Daniel usually seems ungrateful. His abrupt and stark evaluation of life is sometimes startling, even after nearly 15 years as his mother. Daniel is sure to mention all the aspects of any process, even the unpleasant aspects. He gives each aspect equal billing too.
Take for example a science project. There was the struggles of getting the right supplies, the triumph of the model coming together beautifully, the grind of the documentation process, and the final satisfaction of having a quality project to turn in to his teacher. He was very happy to have a quality project ready to take back to school. With a typical child, “I would say, now wasn’t the hard work worth it for this satisfying feeling right now?” However, Daniel’s answer to that question was to point out all the the ups and downs of the project. He would also mention that it feels very good to have the finished project but to him, that feeling doesn’t override the aggrivations of the process. On the flip side, the aggrivations don’t overwhelm the satisfied feeling. All the parts of the experience just are. They just exist. They all get equal billing.
This is probably a more accurate reflection of the experience of the science project. However, as humans we tend to use mental tricks to motivate us towards our goals. If the goal is to complete tedious tasks, we will emphasize the rewards as we tell ourselves the story of the experience. “Fitting into these jeans feels amazing! It was so worth saying no to my daily doughnut!” Regardless of whether our story accurately reflects the truth of every single moment of time, we filter the final story in a way that supports our goal.
Daniel’s reluctance to skew his story is neither good nor bad. It has its perks, he is very accurate. However, it can make it difficult as a parent to find methods to motivate him to persist in projects which he finds tedeous.
This can present as being ungrateful. When typical kids present their reasons for thankfulness, they will ignore the struggles or difficulties in their relationships, etc. For example, my typical son will say how thankful he is for his family, for the things we do for him, for the love we give him, for the party we helped him through recently, etc. He doesn’t mention the altercation over dishes the other night. Daniel will say he is thankful for his family but he must make sure to mention the struggles in our interactions as well as the successes. As a mother, this can feel painful… until I change my perspective. Rather than having my son skew the story for me, I have to skew it for myself. I have to remind myself that Daniel remembers all the struggles and all the successes and still decides that we, his family, are something he is thankful for.
While it is easier achieve the warm fuzzy feeling from a child that tells the story for me, there is a special thrill in understanding the expressions of gratitude and love from my Aspie.
Daniel is with his grandma this Thanksgiving. He hasn’t seen her in years and the excitement at seeing her was easily visable. A call to her house last night let me hear a level of emotion I rarely experience with him. I am thankful. He is thankful. We express it differently but that does not diminish the value of the expression. Ultimately that is the truth in all areas of life with a child on the spectrum – learning to honor and value all the atypical ways they experience and express their experiences.
On this Thanksgiving, I am grateful for everyone in my life but I am particularly thankful that raising Daniel has given me the opportunity to learn to recognize and honor people regardless of differences.