The Perfect Storm


April 11, 2013 by Marj Hatzell

Ah, Adolescence. The perfect storm.

My boy has changed so much since middle school has started. He’s more self-aware, more aware of what’s going on socially, more independent and more responsible. He’s handling his emotions better, realizing what he’s feeling and owning it. He’s got much better self-control. He doesn’t make daily trips to the nurse (sensory break!) at 2pm and he isn’t coming home and falling apart.

Most days. Ahem.

He’s currently having a whirlwind of emotions. While he can advocate quite well when it comes to adults, he’s having trouble navigating his peers. He has difficulty making new friends and sustaining relationships. He WANTS friends. He WANTS to fit in. But other kids? They just don’t get him. And I’m not sure he gets THEM.

It’s no surprise to me that he’s more comfortable around other kids with autism. His best buddies, for the most part, are either Aspies or having a tough time socially (and with executive motor function). There’s a whole gang of them that hangs together. They belong to the same clubs, are in the same math class and have deep discussions about Minecraft at Lunch. When they get together they dig trenches and set up army men and recreate the Johnstown Flood. They watch movies and rip it to shreds because it was NOTHING LIKE THE BOOK THIS IS SO STUPID AND THIS SCENE IS SO FAKE I MEAN REALLY.

But even there he has difficulty. Right now he wants to QUIT ALL THE THINGS. He wants to quit orchestra, though he wants to continue with private violin lessons. He wants to quit his newly-acquired percussion lessons because he’s afraid of the High School Marching Band instructor, even though he won’t be there for three more years. He wants to quit fencing. He isn’t sure he wants to do diving this summer. He doesn’t want to go to any of the summer camps I’ve mentioned. I’m trying very hard to hold the balance between allowing him to make choices that make him happy and not allowing him to withdraw completely.

But that’s what he’s doing.

He’s withdrawing.

There’s a big-deal trip coming up for school. All year the 6th graders study a particular country. It’s sort of a theme for the year. They talk about the UN, geography and world culture. It’s pretty cool, actually. It culminates with a trip to the UN in NYC. For this trip they need a plethora of chaperones. Naturally, someone from the house of DG will attend (either TGILW or myself). But the kids have been charged with making their own groups this time. Groups of six. The problem? The 6th grade is divided into two teams. Team A goes one day and Team B goes the following week. Guess where the majority of his buddies are?

That’s right! The other team.

So even though the kids in one of his club teams is on the same 6th grade team he is? He cannot bring himself to ask the other kids about being in a group. He tried to get me to email everyone and I did mention it to their parents but ultimately want to leave it to them to decide. And my boy is panicky. Because he’s worried he’ll end up IN A TEAM OF GIRLS. Or worse yet, with a few other “misfits” (his term).

That brings us to a whole other level self-awareness. My boy is currently aware that he doesn’t fit in with the majority of the other kids. He realizes he is different. And while he celebrates his differences and is totally cool with them, he isn’t cool with the difficulty he is having navigating the Social Seas.

And that breaks this Momma’s heart.

And all I can do is talk to him, assure him, reassure him and give him some ideas on how to do it.

But when you’re talking to your child for the UMPTEENTH time about making his group and talking to other kids and finding out who has six and who needs another or two, and he says,

“This sucks. I’m never going to find a group. The other kids all think I’m a weirdo.”

It’s really hard to keep things in perspective. Especially when hearing that makes you want to cry.

13 thoughts on “The Perfect Storm

  1. RuthWells says:

    I want to hug you and stroke your hair (though I won’t because you hate it) and tell you that it’s going to get better. I know this because a few weeks ago, my extremely withdrawn 17-year-old — with some prodding and coaching from me — ASKED A GIRL TO GO TO THE PROM. That she said yes is almost beside the point.

    Is it an option to ask the administration whether he can join the other team for the trip? I would think they’d consider it…..

    • An actual REAL LIVE GIRL???? ZOMG!!!

      Seriously, though, I’m sure he COULD but at this stage of the game I’m more inclined to have him stay where he is for the trip because he DOES have a few friends on his team. He just can’t bring himself to ask anyone. It’s like it’s totally lost on him.

  2. Jenn says:

    Some days we are trucking along and we forget she is “different” and then blammo! we get reminded. This age seems to be ramping up the anxiety, hormones and different social expectations seem to be not helping.

  3. Flannery says:

    I’m dreading the teen angst years. It’s good to hear how much he’s grown and changed, but that “fitting in” thing can be a real bitch. Hang in there, mama.

    • You know, I’ve NEVER fit in. Not even as an adult. I’ve always been the “weirdo” and I know EXACTLY how it feels. I had these same exact issues. The good news is I can help him through it by being supportive.

  4. Michelle says:

    I read because I love your writing and honesty. I have zero experience with autism. I have to say that when I read things like this, to an outsider, it appears that you are dealing with normal pre-teen things, amped to a level that is just unreal. I remember how hard it was just with hormonal angst of fitting in. I can’t even imagine what it is like for your son to try to navigate this piece, he is remarkable. I know some days it probably doesn’t feel that way, but he is.

    • Yep. That’s what makes it so difficult to deal with. It IS normal preteen stuff but the thing that makes it tough is his emotions and social skills aren’t quite equipped to deal with the normal stuff yet, if at all, ever. The good news is I’ve always been the “weirdo” outcast myself so I can be very supportive. 😉

  5. akbutler says:

    I totally get this. Going thru the exact thing with my 5th grader. And it hurts. Both of us. When you figure out how to make things easier socially for our kids, come teach me.

  6. I was the weirdo, too, and it’s painful as all get out to watch my kids going through the same thing. My oldest is 12 and an Aspie and complains because he has zero friends. (and it’s true, he has none, really. His siblings are the only ones who can put up with him for any length of time it seems.) He used to have friends, but they’ve matured and are just in a different phase of life now that he’s not at. I can’t fault them for that, but it still sucks. I’ve found, oddly enough, that high school girls are the most patient with him. They are willing to let him ramble for eternity about whatever it is he’s going on about at the time. Maybe it’s because he’s so good looking and has the dark and brooding thing going on? Who knows. It’s part of why I’ve bumped him up into high school classes in our homeschooling co-op, I’m hoping that he’ll find someone he clicks with, because it terrifies me that he doesn’t have friends, and he’s at the developmental stage where you NEED them. Sigh.

    • You know what’s funny? My husband kinda doesn’t get it because he really doesn’t have any friends (save work friends and my brother) and is perfectly happy. And maybe my boy would be, too. But he seems to WANT friends. It’s all frustrating to figure out, for sure.

  7. jess says:

    All I can tell you is to keep talking and hope you find peace with us. Mike, my DH is the same way! He’s happily antisocial. Frankly, I am, too, but not to the degree he is. Can you talk to the other kids about including him? They often want to help as much as they can. That’s the way it is with my kids’ schools.
    Good luck. : )

  8. suz says:

    Please have a listen to a song called “My Different Son” by Susan Werner. It is quite beautiful. We have all had this moment of heartbreak…

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