THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN RESPONSE TO THE NEW TOWN TRAGEDY – BUT ONCE AGAIN, ITS MESSAGE IS NECESSARY FOR ALL TO HEAR. 5/26/14
Whatever your faith background – or present beliefs – this has been an awful weekend. I’ve received so very many emails asking me to speak up for our children, asking what to say to our children…asking what to tell ourselves…..
While autism-Asperger’s-the-“issue” and current events make it hard to say this, I have to be honest (I’m an Aspie) and say that I am not political. I don’t wish to be. I only wish to be a very human human being right now – and to do what I (think) I do best…teach.
As those of you who read my first book, “Asperkids,” already know, my eldest child (she’s now 9yo) was a “Make A Wish” kid. That’s a nice way of saying that before we faced Asperger’s, we faced the possibility of losing her…and of having to convince “experts” that something was very wrong, even when an anonymous “do-gooder” reported us to Child Protection Services for “doctor shopping” our child around the country. In the end, though, her doctors credit my Asperger-driven tenacity as having saved her life when no one would listen.
The reason I mention this is because I want you all to know how seriously I take the honor of your requests, questions, appeals for help. Of how deeply I feel the tenuousness of young life. And as always, I want to answer you with my deepest respect and thought.
What Faith Has Taught Me
So, here’s what my faith has taught me about a world that doesn’t make sense or follow rules….it’s the same set of truths that John & I share with our own children. Faith — whether in God, in family, in one another — does not promise that we would be rescued from ever feeling pain, or abandonment, or fear. Faith promises the comfort of a Love that is bigger and better than the Bad. That, whether you believe in God’s arms, a lover’s embrace, your children’s sleepy snuggle or just my sincere words to you , that “when the sacred is torn from our lives, and we survive….we will be held…” (Natalie Grant), sometimes only by our sheer will to prove that goodness must prevail.
As to what to say to your children…here is what this Aspie and Aspie mommy x3 would hold you to:
* be honest and be brief. You don’t want your kids to learn about sex in a locker room because who knows what version of “truth” they may get, right? Well, the same goes here. You MUST establish a forever-bond with your children that you will ALWAYS tell them the truth…then, begin.
“Recently, something really terrible happened…” and that you want to give them the truth so that anything they hear to the contrary they will dismiss.
* Bodies work right when all of the pieces and parts and chemicals do their jobs. When something doesn’t work as it should, our bodies get sick. Our brains are, after all, part of our bodies. So a brain can get sick too. And when a brain is sick, a person’s thinking can get very ill, too.
Feeling & Thinking
Important: feeling sad, lonely, angry or overwhelmed is NOT bad-thinking. In fact, if we feel those feelings and talk to someone about them, that’s incredibly GOOD thinking.
And Ultra Important: being Aspie or autistic or whatever IS NOT being sick.
*Facts: Last week, a young man whose brain was sick and not thinking well went into a school with a gun and hurt many people. Some of those people were adults. Some were children. Some of them will recover from their injuries. Others died right away. That is very, very sad. And it was a terrible, terrible thing to have done.
*Reactions: say that it is OK to feel sad, disconnected or confused…to cry or not, even to laugh if your feelings feel so mixed up that you don’t know how to handle them. There are NO wrong feelings.
(Note: my 6yo asked – and I don’t know why – what happened to the shooters’ parents. I told him the truth, and that this young man must have had incredible hurt and darkness inside plus lots of very mixed-up thoughts to be able to do harm his family. My son also asked if the man was arrested. I said no. He asked why not – and I had to answer that, too, saying again that his mind must have been so confused and sick to be able to hurt himself – that he must have not been able to stand the idea of living another day in such pain. And my son – an Aspie – said, “I’m so sad for all of them.” That, friends, is compassion. And boy, do we feel it.)
* Fear: There are hundreds of thousands of elementary school classrooms in this country alone. (Try to show a visual of what even 1,000 of something looks like.) Every other one was safe that day, the day before, and will be safe tomorrow. It’s like looking out into a rainstorm. That one raindrop that hits you in the eye – well absolutely, it matters, and you’re very aware of it! But really, it’s no bigger than the millions of droplets that fall all around that you never notice. This was one terrible occurrence in one classroom in one school in one state in one country in the world. Just as we shouldn’t fear all raindrops, there is nothing to fear about any danger in your school. There are lots of grown-ups who work to make schools safe places – and now, they’re going to work even harder.
*Reiterate: there is NOTHING to be afraid of…there is only sadness for the sick man, the people he hurt, and the people who love all of them.
Then, I asked him to answer these quick-fire questions: is there anything you need to fear? (emphatic no!) Is it ok to feel sad? (yes.) Is it ok to ask questions PRIVATELY, at home? (yes)
Big “Social Skills” Point
About an hour before my son and I talked, he was at a birthday party and, when play got unstructured and he got anxious, he resorted to hiding in a cushioned barrel and pretending to shoot “bad guys.” I realize that he has no concept of how that might connect in others’ minds – but just for social ease, I did discuss the idea that a lot of people would be feeling very sensitive now to the idea of shooting, and that they wouldn’t like feeling reminded of this terrible event. So, just as he wouldn’t want to be reminded of things that made him sad, it would be best not to “pretend” Power Rangers or knights or storm trooper or anyone else who “shoots” for awhile.
OK, now that the social worker/teacher/Aspie/mother has spoken, I offer you one more resource: my husband, Officer John O’Toole. He’s also an Aspie – and a 15+ veteran of career law enforcement. He is in NO way connected to this event, but if there are specific questions your children feel they need to ask “Officer John,” I’m sure he will do his best to oblige.
The “spectrum” thing
My eldest, who is 9yo, knows that there is discussion of the shooter being on the spectrum. She also knows that NEVER in this household may our diagnosis be used to excuse poor behavior or bad decision-making….and that mental illness, not neurologic profile, is the issue here.
And so I return to the issue of responsibility. We actually called our daughter home from a sleepover last night when we discovered she’d snuck out the iPad in her duffel bag. It was an impulsive act – easily in-line with executive functioning challenges and ADD…but that didn’t matter at all: she knew right from wrong, and she knew she’d done wrong.
Yes, our discussion with her afterwards was different than with an NT kid; it had less to do with finger-wagging and more to do with impulse-control. No matter what, though, we spectrumites (like everyone else) are still responsible for making the right choices…even when they are hard.
I hope, in some small way, that some of my words have given you ideas, tools, strategies. Speak your truth, give your answers – but in a “just the facts, ma’am” – need to know basis kind of way. And ask if there are questions….”no,” is just as acceptable an answer as “yes,” or you may find the questions come later.
If I owe you wisdom, I think I have very little to give….except maybe this last bit. When we had to put one of our dogs to sleep last winter, we told our children that, whenever they felt sad about “Reeses,” they should immediately shower extra love on “Daisy,” our rescue who was (and is) very much with us. Our children have taken that lesson to heart.
In life, we will not be spared heartache or pain. It will come….more often for some than for others. There’s no “fairness” tally card. There’s just a choice: what will you do with the pain. I think the answer, my friends, is what we told our children about their dog: turn your sorrow into love, and throw that love outward in abundance. Shower those who remain. Carpe diem. Love in the memory of those who are gone and with appreciation for the gifts of today….love, and richly, greedily inhabit every moment you are given…love, and see clearly the precious “present” of this precious present.
With love and appreciation,