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Friday, May 20, 2016

The Art of Conversation

Simple conversations can be agonizing in my house. In fact, I am becoming less and less of a fan of talking. I would rather write or just be -alone, in silence or listening to the birds sing, or the sound of the waves crashing on a beach, where I am alone. Did I say, alone?

Lately, trying to have a conversation with my 17-year-old feels like a trip to the gynecologist. You just don't want to go there.

Whoever said "third time is a charm" is a mother sucking liar. I am going through the age of seventeen for the third time raising my boys, and it is anything but -charming.  There are layers and layers of suckiness, emotions, and anxiety that comes from all of the stressors for Blue right now. The worst is how much he thinks he doesn't need his parents anymore. In fact, having us around is a major inconvenience. The only problem with this is IT's OUR HOUSE!

I realize that seventeen is not the only sucky age, especially for those on the autism spectrum. This is not my first time at the rodeo. I've been through all of the ages with my boys, including my atypical son who is now 27 or is he 28? I can't keep up.  He was not much easier as know-it-all teen.  He is just starting to get the fact that we are and always have been, one hundred percent in his corner.  He is becoming a much more responsible adult. In fact, I must congratulate him for finally earning his degree in Computer Science a few weeks ago.  I didn't believe it until I saw the degree in writing!

So I get it. It's only natural to go through this right of passage. Seventeen was when I told my mom that I would longer go along with her religion of choice for us. I would not answer to a congregation of people and the elders about how I was going to live my life.  It's almost like a teen's job to want to be nothing like their parents during this time in their lives. Of course they resent the control parents have over them.

By seventeen, you want to break away and be your own person -an individual, with thoughts and feelings, that are separate from your family. You don't want guidance or opinions from your parents. After all, we're completely clueless, right?

As much as they can't stand us (parents) being around, they can't completely breakaway because they still need a roof over their heads, and rides, and money. Subsequently, they resent our authority.
They want to be adults. They think they know more than we parents could ever know. After all, they didn't even teach us the kind of things that they're learning now in school, way back in the day -you know in ancient times.

There is an easy solution to not being around us.  GET OUT! And I left out the expletive. 

I get it; you're practically an adult, and yet there is fear all of the responsibility that comes along adulthood. There is a ton of social pressure from peers. It may be the first time you're experiencing love, and no one in the history of the world has felt the kind of love that you're feeling right now ...in the 11th grade.

Do I dare even mention those sexual desires and all of the complications that are helluva confusing? Everyone is talking about sex at school, all.the.time. You think everyone has done it except you. ( Except you know most of them are lying, right?)

Today's kids have easy access to media and anything they ever wanted to know about anything via the internet. Only, they don't realize there are nuances to relationships and sex that media can NEVER teach.

Now, let's add Aspergers to the mix, which produces a whole other series of social deficits that are too intricate and complicated to wrap your head around. They have this unique way of seeing the world and sometimes it's hard to figure out why everyone else doesn't see things the exact way they do. People just don't get it and parents, the people who should get it, are the worst offenders.

There is a ton of pressure with school. Grades are beginning to get serious as they can affect what college you're accepted. They have to start thinking about college; possibly going away. There are AP exams, SAT's and college applications. The list of pressures is infinite.

As a parent of a seventeen-year-old, I have to face once again, that I am no longer the mom; the teacher of lessons; the preventer of falling over a cliff. I have now become The Consulting Parent. I wrote about this two years ago, so you think by now I would get it by now.

So now more than ever, when we try to help our son or teach him something, he takes it as a personal affront; like what we are telling him is that he is all wrong, and we are right.  Or as he puts it, "you're treating me like I'm stupid." We are just trying to help him. We would like to give him the benefit of our life experience. We are parenting. We would like to spare him some grief, maybe prevent him from making some of the mistakes that we made. Unfortunately, it feels like the teaching window of time for this kid has expired. Any guiding that we do for now is met with disdain and anger.

In recent weeks, I've been told in every which way but loose, that I have no idea what I'm doing anymore.  He is different than his brothers, and we're treating him like he doesn't know anything. He doesn't need our help.  And then in the next breath I am told,"You should know what I need by now! You should know what I'm thinking! Everyone understands me better than you!" He doesn't need our advice and our teaching moments! "I just need for you to listen to me! I need your understanding!"

