Every parent of a child on the spectrum struggles with the emotional disconnect of their child. It is not the emotions don’t exist, but our children struggle to express them appropriates, empathize with emotions in others, or moderate their own emotions and emotional response.
Asperger’s syndrome especially is noted for the inability to read the non-verbal cues of other peoples’ emotions and respond appropriately. Since these skills are key to successful social interaction, there are flash cards and even video games to help develop them.
Daniel has struggled with emotions too. Oddly enough, it wasn’t flash cards or even a video game that made a difference. Instead, it was a book. Daniel became a devoted fan of Diary of a Wimpy Kid last year. It was a huge key to the puzzle. Daniel’s dyslexia had made me despair that he would ever read until he started reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid. He identified with Greg, loved the illustrations and found the font and lined text easy to read. Inspired he began his own diary, complete with illustrations of a similar style. Through writing in his diary he made huge strides in his writing fluidity, speed and pencil pressure. However, it would be several months before I observed another benefit.
Daniel struggles at simply taking responsibility for an action. He has an overwhelming need to make the other people in the situation understand and acknowledge all the conditions that occurred leading to the mistake. I am glad that Daniel is learning to understand the sequence of events causing a struggle or mistake. This is a key step to self awareness and problem solving. However, it is equally important to be able to simply take responsibility for an action without self justification and move on to the solution. Especially in the business world where a boss may not want to hear a long involved dissection of the mistake but rather how it will be effectively resolved.
Recently, Daniel and I had a conflict. I was not in a position to listen to all the in and outs of Daniel’s explanation. Daniel persisted anyway. I was so frustrated and it seemed my emotions were only confusing Daniel. It became nearly a comedy of errors as Daniel and I reacted to the other’s emotions. I could tell that Daniel was not succeeding in communicating to me what he was experiencing on the inside and my frustration was nearly overwhelming. It was time for us to take a time out. I sent Daniel to his room, while I retreated to mine.
After I had calmed down, I walked down the hall to attempt to re-engage with Daniel. On Daniel’s door, he had posted a large scale drawing of a boy, in a hat, tears running down his face. On the hat, “Sap” [Sad] was misspelled on the hat. “Sorry” came out of a bubble from the boy’s mouth. My heart melted. This was Daniel expressing his emotions simply and without frustration. He had found a way to accomplish in art the thing he could not communicate verbally in person. I was so proud of him.