guy who lives alone and everyone avoids.

And Encouraging Responses:

Even my NT son is finding the same problem out there in the dating world. He's 6'3", blond, slim - doesn't smoke, doesn't drink and has many interests….He's such a nice guy and so nice looking.

Even "typical" people have trouble finding a boyfriend/girlfriend. I have lovely friends who didn't meet their "true love" until later in life

Our kids…need to build up their self confidence and competence in life. When they feel good about themselves, it will show and they will become more attractive to the opposite sex. We know it's a journey and probably a longer process for our kids. Self confidence is a big issue [as is] willingness to get out there and try something new. …encourage our kids to find things they like (or are willing) to do that involve other people. It doesn't matter if there's an attractive potential mate that the activity. Getting to know people can bring about introductions, and also build self confidence.

…have a friend who is about 55 of 56 who is NT and is just getting married for the first time this July. He is a very nice person, funny, loyal, good job, just an all around nice person but it took this long till he found "miss right" so I use that as my guide for my son when the right one comes it will happen.

On College and Peer Relationships:

He is desperate for social interaction…his train of thought is that his roommate at school would be his best friend...

…thinking of closing his Facebook account because ”what’s the point? No one ever writes on my wall or asks me to be friends.”

[The] opportunity for down time [living at] at home has been a really important contributing factor to [my] confidence and success at college.

[I’m] looking forward to finishing [community college]… so [I] can transfer to a live-in school. …loved college.

If you are reading this and you are neuro-typical, and your children are NT, I hope these short sentiments give you an idea of life on the other side of typical. This is why I write. My son told me fairly recently that there were times during high school that he felt “alone.” Given that he mentioned this while sharing that some of the fellows he had met in a group setting had been pretty horribly bullied, I am glad he did not go through that ordeal. But how much better is it to be ignored?

This summer my son has been out until relatively late several times and I am rejoicing. He has always hit developmental milestones at his own pace, and I hope that this is just another such instance.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Reality Check

Things continue to go well this summer. My son’s driving skills are improving; he joins a pick-up Ultimate Frisbee game two or three days (or nights) each week; he and his father go to the local YMCA to work out once or twice each week; he is involved with the small group of college guys with similar issues (although my son’s sense is that the other two men have different, and perhaps more debilitating, issues than he does); he sees his long-time therapist/friend once every week or so; he does his “walkabouts” daily.

But under all this progress is a learning disability that doesn’t go away. It shows itself subtly, though in a manner that impacts my son’s life in an anything-but subtle way.

In his efforts to find a job this summer, he filled out several applications online. The most recent one was for a drug-store chain where we had seen a “help wanted” sign posted at the outlet in our neighborhood. After he completed the standard identification and background sections, there was a series of multiple choice questions to be completed. Once during this part of the process, he said to me “I hate these questions when they don’t have a ‘middle-of-the-road’ answer.” There were four response choices, so – whatever the question – the answer was pretty much a definite or weak ‘yes’, or a definite or weak ‘no.’ I didn’t look at the questions, just told him to answer as best he could and not to worry about it.

WRONG! Live and learn.

He decided to go into the store last night and find out about the status of his application. After checking, the manager told him that the questions at the end of the application are designed to measure how a candidate would deal with stress in customer service situations. There was a certain minimum score that had to be achieved to merit bringing in the applicant for an interview, and my son’s score was below that minimum. He could reapply after ninety days.

Now here is the dilemma: was it better that my son answered the questions honestly and effectively avoided a job that might have exposed him to a stress level that he could not handle? Or would he have been better off if I had looked over his shoulder and coached him on some of the answers, giving him the reassurance that – at least on paper – he’d react differently than perhaps his gut was telling him?

As we walked home from the store, he seemed to be okay with what the manager had told him (but I’m really not sure he was, and I’m glad he is seeing his “talk doctor” today). I asked him if he felt better knowing why he didn’t get called, or would it have been better just not to have heard from the store; he said he thought it was better to know one way or the other. Then I told him that, knowing in hindsight that the questions were designed to figure out how he might cope in a stressful situation, it might have been better to take a more confident position on some of the answers, even if he wasn’t being completely true to himself. However, I had to add that maybe it was for the best that he was honest. He knows what he is capable of. In the event of a misstep on the job, it is frequently difficult for anyone to tolerate criticism or correction by a manager. He will eventually experience on-the-job criticism, but perhaps today that's something he's not ready to manage.

