A Friendship to Build or Burn

It was 1990. My BFF and I had reached that point in every long-term friendship where paths separate and each of us wonders if they’ll ever again converge. She was into things I wasn’t. I was into things she wasn’t.

She was dating a friend of my boyfriend. They hung out together at parties, parties I wasn’t invited to because I wasn’t into the things that happened there. My boyfriend saw her about as often as he saw me, yet she and I rarely saw each other. I was mad at her for being in that circle. I wanted things to be like they were the year before when we watched movies together and complained because no one invited us anywhere. But just like the time in 8th grade when we ran the mile together, she found a way to move ahead and I decided I didn’t care about winning that race anyway.

So it was 1990. My boyfriend at the time said to me, “She slept with the guy that raped you.”

I cried. That’s what happened first, anyway. This information made no sense to me. My heart broke because I could only see it two ways. Either she slept with that guy because he did to her what he did to me, or she slept with him because I had her all wrong and everything I had gone through and shared with her meant nothing to her.

But as I cried, my boyfriend said, “I know you’re upset, but she just isn’t a good person. When she found out I knew about it, she told me not to tell you. She said if I ever told you, then she would tell you I had smoked pot.”

I stopped crying. Despite being notoriously emotional, I was still an observer at heart. It was so unlike my BFF to do what he was saying she did. But it was not unlike my boyfriend to smoke pot.

The next day I made a point to visit my BFF, whom I had not spoken to in weeks. I drove to her house and asked if she wanted to go to Arby’s for curly fries and a cup of cheddar. While we drove down the four lane, I said, “So, did you sleep with T___?”

She scrunched up her face in repulsion and said, “What the hell?” like I’d just slapped her with a warted frog. “No!”

“I didn’t think so,” I said. “So, tell me about my boyfriend smoking pot.”

She laughed, “Yeah, I see him over at _____ all the time and he lies to you about it. I told him I was going to tell you and he said you’d never believe me.”

That confirmed what I suspected. I let the subject drop. We had fun that day. I imagine I was happier than the outing itself warranted, because I was aware of just how close our friendship came to dying but didn’t.

What if I had believed him? What if I had never asked her point blank if what I had heard was true? That happened 26 years ago and in that time she and I have been through the best and worst times of our lives together. We went through new loves and breakups and marriages and even pregnancies together. I could have lost it all if I had never confronted her back then.

People sometimes do desperate things when they think something they’ve done will ruin a relationship. My boyfriend thought I’d leave him for smoking pot. I didn’t. But I did eventually leave him for being a liar and the type of person who would pour salt in my wounds for his own benefit. Everyone has a different moral compass. Sometimes people believe all it takes is a little white lie to set things right. But that white lie, the stone that can roll out of control down the hill, is not what breaks up other people’s friendships. The nail in the coffin is our own silence, not asking, and not communicating our concerns. If I had not been willing to doubt the accusations, ask and listen to the very person I suspected to have hurt me; I would have lost her for good and would still believe her to be something she never was.

Our lives are full of relationships built and burned on what other people say. Hold the match until you’re sure.

 

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Epiphanies for Losers

Epiphany: a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.

When I hear people say they had an epiphany, it usually involved a solution to a problem. Epiphanies are generally positive things.

But not always.

What do we do with the epiphanies which expose the lie that goodness brings rewards and badness brings punishment? I am not the first person to have these revelations repeatedly popping up in front of me.

Some of us take these epiphany moments to reverse the equation. Some of us will say, “Well, if they are rewarded it is because there must be goodness I don’t see. If they are being punished there must be badness I don’t see. The laws governing good and evil remain true.”

Some say we’ll get our rewards after death. But they’re usually asking for donations in the same breath just before they take their private jet to their beach house (no the other beach house, no that’s the mountain retreat, they mean the beach house they bought last February).

Some of us take these epiphany moments to say, “Well, if there is no reward for being good, why be good? The end justifies the means.”

Some of us try to disprove the epiphany. We try to be extra good, extra brave, extra vocal about the need for goodness and bravery. And just when enough people hear us for change to begin, someone more powerful steps in and takes over just in time to reap the highest rewards.

Some of us try to say rewards don’t matter. We are good for goodness’ sake. Wanting rewards feels wrong deep in our bones. But, goodness does not feed our kids, and watching them go without weakens our resolve.

How does goodness survive?

I’ll let you think about it, because I have no answers.

Do Autistic Kids Lie?

If you visit my blog, you do it anonymously. But if you find me in a search on Google, I will be able to see what search words brought you here. None of this will lead me to identify you, it just gives me data to help me create the best blog possible.

Last week someone found my blog after searching Google for “Do Autistic Kids Lie?” I had not written about this subject until now.

