Dear Grandma and Grandpa,
I know you think I’m rude sometimes. The last time you tried to take me to the movies I screamed and put my hands over my ears because it was too loud and you got mad at me and said I ruined the movie for my little sister. Afterwards, when I was pacing in the back of the restaurant, you told me I needed to sit down with everyone. I heard you tell my mom that she should ignore me when I have a meltdown because all I want is attention. Sometimes I think you don’t like me very much. But I want to let you know, I’m not a bad kid, I’m living with Asperger’s.
Please learn about Asperger’s/Autism Spectrum Disorder
I know it seems like I don’t care about anybody but myself. I really like to talk about the things that interest me and I it’s hard for me to listen to other people talk about other topics. But that doesn’t mean I’m trying to make you feel bad on purpose or that I want to hurt your feelings. Will you please read about Asperger’s so that you can understand me better? Here are some examples of why it’s hard for me to do what you expect.
- I don’t have a great editor in my brain that helps me stop and think before I say things —but that doesn’t mean I want to hurt someone else’s feelings. I’m still learning the rules about what to say out loud and what to keep to myself. Be calm when you explain why my words aren’t helpful and give me other options.
- Meltdowns happen because I’m overwhelmed or anxious. I don’t like them either. If I knew a way to stay calm when I get frustrated, I would. It’s really hard to take deep breaths and let things go once I’m upset. Don’t talk to me too much or try to reason with me. You can show me a picture or remind me of ways I can calm down (like taking a break or listening to music).
- It can be hard for me to recognize the nonverbal cues you use to express emotions. I don’t always pick up on tone of voice, facial expressions, body language or gestures. Be explicit about what you are trying to express with your tone of voice or body language. Tell me what you are trying to show me.
- Loud noises and being confined in a tight space with lots of people makes me very uncomfortable. That’s why I like to get up and move around or use headphones. Make sure I have a “Plan B” in case the first plan doesn’t work out.
Additional ways you can help
It’s hard when everyone points out everything I do wrong. It would be nice if you could appreciate what I’m good at and not always focus on what’s hard for me. I love to read and we could go to the bookstore or library together. I can research things on the Internet for you. Maybe we could play chess together. Here are other things you can do to help:
- Write out a schedule so I know what to expect when we’re together
- Be flexible and patient with me
- Appreciate what I’m good at and learn about the topics and things that interest me
- Offer choices for activities. We might not have the same definition of “fun.”
I love you (mom told me to write that),
Brenda Dater is the author of Parenting without Panic: A Pocket Support Group for Parents of Children and Teens on the Autism Spectrum (Asperger’s syndrome). She is also the Director of Child and Teen Services at AANE where she teaches workshops, facilitates support groups and provides consultations for parents, grandparents and professionals. Brenda attended the University of Michigan where she received a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Masters’ degrees in Social Work and Public Health.
Brenda’s favorite job title is ‘mom’ to her three sons. Her eldest, Noah, was diagnosed with Asperger’s at the age of three and is now college bound. Her middle son, Daniel, has ADHD, anxiety and a very sweet soul. And her youngest, Josh, would like to know what diagnosis he has so that he can make sure he fits into his family. Brenda’s family also includes her amazingly patient and funny husband, Jed, and their dog, Lavender, who can be found near a family member or food depending on the time of day.
This article was featured in Issue 32 – Striving for Independence