A New Paradigm

Someone once compared parenting to walking a tight rope blindfolded — one misstep can mean disaster, but you just have to trust your instincts and hope things turn out okay. It’s always somewhat easier when you can just do what your own parents did, or what your best friends are doing. But with Justin’s diagnosis, we’re in a whole new world. The more I read about Asperger’s, the more I discover that many of the standard parenting techniques we’ve been using for years are just flat out wrong for kids with this disorder. In particular, these kids don’t learn from consequences, so giving timeouts, taking away favorite toys, promising them rewards for good behavior…none of that works. Even standard assumptions about human behavior don’t apply to them, since they see, feel, understand and act unlike the rest of the world.

Their meltdowns are not attempts at defiance or cries for attention. Justin is a child who doesn’t understand the world around him. He doesn’t learn from observation or social osmosis. If it’s not explicitly explained, he just doesn’t get it. Not knowing the unspoken rules of different situations causes anxiety, so he creates his own set of rules to keep things more predictable and understandable. For him, every day is an attempt to find order in chaos — and when that chaos gets too overwhelming, he loses control.

All Asperger kids need structure and routine, and all of them rely on rules, but Justin is part of a subset that needs to know the reasons behind the rules before he’ll be okay (hence the 600 questions he asks every day). He wants to know why something is done a certain way, and the explanation has to make sense to him. If it’s too arbitrary (”Because I said so!”), or if your logic doesn’t make sense to him, he won’t listen, because he has his own reasons and explanations for things, and he figures his opinion is at least as good as yours. I foresee lots of fun in the teenage years.

The point of all this is that it’s a very big task to come up with a brand new set of parenting techniques. It’s scary to think that we’re venturing out as pioneers. We don’t really know what we’re doing, but we’re doing it because we love him, and that has to count for something.