Sunday, November 23, 2008

To Pee or Not to Pee, That is the Question....

StatMom has given us an interesting discussion on child-rearing.

Specifically, she's conflicted about therapeutic interventions for her young Aspie daughter Reese. Among other things, Reese has trouble finding her way to the bathroom at night - if there is more than one light, she's not sure which light to follow and may go off in the wrong direction. And sometimes she just doesn't like having to get up and go to the bathroom. So, her will effectively paralyzed, she shifts and bounces around in bed and sobs and someone has to take her to the bathroom.

Reese also chatters and shows other verbal/vocal tics. StatMom loves her more than life itself...and worries that others may not react to Reese's behavior as benevolently as she does.

Decision-making skills are one thing: everyone would benefit from building the self-discipline to make and carry out good decisions, such as when to go to the bathroom. Other behaviors, which don't harm the individual but which others may dislike, are a different kettle of fish.

StatMom - an Aspie herself - faces a nasty dilemma: To what extent does she encourage her children to be who they want to be, including offending some people, and insist that society accept Aspies and autists for who they are as long as they abide by the law and don't actually harm anyone? And to what extent does she accept the fact that there are things that an NT-dominated world simply will not accept - even though she, her family and others like me might feel they should accept them - and train her children accordingly?

Sharon daVanport - another Aspie - wrote about this same dilemma she faced with her Aspie son Ty while he was in middle school. To what extent should be focus on being himself, and to what extent should he conform?

This comes down to how we view autism, AS and the rest of the spectrum itself. Is it mainly just a difference in the way we're wired, like left-handedness, or a set of disorders which should be cured if that ever becomes possible, like multiple sclerosis? (Wrt left-handedness, keep in mind that not too long ago, left-handed children, including my own father, were "trained" - including through corporal punishment - to switch hands. In fact, the very words "sinister" and "gauche" - and the latter's opposite, "adroit" - were based on the idea that left-handedness is evil. Just for the record, I'm a northpaw myself.)

It also comes down to how each of us deals with it. To what extent do we select the people we befriend, love and do business with partly based on their acceptance of our traits, and ask society to accept us the way we are, and to what extent do we change our behavior to conform to NTs' expectations?

There's no single answer to that. Aspies and autists disagree among ourselves about that and probably always will. The raison d'ĂȘtre of Building Common Ground is that the right approach takes the best of both sides. Accommodation has to go both ways.

These considerations also shape what kinds of accommodations we ask for. To some extent we do need to ask people, especially our mates, friends and people in our workplaces, social groups and the like, not to take certain things personally from us - including bluntness, lack of eye contact, desire to limit the extent of social contact, etc. - that they would from most other people.

One thing I've also done is ask one or more people in each setting to be a mentor for me. I recognize that most people are - rightly or wrongly - extremely reluctant to give, let alone volunteer, detailed criticisms, especially about personal matters. So I approach someone I've come to trust, explain my situation and its behavioral implications - including that I have difficulty reading situations and people, have grown up without the complete knowledge of informal social rules that most people take for granted and have developed my own nonconformist habits which by now I may not even recognize. Thus, I may offend people and not even know that I'm doing it.

I emphasize my strengths, including attention to detail, ability to keep promises and follow the rules...and ability to take detailed criticism even about unpleasant things.

I go on to ask that if I do something which people just can't tolerate, would s/he please take me aside privately and spell out, in detail, what I'm doing or not doing that causes problems, and I promise to do whatever I can to remedy it. I wrap up by making clear that in any case, if this group is not one which can accept significant differences in behavior, please let me know so I can go elsewhere.

(I typically put this request in writing so the person can take time to absorb it.)

This is a different kind of accommodation: it helps us satisfy the NT world's standards. As the saying goes, it's "a hand up, not a handout". Most people would be happier to give that kind of accommodation than to (simply) just accept behavior they find weird or offensive. In fact, I think many people would be happier to give both kinds of accommodation than just the latter, since we'd be meeting them halfway.

What do you think?


StatMama said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
StatMama said...

Once again, an excellent blog post.

I think you said it, there has to be a happy medium. I think people tend toward taking a side or a stance, where I've always (in most things) believed that everyone has to be a little bit right, and a little bit wrong. It seems you have a way of viewing things in this manner, a more logical and fair way of existing in this world.

This is sort of where I have come to in regard to my children. Expecting full acceptance of all things isn't a realistic expectation. On the other hand, trying to make Aspie/Autie children into typical children isn't fair to them. Common ground is a good place to be, where everyone makes an effort, and everyone feels more willing to yield a bit because the other party is also doing so. In this manner, no one is left to feel as if they've had to give up their ways entirely.

Well said, Jeff :)

(PS: sorry for the comment deletion, by overly-sensitive laptop mouse thingy jumped me around and it published before I was done.)

Quirky Mom said...

I agree. Well said!

Now the challenge is finding the common ground, which is sometimes a very daunting task.

Tanya @ Teenautism said...

Hi Jeff,

I definitely agree that employing both kinds of accommodation will be most successful - NTs understanding that people on the spectrum will act differently than typical social expectations, and those on the spectrum being willing to accept direction if their behavior is offensive. I think each group giving a little will yield more understanding and acceptance.

Sharon daVanport said...

I really appreciate your posts Jeff! I have even begun reading them with my son Ty.....BTW: he thinks you're "cool." :-)

I like when he makes positive comments about Aspie men who have a strong sense of self worth. It not only gives me continual hope that he will find his way toward conscious behavior which reflects his true identity (a good soul he is!) but it provides constant reassurance to me, his mother, that he is progressing toward a balanced life in general.

Many thanks for your blogs,