Tag Archives: Aspergers

Riding the Adolescent Wave

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2010 Mavericks surfing competition. The image ...

2010 Mavericks surfing competition.

Spring is a time for new beginnings, and for endings.

This year D turned 15 and has hit her full adolescent stride.  Always independant, living in a city whcih gives her full access to a metro system, taxis, friends who live in far corners of the city, and an endless list of weird and wonderful things to do -she has taken it all by storm.  If she were a surfer she would be up at the crest of a large wave, sunshine glinting off the water and her hair, admiring the beautiful view below her. Sometimes finding the balance between school and sports and social life is hard, but she faces that challenge head on.

S2 is 17, almost 18, and finishing high school.  He has finished the college application process and chosen a school which I, but more importantly he, believes is a good match.  He has also decided to take a gap year and stay in Shanghai with us so he can study Manderin for another year at a local university.  Even with all of this decided he is still suffering from that most awful of adolescent traumas – senioritis mixed with angst. The angst is four fold.  First is the feeling of leaving a school system that has consumed their entire lives.  Each year brought a new grade and new classes but the sameness of the bus schedule, lunch with friends, after school activities, then home to do homework,  was incredibly comforting.  The second part stems from that deep seeded feeling that most, I think, teenagers have because they believe that the major they pick for college will determine the professional direction of their entire lives with no possibility of change.  I am the model of change and reinvention for careers and have tried to point this out, but I am the mom – what do I know??  The third layer on top of all this angst is the sense of belonging or not belonging.  He came to China just for his last year of high school, leaving all of his friends back in the north east.  He didn’t think he would mind graduating from a different school, but as the days approach I think he does feel he is missing out on a bonding experience with those kids.  (His totally amazing band leader from the USA has agreed to let S2 play in the school band at graduation.  S2 is really excited about being part of the day).  The last, and perhaps biggest hurdle, is the emotional house of mirrors he seems to live in due to Aspergers.  He has a great deal of trouble self identifying emotions and the situations that bring them on.  He is generally not comfortable with strong emotions of any kind.  It is almost like he wants to crawl out of his skin when he feels very happy or sad.  And afterwords he often cannot express or identify what made him happy, sad, angry etc.  Usually kids like being happy and look back on the experiences of the day and make a mental note somewhere in their psyche that X = happy therefore repeat X and Y = sad therefore do not repeat Y.  S2 has not mastered this concept, but he is working very hard to.  In the mean time he rides his own surfing wave.  On his ride he seems to ride many tall waves that come in quick succession.  One moment he is at the crest enjoying the sunshine and the next he is in the trough feeling the chill of the shadow over him which comes from the next looming wave.  He knows if he can climb back up to the top of the wave it will be warm and sunny, but it’s a hell of a lot of work to do that and he doesn’t always have the mental or physical energy to get there on his own.  Sometimes he seems to have his surfboard clipped by the crashing wave, sending him tumbling headlong into the dark water and desperately trying to figure out which way is up before he runs out of air. Even with all of this he tries and tries again.  I hope he knows how proud I am of him.

S1 is riding his surf board with grace and agility.  He is becoming his own man.  He has just finished his third year at college and will be starting an internship this summer to help him clarify what he wants to do when he graduates.  He has a great girlfriend and they seem very supportive of each other.  He still flounders on his board sometimes and then my instinct is to go running and save him, as any good lifeguard would do.  This can be – ok, often is- a source of friction between us.  For S1 I need to learn to lay back and wait to be called.

My husband and I are the lifeguards at this wild beach.  We have our own long boards which we desperately paddle out into the rough waters to pull, push, prod – whatever it takes- in order to bring them into shore safely.  But I am getting old for surfing.  My body struggles to pop up to standing and find a sense of balance.  I struggle with my own board and yet would give my life to save their lives.  Most of the time they seem absolutely oblivious to the fact that there are other people (parents, teachers, family, friends) running to them, circling them with life rings and other safety nets.  They may grab one and be towed safely to shore, but in words and attitude seem to believe they swam there themselves.  But every once in a while they look up and around and not only see but acknowledge the other people around them.  I am determined to stand vigil on this beach, watching the wild waves roll in and my beautiful children call ‘look mom, no hands!!’.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you standing on your  beach!