I know of another blogger who frequently mentions his/her autistic son’s lying. It pains me to read it. This blogger will say the son “said he didn’t know why he did it, but that’s just more lies. He does know why.” I didn’t want this person to be the only voice out there speaking about the association (or lack thereof) between autism and lying.

I’m not going to get into the fray of telling another parent how to raise their kid, so I just quietly avoid that blog. I’ll accept that I don’t know all the details of what goes on in other people’s houses and I’ll move on.

But, if this blogger is instilling in the minds of the public that autistic kids are more likely to lie… well, that affects my kid, too. So, let’s talk about this.

There was an instance not long ago where my son’s honesty was in the spotlight. It happened when he came home from school with a mark on his bottom, kind of a welt and kind of a scratch. I had asked him about it and after many “I don’t know” statements, he mentioned that his teacher spanked him. I freaked out a little, but I held my cards close. I called the school and asked if they knew how he got the injury. Both teachers said they did not. I called his preschool teacher from the year before. I was in a panic. I explained what was going on and asked her advice. She said, “He would not lie. I don’t think he is capable of that.”

Long story short (and please know I exhausted every nook and cranny of this investigation), my son had scratched his bottom on the tile in the bathroom floor during a meltdown. (I saw the floor, I matched up the mark).

Did he lie?

As it turns out, the teacher gives pretend spankings for birthdays. My son’s friend had recently gotten one. It was noteworthy to my kid and it came to mind when I mentioned his hurt bottom. He didn’t really know how he hurt his bottom (didn’t he tell me that?), but he did know something that is supposed to hurt bottoms and that is spanking.

Pretend you are a five year old on Family Feud and the question is “Name something that hurts your bottom….” For my child, his pain tolerance is so high that there are very few experiences to pull from for answers.

So, that’s one example. But it doesn’t speak for all ASD kids. Let’s look at the big picture. What is a lie and why do people do it? Right off the bat, we know people lie to spare feelings, get out of trouble, gain something desired, or avoid something undesired. This means that before we speak, we have assessed what our words will cause to happen. Then we have chosen the words which will cause the best outcome. In short, lying requires social skills. Autistics have to work very hard to learn just the basic rules of social interaction. So, the idea that ASD kids as a whole are more likely to lie seems obviously false.

That being said, there are two scenarios where autistic kids are more likely to “lie”. The first is jokes. My son loves to tell me that I am a Rat Named Pants. When asked to solve five plus five, he likes to say one hundred as if he truly believes that is the answer. He knows it isn’t. Saying things wrong is hilarious, and in his mind he is tricking me. But, I don’t consider this a lie and you probably don’t either.

The second way autistic kids might be more likely to lie is when repeating an expected phrase. Such as, my son knows that if he does something wrong, he is supposed to say he is sorry. He will therefore say the phrase without even thinking about the meaning.  He also knows that we often say, “It’s okay, it was an accident.” So by default, he will always say “I’m sorry, it was an accident”, even if it’s obvious (to us) that he meant to do it. It’s just what a person should say so he says it.

The complicating factor with lying and autism is that we don’t always know what goes on in their minds. Sometimes my son will do something that most other kids would know was wrong, something we have told him was wrong, but at certain moments he just does not process that expectation. An example would be the rule that he should not wipe his hands on the back of the couch. (I know, yuck, right?) We have said it a thousand times. But he will still sometimes go over immediately after we tell him not to do it, and wipe his hands on the back of the couch. When we bring it to his attention, he says, “But I didn’t mean to, I’m sorry!” Obviously, he meant to do it because we watched him do it. But what he is saying is that he was not processing our expectations at that moment, not thinking about consequences or actions in relation to others. There are better words he could use which would not be lies, such as “I was not thinking about the rule”, or “I was not focusing on what my hands were doing.”

Any parent of an autistic child knows what it is like to put words in their child’s mouth. That is how we teach them to communicate and be aware of their own needs. An example:

My son was upset because a video he watched explained how to do something in a game which was not actually possible. My son crawled up on my lap with his arms crossed, tears in his eyes, and said, “I’m so bored!”

I said, “Bored means you want to do something fun but there is nothing fun to do. You aren’t bored.”

He said, “Well, I’m embarrassed!”

I said, “Embarrassed means you did, or think you might do, something that you would be ashamed of. You aren’t embarrassed. I think you are frustrated.”

He crossed his arms even tighter and said, “I am so frustrated!”

Did he lie about how he felt? Or did he accidentally give misinformation due to his autism spectrum disorder?

I don’t know if any of this will help put autistic lying into perspective. I’m not saying ASD kids never technically lie.  But I can say the intent we usually associate with liars is probably much less common with autistics. Treating most misinformation they give as an intentional manipulation of a situation and deserving of punishment, I believe, is wrong.

If you are having trouble with your ASD kid giving inappropriate misinformation, try to provide them with acceptable language. Telling them that lying is wrong is not sufficient. Give them the benefit of the doubt and help them learn the appropriate words to say.

