From time to time, Aidan’s adolescence has been a rough ride, for him, and for us as a family. He has had an auti-coach ever since he was a young boy. Back then, he enthusiastically worked along, enjoying the attention. Growing up though, less and less people pass the test of “coolness”. The same applies to an auti-coach. Last year, he started seeing a new psychologist. He seemed a “cool enough guy” to me, and I thought Aidan would connect well with him. Yet, every time I picked him up after a session, he was more hostile towards me. The ride back consistently was a source of stress. I started wondering what all he told the psychologist, and what advice he received in return that could fire such rebellion. Aidan can be great at pretending a situation.
In sixth grade, Aidan’s teacher wasn’t very motivated or motivating in general. Oblivious on how to deal with children with asperger, she considered Aidan to be a constant source of disturbance of her classes. One day, Aidan twisted his ankle. It seemed fine enough in the evening. The next morning though, the pain was worse. I took him to our doctor, and Aidan screamed as he was examined. Our next stop was the pharmacy to get crutches. Then off to school. By the end of the week, the pain was still as bad as on Monday morning. So we made an appointment in the hospital with a specialist. Ian’s turn. I still remember the phone call I got at work, Ian approaching his boiling temperature. A medical examination, an x-ray and a puzzled specialist further, on their way to the parking lot, Ian said to Aidan “Your foot is really all right, isn’t it?”
To which Aidan replied “Yes dad, it is fine.”
“So why did you make me take half a day off from work, you lied to the doctor and even had x-rays?” Ian said, exasparated.
“The teacher was so nice to me. She helped me up and down the stairs, carrying my bag. I wanted for it to last.”
Five days of pretending, fooling our doctor, Ian and me, and his teacher. Ian and I had a laugh at the idea of the grumpy teacher being so nice to him all week. But we were quite worried that an eleven-year old could pull off such a trick. What else will follow?
In an attempt to improve the situation, I contacted the psychologist. I specifically said we didn’t want details on what he and Aidan discussed, but we did seek advice on how to contribute as parents to restore Aidan’s peace of mind, and hence peace in the family. Our demands ended up nowhere. That’s where we decided to stop the individual sessions, and replace them with family counseling. Ian and Aidan did counseling sessions with Ashley years ago. Ian probably has asperger too. But, as often was the case when he and I were young, it was not diagnosed. Two peas in a pot… Throughout Ashley’s sessions, Ian and Aidan grew to learn how to get along better, how to better respect each other’s space. Their relationship has really improved thanks to Ashley’s guiding. It’s a gift for life.
Switching back to family counseling with Ashley was the best decision we could have taken. Ashley would listen to all of us. Family counseling means that there’s an implicit reality check to what is put on the table. The pain points are addressed instead of avoided. As such we are building towards a solution. As a family, we have an open relationship, we can accept criticism, we find it okay to change our minds when convincing arguments are forwarded. Ashley doesn’t shy away from supporting Aidan if that’s how she feels. This comforts Aidan that he has a voice, and as a result he participates, which is crucial.
Children with asperger are intellectually capable and can assimilate what they don’t feel naturally. The older they get, the more the asperger traits become disguised. Up to a point where we consider them to be children or adults without asperger. We ignore the effort it sometimes takes them to fit in, behave as the other earthlings do, who they so often fail to understand.
From mid-2019 till March of this year, Aidan was observed by a psychiatrist and his team. We wanted to make sure we had all the tools to support him, because his behavior was deteriorating. He was isolating himself at home and at school. During the debrief of their findings, the diagnosis of asperger was re-confirmed. The psychologist in the team explained that, intellectually, Aidan was seventeen. She equally explained that emotionally, no age could be given with certainty, but in some aspects seven to ten could be appropriate. I felt I let Aidan down. Along his adolescence, him striving for independence and pushing us away, me focusing on my job, I no longer had paid enough attention to his needs. I no longer provided the safe harbor I had created when he was a young boy. And yet, growing up, it is only natural he would enlarge his world. The debrief was a wake up call. Ask “why”, understand the driver of the behavior, explain “why” for me, strive at a consensus carried by both of us. I knew all that, and yet, throughout the years of adolescence, I lost sight of it. In not so many years, Aidan will be an adult. We want this relationship to be good. Ashley tremendously helps me putting the above into practice.
She learned of my misfortunes last week, and suggested she would come visit us to hold the session on our terrace, COVID proof. I’m grateful for her offer, realizing the commute will take an extra forty minutes of her day.
I had the appointment at the gynecologist this afternoon. The waiting area was packed. In the end, because it took forever, small conversation between us picked up. It felt weird. Visually, I’m happy and healthy. Things aren’t always what they look. I was called in more than an hour after the scheduled time of the appointment, which took no more than a good give minutes. It was a relief to have the spiral removed. The doctor had read my file and wished me best of luck with the surgery and whatever may follow. And so I walked back out into the warm summer evening.
Due to the delay at the hospital, and the fact that it takes time for me to eat because I’m not hungry these days, I have not finished my dinner plate when Ashley arrives. Her familiar face, her smile. Being in tears is becoming a habit of mine. Ashley brought five candles, one for each of us, to lit up in support of my recovery. The wind blows out some of them, and I see it as a bad sign. Ian lits them back up and puts them in the house, safe from wind. We openly share our feelings and fears. I explain I will need a peaceful environment in the months ahead. As always, the session brings us together.
After Ashley has left, I remain glued to my chair. I’m drained of energy. It has become totally dark by now. I love our garden. The children go up to their bedrooms to talk to their friends. I retreat into the silent comfort of Ian, and cuddle up in the chair under a blanket. It will be tough, we will get through it as a family. I wished the evening would not end.