S2, an update

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Look out world, here I come!!

Many of you have asked how S2 is doing so I am writing an update on him. (oh he will be sooooo thrilled to be the center of attention!) -not.

S2 is doing pretty well.  He made a few friends quickly and is making more very slowly. I would  say they are still firmly in the acquaintance category.  But his three or four friends that he made right away seem to be a solid group.  They eat lunch together, chat on Skype, and have even been out to a karaoke club!  The majority of kids here seem to go out a lot and have WAY more independence than we are used to back in the USA.  A neighbor is even letting her daughter go to Tokyo with a friend (no adults) for a week.  S2 is not really interested in going out very much and that is just fine with me.  Not having  grown up in this environment I think he would be in way over his head with the peer pressure and adult atmosphere of bars, clubs etc.  Dtr.  even says some 9th graders go out to bars and clubs!!  This will be happening in my house over my dead body 🙂

When S2 started high school in the USA my goal for the first year was that he should have people to say “hi” to in the hall and perhaps one person he called a friend.  He met that goal and even had a couple of people he referred to as friends.  For sophomore year he developed those friendships further and had a small circle he hung out with before school started.  He still made sure his class schedule was too full to include lunch so that he didn’t have to face that social chaos.  Then junior year he added a few friends.  He still didn’t go out with them much outside of school, but he was happy.  He even asked a girl out and had a very nice steady girlfriend.  They went to the Junior Prom and were so sweet.   So considering that it took him three years to develop firm friendships in a school where he had been with roughly the same group of kids since fifth grade, I am over the moon that he is doing so well here.  Most importantly he is happy.  He misses his friends and especially his girlfriend.  They Skype occasionally and he has access to Facebook at school.   – An aside….It is so weird that in the US they spend so much time making sure the kids don’t have access to FB or cell phones or youtube and here school is the one place they can do those things (before classes start in the morning)! –  S2 even had a short article about the moon cake festival printed in the school magazine.

So his really big news is that it is college application time.  He has written a really nice essay, filled out the common app, kept track of deadlines, and arranged for teachers to write letters of recommendation.  And all of this over two continents, two school districts, and several time zones.  This was not without prodding and some nagging but largely he did it on his own.  I am so proud of him.  I can’t imagine myself at 17 picking up my life, moving to another country, starting school -including two AP’s- ten days late and playing catch up, making new friends, and getting college applications together.  For those who don’t know, S2 had MAJOR writing issues and struggled immensley to complete two or three related sentences when he was in fifth grade.   To say he has taken a great leap forward toward being an independant  young man is an understatement.

So, in honor of S2 here is a picture of him hitting the ‘send’ button for the common app. and below I have included, with his permission, a copy of his essay.

Look out world, here I come!!

S2’s essay:

Suddenly, and without explanation, I laughed.  I couldn't help but laugh, because once again I'd corrected a mistake no one around me could have noticed.  It's a habit I have, which comes from knowing three languages and constantly teaching myself new languages, both real and artificial.  Even if no one else can speak the language, I want to speak it properly.  Languages have taught me to approach life in a new way, to push the limits of what is possible, and to know that even when a mistake might be permissible, one should always work towards perfection.
	My hobby-cum-obsession started with James Cameron's movie Avatar.  He hired Paul Frommer, a linguist, to design a language for the alien species in the movie.  The concept of an artificial language entranced and astounded me, especially as I was starting to learn French, a natural language, at school.  I began to search for reliable resources, and started on my life changing quest.
	'awve is a word meaning 'first' in Na'vi, the language of Avatar. Na'vi was only the " 'awve" language of many for me though.  I quickly found a language from one of my favorite book series, Myst.  Not only was this a different language but it also used a different alphabet.  I found this challenge exciting and set myself to it with fervor.  From here I went through a string of short interests, different languages that I didn't pursue very far, until I decided that I should learn a language that I could apply in life.  Inspired by the history of the language and the culture, I chose Russian.
	Гаворить means 'to speak' in Russian.  Russian was not as easy to learn as some of the other languages.  Because Russian was a natural language and had developed over a long time, being used and altered by millions of people, and even now is constantly changing, it is not as constant as an artificial language.  I had trouble learning it on my own and decided to take lessons.  Over the summer I went to Лесное Озеро, Forested Lake, an immersion language camp run by Concordia College.  All the counselors would only speak Russian, and some couldn't even speak English!  The buildings were in a Russian style, all the books there were Russian, we sang Russian songs, even the classes were taught completely in Russian!  I enjoyed myself immensely, made friends, and learned a language.  I intend to go to that camp again, and become a counselor after that.  The camp showed me that learning a language can not only be fun, but can also bring a group of people together.
	年 is Chinese for year, pronounced nián.  This 年 I got the chance to move to China with my family, which provided the perfect opportunity to learn Chinese.  I started taking classes to learn to speak Chinese as well as the calligraphy, which interests me even more than alternative alphabets, because each word gets its own symbol.  In ancient times, Chinese calligraphy was thought to express the writer's soul, because to have good calligraphy one needed confidence and patience.  This makes it that much more interesting to learn Chinese.  You can express an idea and use its expression to learn about yourself.  While I have the chance, I'm going to learn as much as I can.
	My deep interest in languages has helped me not just to learn languages, but to make friends and to be better at learning.  Most things can be thought of as a kind of language, and as soon as I see it that way nothing can stop me learning about it.  Math, for example, is a language.  It has its words; plus, minus, times, divided by, and the numbers.  I can arrange them into sentences to create a meaningful statement.  As I get to higher level math, I learn more complex words like exponents and variables.  These let me say more intricate things.  Languages define social interactions, not just allowing us to communicate with each other but controlling how we communicate.
	Knowing many languages creates a unique opportunity to communicate with others and with oneself.  Most languages do not translate perfectly, and as you learn the different words in different languages, you gain a deeper knowledge of meaning.  In Na'vi, 'I' am oe.  In Russian, 'I' am Я.  In French 'I' am je.  In Chinese, 'I' am 我。All these languages have helped me to discover myself.

Leaving on a Jet Plane….(thoughts on my 46th birthday)

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Thoughts on my 46th birthday.
Who would have imagined that on their birthday , in august no less, they could look out the window and see icebergs floating in the arctic ocean? or eat haagen das ice cream while flying over the East Siberian Sea while it is a balmy -72F outside? These things amaze me and make me happy. Sitting on a plane for 15 hours does not make me happy. my knees are starting to hurt, my head feels foggy and an endless stupor is settling in. However it has been an eventful day so I will try to elaborate.

The day started like any other vacation- make sure you have all your luggage, the stove is off, the doors are locked, everyone had a last bathroom break and remembered to flush?? Then promptly at 6:30am we headed to the airport. We got there in plenty of time and the airport was still relatively quiet so security lines were short. We made it through with only one minor glitch. We were going over the security rules with the kids and explained that the computers and iPads each needed to be in their own bin. My sweet daughter asked if the cell phone needed a bin and i said no, meaning it could get lumped in with other stuff in a bin. but she had meant does it need a bin at all. So when i said no she tried to go through security with the phone in her pocket, thus setting off the alarms. It took a minute to figure the problem out but the TSA agent was very nice, in a firm TSA sort of way. The phone went in a bin, went through the check and we proceeded to put our shoes back on on the other side. The gate was not too far away and the bulk of our burden had been left with checked luggage so this was a breeze. The kids noticed a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream place across the way from our gate and asked if it opened before we left could they get some ice cream (remember it is now about 9am) but i said sure, what the heck. Se the minute they saw an employee their they dragged their dad over and got breakfast waffle cones 🙂

Ok, i skipped over a really important part of our morning. Last night my Middle Son started saying he won’t remember this home or our home town. Being a little, ok more than a little, tired, stressed anxious myself, my immediate and most unhelpful reaction was to tell him that was so rediculus as he is 17 and he will remember things pretty clearly. Besides we are coming back to visit in 10 months. But he was not convinced. Luckily his dad stepped in and talked to him. What it really came down to was that he knew his sense of place and perspective on his home and hometown would change and it would never be quite the same. This is true and is an interesting idea that i had not really explored. But he seems to wollow in the melancholy-ness of it, which sort of puts me over the edge. So we got past that existential crisis and didn’t have to face the next one until we were in the car heading out of town. Then he said “I know I am leaving forever” I didn’t argue or confirm this one. In a large way its really true. He will come back for visits but will be heading off to college as soon as we return , so this will be home base, but not on a daily basis. I can imagine that this is a scary thing for anyone, but especially for him as he has such a hard time seeing himself in the future and imagining himself in new situations. My sense of guilt in taking him away from all he knows was growing by the moment. But in the back of my head I remembered that just two months ago I took him to a sleep away camp – that he had chosen and begged to go to – where he told me he could not stay and had a full blown existential anxiety attack, and yet once the program started and he got into the routine he loved it and now wants to go again next year!