I am eternally grateful for the adult mentors and friends in his life, who he believes do understand him. He can talk to them so much easier than me or his father. I am especially thankful for the special friend who he believes has given him a sense of humor and sarcasm. I mean, there's no way he got that from me. 

I ran into some old friends a few weeks ago. This family has a daughter Blue's age. She and Blue were friends in Elementary school. In fact, she would sometimes be the only girl at his birthday parties. I was kind of staring at them from across the room in the restaurant, mesmerized by how beautiful and poised this young lady is now. When they finished eating, her mom popped over to our table to say hello. She told me that her gorgeous daughter just told her that apparently, she "knows nothing about anything anymore." She said this with a forced smile on her face, which I read as she was about ready to strangle her lovely child.

In recent weeks, simple conversations turn into anger-filled rages so fast it gives me whiplash. Anxiety is a big part of it. However, I leave these conversations with hurt feelings and sometimes even tears. That brutal honesty that those with Aspergers have can sometimes leave you with bruises.

When a person with anxiety, stress, and anger is feeling out of control, they can sometimes project their emotions to whoever happens to be in the line of fire. Especially, a mother who they know loves them unconditionally. They can make us feel like we are the problem. I've been there done that with Red and I still feel the sting of PTSD from years of it. I feel myself tensing up, stomach turning in knots when I think that Blue is getting ready to get started.

When you're being attacked by words and barraged with yelling, sometimes you start to believe that you actually are indeed the one with the problem or at least a contributor. The truth is that I am usually just trying to survive with a little bit of sanity intact. As mothers, we are usually trying to help however we can, even when we can't.

I know that I'm not perfect and I often find myself engaging in an argument that I had no intention of being a part of, but I can easily get sucked in.   So, I did some research and even talked to some adults that I know with Aspergers to help me process what I have been experiencing with Blue and our conversations. I wanted to see what if anything, I could do differently.

As a result of my research and examining some of our recent conversations, I came up with  some guidelines and strategies to help me communicate with my Aspie:
  • Ask in the beginning of the conversation, "What would you like from me?  Do you want me to just listen or do you want my advice? More than likely they don't want your advice. Ask, do you even want a response from me? 
  • If what he wants to just have a monolog (to information dump, on a topic of interest, or he just wants me to listen) where he is the only one talking  -I will give a time limit in the beginning. The amount of time depends on how close I think I am to snapping.  
  • When monolog turns into a personal attack where he is blaming me, shaming or making me feel bad -I have the right to *walk away or ask him to go take a *walk until he can calm down and speak to me with basic human decency.
*Walking brings down cortisol levels almost instantly. You will feel better.
  • Criteria for ending the conversation 
-Do I feel bullied?
-How would I feel if this were a friend talking to me like this?
-Do I feel uncomfortable?
-Would I accept this coming from anyone else?
-Would one of his friends or colleagues accept his talking to them in this manner? -If the answer is no. I am not doing him any favors by allowing him to speak that way to me. Lord knows, I'm not doing myself any favors.
  • I realize that sometimes, I feel compelled to teach him something. Even though he's made it pointed clear that he does not want to be "taught" by us anymore. I often find myself caught up in this trap especially...
-when he starts making assertions that I know are not factual as if they are indeed fact. I
-when he starts using words or language that I consider offensive or unacceptable. I want to stop him right then and there and correct him.
-This never works when he is already on a roll but as his mother, I get caught up in the fact that he will go out into the world and people will think he was raised by a pack of wolves.
  • What may work better is if I could just wait and listen when he is talking. Perhaps, I can take notes while I continue listening and give him feedback later when he's in a more calm, accepting  mood. As if that ever happens. This will give me something to do with that nervous energy with which may otherwise lead me to whack him in the mouth or wring his neck.
  • I have to remind myself that I am probably more in control than he is; keyword -probably and I should try to be patient. I'm trying so hard, I hope it doesn't kill me. 
I will be attempting to implement these strategies in the coming weeks. Lord knows, summer is almost here, which means a lot more togetherness. I hope we will both make it out alive.