If you have any insight to share on this topic, I would love for you to leave a comment. Maybe other parents would benefit as well.

County Fair

The Truth We Tell About Autism

I could tell you the whole truth about me, at least, all of it I have come to terms with and understand. I could be 100% honest with you about all of my fears and faults.

But I can’t tell you the whole truth about my family, my neighbors, or my friends. Those truths are more subjective and not always mine to tell.

The truth about my autistic son, for instance, would depend on the person you asked. Even asking me would not get you an accurate answer because I’m not him and I don’t know everything he thinks and feels. Asking him will not get you a straight answer, either. I could write an entire post of truths and convince you that my son’s autism makes him a super hero of perfection. I could write an entire post of truths and convince you he is a horrible human being. He is neither. Trying to paint him as either of these things takes away his humanity, the very thing so often overlooked in autistics.

Overlooking the humanity of children in general is already too common. We forget that kids, like adults, don’t just follow rules for rules’ sake. We feel, we fear, we desire, we misunderstand, we struggle to define our self and space. We screw up, sometimes on purpose because, “To Hell with it,” we say.

The other day at OT, my son and I waited in the lobby. I sat in a chair while he stood facing me. He held handfuls of my hair and crumpled it up in a ball and twisted it around his hands while saying loudly, “Hoopa-hoppa-doopa-doppa, I did your hair!” He thought this was hilarious. My hair has no style, so I didn’t care except that it hurt. If I had made a big deal about it, there was a chance he would have started hitting my head instead, or pulling it harder. He would have laughed harder, too. When things get “bad” everything becomes “more”. It’s a coping mechanism he has in response to stress. So, I choose to steady my tone and try distracting him instead of demanding that he stop. I have learned the art of restraint and diplomacy out of necessity.

The therapist came out and asked how he had been doing. I said things were still going great, but he had come home from school with a couple of frowny faces due to acting out in frustration. I said, “It wasn’t anything intentional.”

She said, “Oh, I know that. I don’t think he could ever do anything bad intentionally. He’s always so happy and cooperative, really trying to do what I ask of him. He’s a sweet little boy.”

Yes. That is a truth. What she said is sometimes a hard truth to see about him. But, it’s there.

Nearly every time special needs people go out in public, they get stares. People wonder, “What is wrong?” Or  they think, “How miserable that life must be.” No one stops to stare at autistic people with curiosity; wondering how intelligent they might be, how witty, or how kind.

Why would I publicize the parts of my son’s life that only further the pity and ableism? I’m not going to tie his hardships like a bow on his head for all of the world to unwrap like a tear-jerker novel, the tag saying “please follow this link to donate”. (There is no link to donate here.) Most of his hardships, like yours, don’t benefit from being exposed by someone else.

You might say, “But how will people know what autism is really like if you aren’t willing to share with us the gory details of the cleanups and tantrums?”

Well, the cleanups aren’t his. They are mine as the parent and not very fun. And telling you about them might make you feel sorry for me, but it wouldn’t help you understand autism. The same might apply to the tantrums, each for its own reason. I could tell you how hard it is for me, and you could pity me. But, I don’t want to perform for pity in a mask of autism awareness. If I want to talk about my own hardships, I’ll just label that parenthood.

This is the hurdle information needs to clear. Is it going to educate people about my son’s humanity? Is this information going to allow people to see him objectively in ways that move beyond pity and fear to allow for better understanding? Am I projecting my own assumptions onto his behavior? Believe me, parents are the worst for assuming they know why their kids are doing things, and I’ll admit to often being proved wrong. I mean, I am the mom who completely ignored an entire year of blatant signs that he was autistic. And then after diagnosis, I was the mom who was convinced he would NEVER say “Mommy”.

Instead of wrongly projecting myself as an expert in autism parenting, I like to think of myself as an unusually humbled parent. I have learned through my son that I can’t always know why things happen or how they will turn out. This acceptance of my own limits of understanding has affected my parenting with my three girls, too; how I view every single person I encounter has changed. When things go badly, I try my best to understand why and figure out my role in making it better. But, I am willing to accept that I may never know the answers. I don’t have ESP.

The person my son is is affected, but not defined, by his autism. His autism is uniquely his. His way of being, perceiving, experiencing the world is unlike anyone else; as is yours. He is a complex person with feelings and thoughts. He will grow up one day in the world we help educate about his diagnosis. If you are a parent of an autistic child, please consider your words before you tell the world what your child is like; consider your own limits of understanding. It’s easy to say how we, the parents, feel and what we see. The world is already uncomfortable with our children. They already gawk. If we have nothing new to offer these strangers who read our words, are our terrible truths promoting autism awareness or propagating the painful assumptions that our children are less human?

And, it doesn’t make it more acceptable to end a dehumanizing account of a traumatic episode by saying, “But I love him anyway.”