On the plane we asked that he work on his college essay which is another huge challenge for him as it requires introspection, which he struggles with on a good day – on top of struggling with writing. So we got the expected stalling tactics – let me just finish watching this movie, let me eat first , they are serving the meal soon, i am really tired…..finally we said it was time to work and he sat down with his dad to supervise. Suddenly another attack of melancholy/anxiety occurred. I don’t doubt that they are real but sometimes they are so well timed to avoid doing work that I really struggle to be sympathetic.

A few things made this incident different. First, let me jump back to the moment that the kids went to get ice cream: I called my mom to say goodbye and just chat and ended up crying, practically sobbing, while sitting at the gate waiting to board the plane. I have been telling everyone that i will finally be able to relax and be excited about the whole move once we are on the plane. But what i really found was that I have been so busy coping with daily life and getting ready to go that I have totally suppressed my feelings of loss and anxiety. I pulled myself together talking to my mom. The kids returned and my daughter noticed i had been crying and she gave me a big hug. Hubby noticed and gave me a shoulder and a squeeze on the knee, Son was oblivious. Really I was trying to pull myself together so he wouldn’t notice as i didn’t want to add to his anxiety so this was fine. Then my sister called. She has been my guardian angel through this, sprinkling little sylvan gems of wisdom to me just when i need them the most I explained about Son’s comments about never returning to his home town. She suggested to me that instead of denying what he is saying , acknowledge it as valid but point out that there will be many new good things and memories yet to be discovered. Know that he may not fully get it now but planting that seed of an idea will be helpful. If cyber hugs were possible she would get a huge one!!!!!

So here we are, with hubby and son, standing in the bulkhead. Hubby explaining that Son is feeling real loss and is not up to writing his college essay. Son is looking anxious like he is waiting for me to make some argument or disapproving look. But I didn’t. I told him I understood, that I couldn’t be in his head and know exactly what he is thinking/feeling, but that I had spent some time at the airport crying in acknowledgment of my own loss and I really understood and not writing his essay right now was fine. (in the back of my head a voice is screaming we will all pay for this later because he will have to get over jet lag and produce an essay at the same time.) But you can only do your best at the moment and this was our best choice). He looked really relieved and grateful. I asked if I could hug him. Often the answer is yes and he lets me hug him, but with no real reciprocity. This time he gave me a real squeezer of a hug. It was a good moment.

Then another miracle occurred… since you can fit a lot of movies into a fifteen hour flight my choice for movie number two was a cartoony/claymation looking one that looked quirky and funny called Mary and Max. I HIGHLY recommend this movie. It says its based on a true story and my new mission is to find that story and see if Mary is still around, I would love to meet her! Basically the plot is this, Mary is a lonely, only child in rural Australia who is at best neglected and perhaps verbally abused and takes it upon herself to pick a name out of a new york city phone book and that person should be her pen pal. The name she picks is Max. Their relationship developed through the letters they send to each other and the short narration they give of their own lives to fill out the move. It is clear to me early on that Max is aspergery but I wait with baited breath to see how they handle it. Sometimes the tell tale behaviors and traits of Asperger’s are just used to show someone is ‘quirky’ and for laughs. But no, this movie addresses it head on in all its struggles and glory. It gives great insight into the mind and feelings of an Aspie and the misunderstandings that happen between him and others due to their different perspectives on the world. I cried and I laughed – really. I was watching my life struggles and my struggles of this day with my Son played out in a wonderful movie.

So now here I am, turning 46, facing huge changes in my life and hoping to do a reasonably good job helping my kids deal with the huge changes in their lives. For now, though, it’s just me and my computer 5511 miles from home at 33,000 feet , traveling 473 mph over Russia where it is currently a balmy -77F outside. Time to stretch and give my kids another hug.