Even in the NT world, teenagers are famous for having a self-centered perspective. I am sure there are plenty of NT teens out there who view their parents as hypocritical, selfish, or even lazy. Teenagers are not known for the ability to have a big-picture perspective and tend to over-exaggerate most everything. Having an Aspie teen means all the same things as a NT teen but with less filters, less stops, rigidity and the irresistible need to express a thought to its completion even when they know they shouldn’t.
As the parent, I have found this to be intensely emotional and draining. Some aspects of raising my son are very similar to raising a young child with the physicality and experiential understanding of a young man.
My lesson is to know when to disengage and just let my son be who he is right now. Occasionally, I find moments when he will listen. I even find moments when I can get him to acknowledge that I might have a different perspective than he does. On a really good day, he may go as far as to acknowledge that my perspective might have some validity, if for no other reason then it is my perspective. However, none of these moments will happen at a moment of confrontation.
There are days when I will spend hours working only to stop working and start cleaning, cooking and doing laundry. My son will walk into the kitchen after 5 hours of free-time, make toast, leave a mess behind. His response to my request to clean up after himself is a simple, “No.” Further discussion will lead to a rant about how my expectations of him are SO unjust. Giving him a consequence for outright refusal would lead to a meltdown. Waiting and re-engaging him later will often result in not only compliance but frequently a learning moment for both of us.
Each aspie is as different as each NT teen. Some things about this stage are just teenage issues. When my Aspie Son is confronted by a mistake or situational stress, his first line of ego defense is to blame me. Sometimes, the process he goes through to blame me is so ridiculous that I laugh. Sometimes the criticism hits upon enough small truth to make me feel defensive. Packing for a recent trip was a perfect example.
The evening before he was to leave, he came downstairs as I was making dinner. I reminded him that I would be taking him to the airport the next day. Speaking mostly to myself, but unfortunately out loud, I said, “That’s right. I need to get you a suitcase.”
“Where is the suitcase?” my son asked.
“In the shed.”
“Ok,” he replied and stood there obviously waiting for me to get it.
“I am not going to get it right now,” I informed him.
“Why not!?” he asked incredulously.
“Because there is a storm blowing through and I am making dinner.”
“Fine! I will do it!” he decided.
He walked to the back door, watched the rain and wind for a minute and turned back.
“I can wait.” he said, changing his mind.
The next morning, I woke him at the break of dawn – better known as 9 am. I reminded him that we would be leaving in 4 and a half hours and he needed to pack. As I was getting ready to take my younger daughters to swim practice, he came downstairs.
“Mom! I need a suitcase!” he informed me.
“That is right,” I replied, picking up my keys to leave, ” you can get one from the shed.”
“But you said you would get it for me!” he stated exasperated.
“I can’t right now,” I started.
“Ass!” he spat at me, “You said you would get me a suitcase last night.”
My first instinct was to be defensive. He was right – technically. I did say I would get him suitcase. The defensive reaction inside me, made me feel angry. He is 15 years old. He should be handling this on his own. He does nothing with his days but sleep in and play video games. His 12 year old brother made sure his clothes were washed and packed days in advance of his trip.
I made myself stop.
“I have to take the girls to swim. I will be back in a while.” I called out as I walked out the door.
Upon returning, I went upstairs.
“Daniel, do you still need a suitcase?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied.
“You are right that I said that I would get a suitcase for you. I should not have said that. I apologize. I was mommy-ing you and you are 15. You can do those kinds of things for yourself.”
“I know,” he quietly acknowledged, “I shouldn’t even have to ask you. I am sorry.”
I was floored.
“I just want to make sure that I get a suitcase I can carry on and not have to check,” he confided to me.
I realized that he was stressed about choosing the right suitcase. His way of dealing with that stress was to latch on to the lifeline of “Mom said she would do it”. When I informed him that I expected him to do it, his defensive mechanism kicked in.
When my Aspie Son’s defenses are so ridiculous that I laugh, it is easier on me. However, the aspie in me feels compelled to deal with the situation right then and get him to see/admit the error of his thinking. That is terribly overwhelming to my son. Some of our biggest blow ups occur in those moments.
When his defensiveness trigger a feeling of defensiveness in me, it often works out better. I have been learning that the defensive feeling inside me is a sign to back off and take some time. We both have time to consider our responses. Coming back later often leads to a better understanding of what my Aspie Son is really thinking or feeling.
Driving my son to the airport yesterday, my Aspie Son became cruelly defensive several times. However, each time, I was able to see that he was simply covering stress regarding the process he was trying to navigate. Seeing the real issue helped me. I didn’t take his insults as personally and I was able to work on addressing the core issue – even in a time crunch.
I now have two weeks to catch my breath before he returns and we start again. I hope I will be able to hold on to this lesson with the confidence that I feel right now.