Friday, December 07, 2007

When turning inward isn't a good thing

Most evaluations of me as a child would make some mention of how "well-adjusted" I was.

I was an excellent student, attentive, well behaved, eager to please. When asked to do new tasks, I generally did them with the minimum of direction. I've always had a steep learning curve, adapting to new situations quickly.

Teachers loved me. Other students called me "teacher's pet" and "brown-noser," assuming I did all of this for the sole purpose of gaining teachers' favor.

My internal experience of this, however, was quite different than anyone else's perception.

I never understood the praise of my adaptability and quick adjustment, didn't know where that came from. Because I knew that the time leading up to a big change or new expectations generated flurries of anxiety, a churning stomach, an endless loop of potential outcomes in my head. Once the new situation arrived, I was always fine. I think, perhaps, that's when the adults in my life would make their observations, not when the waiting was threatening to capsize me.

And I couldn't help being a teacher's pet. I had a strong sense of rules and authority from a very young age. Even when rules seem pointless or silly, I have always tended to follow them, as long as they didn't conflict with what is safe or right (in a black-and-white sense). I would be mortified for hours whenever I got in trouble for talking out of turn--pretty much the worst offense I got called down for.

Have I ever mentioned that I used to bite my nails? Still do a little on occasion, though I pick on them more than I bite now. But I used to bite them down to the quick. Until I bled. And then bite them some more.

Or that sometimes tears would begin to stream down my face unbidden. Still do, though I have better control and know when it's going to happen. But I used to cry over seemingly minute things. And I never really knew just why and couldn't explain it to anyone who asked. Which would make me cry more.

Viewing myself as being on the autism spectrum, self-diagnosing specifically with Asperger's, explains a lot of this, I think. The rigidity, need for routine, fear of changes, acceptance of authority, self-reproach for the smallest mistakes--all fit within common descriptions of Aspies' personalities. But I quickly found ways to mask the outward displays that would draw too much attention. So I was the quiet, smart, good girl.

I think that most of the adults in my life were willing to take me at face value, simply because it was easier. I toed the line and actively avoided drawing attention. One less kid to worry about.

But I know, from my personal experience, that a lot of pain can lurk beneath the quiet exterior. That an "easy" kid may actually be acting quite unhealthily, ignoring her (or his) own needs in order to avoid being "trouble."

I remind myself of this frequently with Scooter. Trillian and I have been thankful that he has rarely acted out of frustration against other kids; he only rarely pushes or kicks those who tease him. But I am mindful of the fact that he often turns this frustration inward, hence his meltdowns. I have started to notice that there are times when a criticism or denial generate a look on his face that I recognize, a defeated look, a look of disappointment in himself. The tears well up, his face crumples, he wants nothing more to do with whatever initiated the feeling.

I don't know how much pain I can spare him. I don't know how to keep him from being so hard on himself. Maybe, just maybe, I can make sure he doesn't slip through because he's not enough trouble to warrant further attention. Maybe he can find the balance between being a sweet kid and still getting his needs met.

In the meantime, my stomach will be churning and the tears threatening.


Lisa b said...

I don't even begin to guess what LDs I might be able to be diagnosed with. OCD for damned sure.

I think you will be able to find that balance and get scooter the right kinds of support. I also know, and I know you must as well from your teaching, that sometimes a parent understanding is even more important that finding the solution.

The Duke of Edinburgh awards have traditionally included "cheerful cooperation with authority" as part of the criteria. When awarding these our principal has noted that we take a different view of that these days than when the awards were founded.

CresceNet said...
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Laural Dawn said...

This is really interesting.
I was similar in the sense that I was always the good kid, did well at school, obeyed the rules (except the no-talking rule!) and was really social.
But, I had some major issues with stress - to the point that I had stomach issues that went undiagnosed for a long time.
Eventually in University I took a pysch class and spoke to the teacher at length one day in her office. And, I told her what I went through, and we talked about depression. Though she didn't diagnose me, per se, she told me that lots of 12-14 year old girls deal with depression and it never gets diagnosed.
Not quite the same, but it's amazing to me to see how teachers and parents are so willing to take the "good kids" at face value.
As an adult I've battled depression, and even though in person you would not guess it, it's a huge issue for me that I quite easily cover up with being "extra perky".

Aliki2006 said...

I've often thought that--that many "good kids" who are eager-to-please, are really struggling deep down. This was an interesting and thoughtful post, Mouse. The more I learn about L., the more I think that perhaps my brother has mild Asperger's--it's always interesting to look at someone you know (or your own self) as an adult and to understand childhood issues and eccentricities with that deeper understanding.

Mouse said...

Aliki--If you haven't seen it, the NY Times has an interesting article; I found it an odd moment of synchronicity to come across it today.

b*babbler said...

It's so hard this - looking at our children and fearing that they carry any of the pain inside that we did as children.

But you, as a good mama, will understand and know what he is going through, and be better able to draw him out when he needs it.