Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Do Aspie Children know at they are Different? - Part 2: Early Childhood Perception

Last time, we looked at the influence of parental perception on the child's "view of themselves" and established that normal parent reactions are often enough to let the child know that they are different.

In today's post, I'll be looking at the primary school years and how interactions between children make these differences obvious.

Deaf but Still Different
When I was in preschool, it was discovered that I was very deaf - the result of an uncontained ear infection. It would have been easy for me to wrongly attribute my differences to this problem (as I did with many of my social issues in secondary school).

In primary school however, I was fortunate because our next door neighbour had a son the same age as me, who went to the same primary school and who was also deaf - albeit a much worse case.

This gave me a benchmark for my social performance and it was obvious from day one of kindergarten, where he made instant and lasting friendships while I made none, that there was some bigger difference. When I was little, I thought that the difference was that he was "more deaf" and getting more sympathy. I'd often find myself wishing that my own condition was worse.

Of course, there was much more to it than that. He knew how to make conversation, could join in their pretend games, could read faces and didn't have meltdowns.

Social Empathy
I can remember several occasions when he'd stop me in social situations and tell me how I should be feeling. One instance, when we were aged about 7, a boy put a live witchety grub (a huge Australian worm that was famously a delicacy for Aborigines), in a girls hair. Everyone gathered around and laughed but then the girl became upset and the laughing had to stop.

The problem was, that I didn't understand the change - why were we not laughing anymore? Had it stopped being funny? Would it be funny if we put it back? In someone else's hair? Another boy, who in later years became a good friend, continued to laugh too and we talked about how the girls curls would have made such great tunnels for the grub. My best friend had to come up to me and explain how we needed to feel sad for the girl because she had been scared. I acted that way because it was required but at the time I couldn't understand the girl's feelings. After all, it wasn't scary to me.

Friendships and the Special Interest
By third grade, my best friend's deafness was making it difficult for him to learn and he had to leave and go to a special school. For me, this meant that my entire group of friends had left the school. Anyone who'd ever talked to me had only done so because I was a good friend of a popular boy. I was totally alone.

After a while, the boy who'd laughed with me about the tunnels started playing with me. Star Wars had come out and I was hooked. I had a couple of figures and I had been playing with them constantly by myself. It turned out that he liked Star Wars too. We became best friends.

Then suddenly one day, my friend's interest switched to trucks. I wasn't interested in trucks. I only liked Star Wars. He tried in vain to make we switch but I just wasn't interested and we started to play separately. Eventually, he left the school and I was alone again.

Playing with Girls
By year four, the boys games were all sport orientated. I was no good at sport. My co-ordination was abysmal and I couldn't even catch a ball. I had trouble kicking a ball without falling over. A girl noticed that I was lonely and wandered over to talk to me. I spent the rest of the year (indeed, the rest of my time at that primary school), in the company of the girls much to my parents annoyance.

Of course, since I was leaving at the end of year four, and going to an all boys school, there was zero chance that any of my friends would be coming with me. Once again, I'd have to start out by myself.

Playing at Home
At home, I had a sister to play with, as well as the deaf boy next door. In the early days, I pretend-played (something that they say aspies can't do), with my sister. Unfortunately, the game was usually Doctor Who, with the Tardis being an upright clothes dryer. My poor sister could never follow our games and I'd often get annoyed with her for not following the rules.

Aspies have great imaginations and can pretend-play by themselves for hours. Our main failing is that we don't communicate the plan or even the events, to our co-players. My game could go on for hours without me speaking a word to her but I'd be unaware that she wasn't able to follow what was going on.

Eventually, my sister found some girls in our street and I rarely saw her from then on because she spent all her free time with them.

My best friend in my childhood was my dog, Spotty. He and I spent ages exploring and playing. We accepted eachother totally. It's not called solitary play when you've got dog with you.

Uninentional Comedy
My early school years were marked by a lot of unintentional comedy, some of which is worth covering here as it demonstrates obvious aspie traits. My mother was told at several parent teacher meetings that I was the class clown.

