February 12 – Weaving Our Way Through Asperger’s Syndrome

by Margaret Stephenson

I try not to cry as I sit close to my son while he shivers and cries on the floor – he won’t let me hold him. In the room across the hall, my daughters continue with the archery class that he has been asked to leave. My heart hurts watching him feel so deeply about something he is incapable of at this point.

Braden wanted to try archery and I thought it would be a good way to add some balance to his computer time. Everyone is required to do an introductory class before enrolling – the coach said the class would be easy, as long as the kids can listen and focus. So, I figured, Braden is super at listening and focusing. No problem.

“Pick your bow, grab your arrows, pin up your target, put on your safety glove, find a finger grip, stand behind the blue line on two whistles, shoot your arrows on one whistle, pick up your arrows on three whistles,” says the coach. “If you cross the red line before you have heard three whistles, I will yell and pull you back by your shirt because this is a dangerous sport.”

We all listen. I watch Braden out of the corner of my eye. I see the signs. Covering his eyes with his hair, looking down, shifting around, complaining about the fit of his glove, not being able to put on his finger grip. I repeat the directions to him, slowly and calmly. He listens to me, but the coach says, “No mom – you can’t help him. He has to do it by himself. He needs to pay attention, stop being silly.”

He’s never silly, I think to myself.

“How old is he – isn’t he eight? An eight year old can do this,” the coach says.

“Watch what I’m doing and copy me,” I whisper to him. I know how much he wants this.

He says, “I can’t do it. The glove hurts. Where do I go. I don’t know what to do.”

I’m getting worried, his voice is getting higher – do I just quit now or do I let him keep trying? Will I be giving up on him if I suggest we just sit and watch the girls? I know he will freak out if I say we need to quit now. Sometimes there’s very little time between happily focused and overwhelm.

His body melts onto the archery room floor and the teacher barks that he is no longer welcome in the class.

He has Asperger’s Syndrome and I’m learning more each day about how to help him. He’s smart and capable of so many things that I’m often caught off guard by the things he has trouble with. By getting away from the computer, I was hoping for more balance in his life, but I realize we’re not out of balance because he loves to play computer games – we’re out of balance because other things are so hard for him.

Margaret is a mom to three wonderful kids in Austin, TX. They have been unschooling for six years and find it still so interesting and exciting that she has decided to to put her passion for alternative education together with her love of writing in a blog that she hopes “people will learn from and enjoy.”

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5 responses to “February 12 – Weaving Our Way Through Asperger’s Syndrome

  1. This is wonderful, Margaret. It really shows how insensitive some educators are to the SILLINESS of expecting things of people because of their age, because they “should be able to do it.” All children, and adults, too, have different learning styles, needs, and rates of comprehension. Braden falls into one of the more distinguished groups, not the majority of kids, but he is not alone. I hope that what you learned is that you need to talk to every one of his teachers/coaches beforehand to apprise them of his special issues. He does NOT fall on the grid within the “normal” curve, and he is subject to meltdown if he is made to feel inadequate as a person. All of us mothers need to advocate for our children, or else how will others understand what we have learned only through our experience? Since you don’t want to humiliate him, you need to have this talk with the coach/teacher privately. And even then, you will run into insensitivity on the part of people who are not up to the challenge of helping a kid who needs to be understood. Writing blog posts like this will help the world. Keep doing it!

    I am also very interested in the concept of “unschooling” and will read your blog to learn more. My very smart self-educated husband teases me about being “encumbered by too much formal education,” and he’s right. All my college degrees indicate is that I have been trained to sit still, listen, take notes, memorize, repeat, and forget. What I have not been taught is how to learn. I’m still learning that skill now, late in life.

  2. I love your comments Samantha and appreciate you thinking about this with me! And thanks for your encouragement. We’ve run into lots of insensitivity and I think that’s part of what keeps me from trying to explain him to teachers sometimes – along with the fact that I don’t find him very explainable… I am often surprised at what he can do as well as what he can’t do, but I do see that I need to talk with the teachers privately – even if that means the teachers don’t even let him try.

    Thanks for checking out my blog too! What I think is so great about unschooling is that it really allows for whatever the child needs and wants – whether that’s formal education or self-education or something in between. I’m still learning to unschool every day – I find that my kids teach me how and are constantly helping me open my mind to new ideas!

    • I think you may need to work out a standard explanation, probably by writing as you have above, to deliver to his teachers and coaches, including that his strengths as well as his weaknesses continually surprise you. Start out with his diagnosis (Asperger’s), because it is not visible and needs to be pointed out to explain his behavior. He is unpredictable, does well at times and is overwhelmed at others. It’s all part of his mysterious mental wiring that we are all still trying to understand. What we do know about him is that he is eager to succeed, proud when he does, and understandably crushed by frustration when he cannot. Under no circumstances is he to be humiliated by the suggestion that he is lazy, willful, or inferior. Explain what helps him when he encounters frustration. A suggested time out? Reassurance that he has done well?

      Asperger’s today, like ADHD and Dyslexia until about 20 years ago, is a widespread congenital neurological difference from the norm that misleads the uninformed into judging a bright, eager-to-please child to be stupid or incorrigible, simply because he is not mentally wired the way the majority of people are. Keep working on a concise way to say it, and help educate us all. You are doing very important work, that will benefit not only your son but all who suffer from Asperger’s and other conditions on the spectrum.

      p.s. Here’s a suggestion for you, which you may have already thought of as a result of the archery experience: before he undertakes any new activity, maybe it would be best to observe it being taught in order to evaluate whether it would be a good fit for Braden. You and he might observe and decide together. If you had seen this coach’s style before Braden tried it, you would have spotted it as being all wrong for a sensitive kid like Braden, and looked for a different situation . . . . maybe his sisters could teach him, or someone else, with patience.

      You and he are learning together, and you will undoubtedly develop a way to approach new things that will serve him for life. Keep writing about it, it will help you and him and all of us.

  3. Really good explanation – I like it and I’m going to give this lots of thought. I also like the idea of visiting a class first – before even doing a trial class. I think this will limit the activities he tries, but will also improve his chances of doing well in what he chooses. I get so excited when he wants to try something new and almost want to “will” it to work – but I do need to step back, breathe, and take it a little slower.

    Thank you for your ideas – I appreciate them all.

  4. Margaret–this is such a poignant story about your son’s condition. He is so lucky to have a mom who is vested in him attaining his highest good. It is so difficult to stand by the sidelines and watch our kids struggle–which is frequently the best for everyone involved, but it can be very painful. I belong to a group of women who would call that “watchfulness” a sacred actifivity all by itself, and a kind of midwifery. I hope you are taking as good care of yourself as you are of him. Caroline

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