I was recently introduced to the term ‘Aspie’. An aspie is a person who has Asperger’s Syndrome, which is believed to be part of the autism spectrum. Aspies, while being gifted, can have social, emotional, and sensory integration difficulties. For the record, ‘aspie’ is an affectionate term, and is not meant as a derogatory term.
An Aspie in the family?
We have for a number of years wondered if our eldest daughter has Asperger’s Syndrome. When my husband first raised the possibility, I immediately dismissed it and put our difficulties down to parenting. Self-blame. A number of themes or reasons, mainly centered around Miss T being an only child for so long, and the impact of rejection when a sibling arrived, Miss M.
I thought Miss T was just a normal child, becoming more and more difficult as she grew up. As Miss M was so much younger, it was a number of years before I realised, they were not comparable at the same age. Miss T’s behaviour was at another level.
Time and time again we discussed whether we get Miss T diagnosed. She was super smart, but lacked empathy and struggled in new environments. Even as a little girl, she would never play on a playground if there was another child there. And with the onset of teenage hormones, she began to fly into rages over the smallest things – a round-shaped soap for example.
We decided we didn’t want to label her. We were never going to medicate her anyway, so we would just learn to manage, and help her to learn to manage. Miss T started behavioural therapy, and my husband and I took parenting classes.
These seemed to help. But the problem was not resolved. As Miss T grew into a teenager, other parents complained about their teenage children’s behaviour. But T was different again. It wasn’t until I was talking to a parent who has a child with autism and anxiety that I thought, that sounds more like my daughter.
We kept persevering with behaviour therapy. It worked, until Miss T decided she knew better. I started coming along, so I could keep Miss T in check. So she couldn’t outsmart yet another counsellor. Miss T had to answer to her actions. It was upsetting, but in the long run helpful.
As a result, Miss T decided she wanted help. She didn’t want to be like this anymore. She was as miserable as we were. Miss T made the decision. So we headed to the Doctor.
One of the questions our Doctor asked was why did we wait so long to see her? My answer – I blamed myself. I thought it was parenting.
Living with a teenage Aspie in a lockdown!
As coronavirus hit, and we were put into lockdown, Miss T’s appointments were cancelled and her treatment put on hold. At the same time, I became a stay at home parent for the first time in her life. And she was out of routine. She flared up.
Miss T threatened to kill her sister. She told her, “Percy should have killed you when he had a chance” (I found the cat asleep on Miss M’s head when she was three weeks old). Miss T told her little sister, “sometimes I pretend to like you but I don’t, you are just a dirty ugly weirdo”. Whatever this was, it was hurting both my daughters.
But then there was a surprise. Miss T settled into her new routine. The pressure of going to school and conforming with what was expected of a teenage girl was removed. The stress of being the top of the class, in the excellerant class, was gone. The confusing dialog with other teenagers, when she struggles with empathy and boundaries, was minimised. Miss T became just Miss T again. No need to pretend.
Sure, she is still a teenager. She still hates her parents at times. But that’s normal. The yelling and screaming have reduced. We have not had food thrown on the ceiling. She hasn’t broken any furniture. She has not ripped the wallpaper. No toilet paper thrown in the pool because it was the wrong brand. No corn chips jumped on and smashed because they were the wrong flavour.
She has not hurt her little sister.
Miss T’s anxiety levels have dropped significantly and she can just be herself. And our house is almost peaceful…
A time for reflection
I do wonder how much of this change is also because of the changes in us. Lockdown has become a period where I have found time to sleep in, to do washing based on the weather, and remembered the basics of baking and cooking. I have given up work. There is no more running around getting kids to school on time and to their after school activities. No working 40+ hour weeks, answering phone calls outside of work, doing housework and somehow trying to exercise. I have learnt to full my days with a morning run, doing yoga with Miss M, writing, helping the children with their homework, reading, family bike rides, games nights, wine time, and watching Netflix in the evening with my husband. The pressure is off.
Life has settled down. I have relaxed. Our children have relaxed. And occassionally we see Miss T smile again….