One funny moment, was when I didn't realise that our sports teacher was female. I didn't pick up the differences in her voice and she had a male haircut. She had been taking us for sport for about three years when I called her "sir" and was corrected by one of the kids. We had an arguement about it, with me forcefully arguing that she was a man. Needless to say, she was not happy when she discovered what we were arguing about.

Another comedic moment occurred when I borrowed the highly reserved book "Blue Fin" by Colin Thiele, from our school library and forgot to return it the next week. The librarian was particularly upset and didn't observe the "silence in the library" rule when telling me about it. She must have shouted at me for a good minute and a half. She tailed off at the end into something unintelligible having decided that her message had gotten through. Being polite and knowing that I hadn't gotten the entire message, I waited until she had finished, paused and then followed up with "I beg your pardon?". She threw her hands up in the air and stormed out leaving the class in uproar behind her.

I soon discovered that comedy was a good way of covering up my deficiencies. This would come into it's own once I changed schools.

The Next School
In the days when I went to school, we changed schools for year 5 - 12, so although years 5 and 6 are still primary school, I'll leave them to my next post.

A Summary
I'm aware that these posts are more autobiographical than anything else, so I apologise if I'm boring people. My main aim here is simply to show that the differences that aspergers brings were obvious to me, and to others around me - even if the condition itself was largely unknown at the time.


maggi said...

it's not boring at all - like a parallel story with my son's current experience in primary. It's so helpful to read your posts, thanks!

Em said...

I often read your blog but don't comment, but I wanted to say thankyou for explaining things so clearly. My son is an Aspie - and I'm sure I am to some extent, but I don't remember enough of my own childhood clearly to help him; it's mostly a muddle of emotions and confusion. I so much want to help make his childhood less painful than my own, and your writing helps me understand much more. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I too can relate to a lot of what you are saying Gavin. Garry

bloke_with_a_ute said...

Yes, we know we're different. Well, knew we were different.

The absence of context for the difference, though - back in the days before diagnosis - was crippling.

The shrink I spoke to today, interestingly enough, was more concerned with the risk of kids being caught in the gaps between over-enthusiastic diagnosis and learned dependency.

Being clumsy, being odd, being the outsider - they're so easy to overlook in a child, but they're never overlooked in an adult.

Until we can manufacture a context for our failure to fit, it takes a deal of luck to overcome it. But it has to be a context that works in the real world, not one whose only value is propping up parents' (or therapists') notions of the value of their offspring. Or, as happened in my case, propping up the aspie's notion of his own value.

Angela Felsted said...

So do you think it helped to go to school with other children your own age? Or did you just feel alone in a sea of humanity?

Rachael Elizabeth said...

thank you for reponding to me when i need it well i just wanted to say i find out i was different from other in first grade cause i was the only first grader that could not read or write and the only child that had trouble talking in my grade and i was picked on cause of it but i grow from being picked on i learn early on that picking or messing with others is not nice and that is ok to be me but somtimes i still feel the shame of being differnet and that the harders thing i will be going in for surgery soon on my ears it realated to being born with half my sinuses and miss shapened inner ear but i alway had over sentive hearing even thoughs i had so many ear infections but i am getting to the age that it might start affecting my hearing and that not a good things well i better let u go i typed enough lol i am bad about rambling on

silk said...

I think it's BECAUSE your posts are autobiographical that they are INTERESTING. Please continue.

Anonymous said...

My son has Aspergers..this is the first time I said that because he was just diagnosed this week. Naturally reading every internet article about it..I was very upset. Reading your blog I feel like I finally have a glimpse of what its all about. Thank you!!!

Becca said...

Your stories are so funny! And yet they are so true! And yes, Apies can imagine play but true they have their own storyline mapped out and you have to follow their plan or else you can't play! My son hated to play with me and I couldn't understand why I couldn't say what I wanted my action figure to say or do. I realized this soon and know this is why he has a hard time with friendships because he only wants to do what he wants to do and not what anyone else wants to do. True, more friends are girls, and he says pretty funny things alot just being exact or saying it like it is, when another person would not say those things.

Talisman Programs said...

Have you heard about the Facebook webinars for parents of people with Asperger's? They are live interactive webinars that give parents practical guidance on how to help their children on Facebook

Facebook and Asperger's said...

Here is their link!