In his first year at college, it seems to me that he was certainly criticized more than complimented (he might not agree), and I’m not sure what that has done to his self-confidence. I do think further coaching and development might be warranted to ensure a successful first job experience.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Summer Routine

Our family is settling into a reasonably stable routine for the summer, and I am getting accustomed to the late nights of Ultimate Frisbee on the Common. The group meets on Wednesday and Friday evenings, and there is also a game on Sunday afternoons at another location. My husband and son try to get to the local Y to work out once or twice a week in between Frisbee (for my son) and tennis (for my husband). And my daughter is finishing up the school year, and doing a lot more “hanging out,” as she asserts her 13-year-old independence – to a point. All in all, not a bad life!

My son continues to improve his driving skills. Whereas the instructor has been picking him up and taking him to and from a quiet neighborhood for practice, this past Saturday my son drove the car back to our house.

He is also involved with a small group of fellows in college with similar disabilities. The group meets once a week, and after the first meeting they went out to lunch together. He seems to like it, but I’m not sure how committed my son is to sticking with this group. This week it conflicts with a driving lesson, so he won’t make the meeting.

Over the weekend, the four of us participated in a 5K fundraising run/walk for the benefit of Franciscans Hospital for Children, where my son spent several weeks in rehabilitation after his eighth grade illness. We exceeded our fundraising goal by a considerable amount; my daughter beat me by four minutes without even training; and my husband and son spent the time walking and talking – World Cup, basketball, school, books, movies…who knows what!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Harder Than We Thought

Driving will be much more of a challenge for my son than I had thought; and we’ve come to a point where he will have to decide how committed he is to getting his driver’s license. His permit expires in mid-July, and we’ve been able to schedule two lessons a week. At this point, he has about six hours behind the wheel on the road. Given that learning to drive is all about practice, he won’t be able to get enough practice in with this particular teacher prior to the permit expiration date.

I spoke to his instructor, and he told me my son is still a little nervous in any traffic and he thought it best not to push him too quickly. This particular instructor has a fairly busy schedule with several other clients this summer. We are considering picking up some additional instructional time with another school; however, it might be difficult to find another instructor so keyed into my son’s learning style.

In the meantime, my son, husband and I discussed the extent of my son’s determination to get his license. If he wants it, he will have to re-take the permit test in July. That will give him an additional two years to get as much practice as he needs to achieve competence and confidence. I would not have been surprised if he backed down, since we live in an area with easy access to reliable public transportation. However, he came to the same conclusion that my husband and I came to: he needs a driver’s license. It’s not only a convenience, but – depending on where one lives – could be a necessity.

So out comes the manual once more; the written test should not pose a problem. Armed with an additional two years to learn, he will be able to proceed and succeed at his own pace. No rush.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A New Experience (for ME!)

I have often used this space to lament the fact that my son has never really had anyone to just hang out with, especially at night.

Last Friday the whole family went to dinner in Chinatown, so that we could check out one of the Ultimate Frisbee pick-up games that my son found listed on the Web. We walked to the Common, and arrived about 15 minutes before the posted 8:30 start time. I took the bull by the horns, and asked a couple of Frisbee players if they were playing an organized game or a pick-up. Both people I asked said they were organized; but the leader of the second group invited my son to join them. The players comprised a youth group from a nearby church, and ranged in age from late middle school through high school. Once he joined in, my daughter and I wandered around and eventually came upon the pick-up group. They were getting ready to play under the lights of the softball field.

I walked back to where my son was now fully engaged in this friendly match, and let him know that the other group was just forming on the softball field. Since the youth group didn’t have the benefit of lights, I suspected they would be calling it quits soon.

Then, like a good mother of a young adult, I left him; and my daughter and I took the train home. By the time we got there, it was after 9. I explained to my husband (who had gone home a little earlier) that I left him playing with a group, and had given him the info about the pick-up game. But I wasn’t sure what he intended to do. He might have either stayed with the youth group, or come home after they stopped playing, or headed across the Common to the other game.

For the first time that I can remember, I was worried about my son – out alone at night. I reminded myself he was NOT alone but with peers, playing Ultimate Frisbee. Nonetheless, by 10 PM, I asked my husband if he thought I should call and see where he was. His answer was an unequivocal “no.” I managed to wait until 10:15 and then I sent him a text: “Pls check in when leaving.” I tried a few minutes later to entice him into responding by telling him the score of the Celtics game. He did not answer that either.

It was nearly 11 and I was just about to call him, when the phone rang. It was my son, letting us know that they just finished playing and he was on his way home. He walked in the door about forty minutes later with a scraped knee and a tired smile. As is often the case with my son, he saw the evening activities as nothing remarkable. I saw the night as another giant leap in his development.

I believe he’ll go back and play again. I hope they are nice kids. I hope if they go out after a game they will include him…but I hope they don't go to a bar. I hope he doesn’t get hurt, or lose his phone...or his wallet. Wow – is that what it feels like to be a parent of an adolescent growing up?