Friday, October 15, 2010

What Happens When He Turns 13?

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I've been working on this post for days. Days. I start writing it, and then I have to stop. I can't tell you how many drafts I've gone through, but this time I'm posting it regardless of how unpolished it is. My apologies in advance.

On Friday, Mister Man came home from school as usual. He unpacked his backpack and handed me his home folder. Amidst the usual reminders and completed work, he passed over his spelling test.

Mister Man scored 60% on it. My eyebrows immediately raised, and I looked more closely. Why? Well, for one thing Mister Man spelled 9 of the 10 words (plus the bonus word) correctly on the pretest - with only "very" being spelled "vary" - without a context, mind you, but that's a different story.

The boy knows his spelling words. Spelling is easy for him. Academics are where he excels, not in sports or socially or in some of the other areas many children take for granted. How exactly did he get a 60%? I'm not so much shocked by the fact that he didn't do well - I don't place expectations on them - but by the knowledge that he knew those words inside and out and therefore something else must be going on.

I looked more closely at the test. Words one through six were spelled perfectly. It was words seven through ten and the bonus word that were all wrong. Interesting. More interesting? His spelling of "use." Or as he wrote it, "ueossyzze" - like he was trying as hard as he could to spell it wrong. And "Vayarree" and "tiuwwisste" (for "twist").

Yep, there is something else at work here.

I gently asked him what he was thinking during the spelling test. He almost broke into tears. Apparently he'd accidentally broken the crayon of a friend of his - mid test (perhaps after the sixth word, I'm guessing?) - and gotten into a little trouble for it. He decided that his punishment should be getting the rest of the words wrong on his spelling test. My boy self-punishes.

This isn't the first time I've seen this tendency. He will periodically come home with his shoes untied. At first, he'd resist my retying them, insisting that he needed them untied. When I pressed further, he'd explain that he'd done something "wrong" and had untied his shoes as punishment. He was hoping that he'd trip and fall and hurt himself.

I've discussed this with him over and over. When you do something you consider wrong, punishment isn't the most important thing. You want to be sorry about what you've done, and feeling bad about it is fine. After that, the most important thing is finding a way to make the situation right - or as right as it can be.

Hurting yourself doesn't make anyone feel better. It doesn't fix the icky feeling inside - or at least it shouldn't.

But Mister Man isn't stopping with this. I still see him coming home with his shoes untied. And I'm sure I'm not seeing everything he does as self-punishment. After all, he's in school all day long and does activities without me, too.

Yes, I've contacted the school's social worker, his teacher, and the assistant principal. The social worker is going to observe him (there are some other things going on related to games he's playing with himself to make academics more challenging) and start working on some ideas of what we can do to help him.

But that doesn't stop me. As soon as I saw that this I couldn't nip this in the bud, my brain started churning. If he's doing things like this as a six year old, what happens as he gets older? Untying his shoes likely won't be sufficient then. He's likely to turn to more destructive tendencies if he can't find a better way to problem solve now. And if he's so deeply touched by his perception of "failing" now, what will happen when the hormones kick in? Should I resign myself to the idea that he will be prone to depression and that I'll always have to keep a vigilant eye on his moods and where he's at? The thoughts sicken me and send my heart racing.

This is another aspect of parenting that "I didn't sign up for" - much like having a child with Asperger's. But it's part of who he is, and we're working through it. We're focusing on his successes and showing him how many things he does do well. And when he does something wrong? We're trying to focus on a more appropriate way to fix situations and feel better about himself when something bad does happen. When left to his own devices, he still isn't choosing the most appropriate options. Between home, his teacher, and the social worker, I'm hoping that we find a way to help him decide that fixing things is more important than punishing himself, but we definitely aren't there yet.

Have any of you ever had these issues either with yourself or other children you know? Do you have any suggestions to try to help him understand how to make better choices when he does something wrong?


Claudya Martinez October 15, 2010 at 4:41 PM  

This is heartbreaking and I hope that you find a way to help him learn other ways to cope.

Please, please, don't worry about the future right now. Focus on what he is going through right now and work on it now. You will drive yourself crazy with worry trying to figure out how to solve problems that may or may not exist in the future.

You are a great and attentive mom and I am so glad he has you looking out and advocating for him. October 15, 2010 at 6:11 PM  

I know exactly where your mind is going for the future. There aren't any guarantees with these kids of ours, but I can say that at least our kids have parents who are trying to think ahead and prevent the problems we fear.

One thing that has helped Justin has been the release from grading. It's quite freeing to not care about the percentage on a test. If he "punishes himself" from getting a good grade, remind him that you know that he knows the material and that's all that matters. The grade, the percentage, what does that mean? If he CAN spell "very" and the other spelling words, you're happy, right? How we react under the pressure of a test isn't how smart we are; it's the measure of how well we can perform.

Kim @ Not Your Typical Southern Belle October 15, 2010 at 9:25 PM  

I've dealt with many unpleasant things as a parent, but never anything like this. Hopefully, the school's social worker can make some suggestions after her observation.

Pop and Ice October 15, 2010 at 9:39 PM  

Sorry to be blunt, but I'd get him into counseling immediately. The self-punishing tendency is so far beyond a Social Worker's capability to assist in this case. There is also the possibility that he may start to hide the self-punishing acts and you think the problem is solved. My daughter self-injured for years and we had no clue till she had a breakdown and required hospitalization. The younger you catch such behaviors, the more easily they are addressed. I cry even now to think about how I missed all the pain she was in and that I missed what was right under my nose.

Tara R. October 15, 2010 at 9:42 PM  

I agree with Mami. It took me a long time to realize worrying about future 'what ifs' will make YOU nuts. Work on what you can now and not fret about something that hasn't happened

I've not had to deal with anything like this either, this self punishment. Hopefully the school's social worker can help and give you some more insight.

Pat October 16, 2010 at 1:24 PM  

I am so sorry to hear that, Michelle. I hope he gets some counseling. I haven't experienced that with my kids. What terrible pain for him.

septembermom October 17, 2010 at 1:00 PM  

I'm so sorry Michelle. After reading your posts for some time, I know that Mister Man is a very thoughtful, sensitive, caring boy. He feels every mistake or challenge deeply within his heart. I think the right counselor will be able to help him. Having you and your husband also will help him immensely. I'm sending hugs to you. I wish I could me more help.

Mrs4444 October 17, 2010 at 5:54 PM  

Are you familiar with the Social Thinking curriculum by Michelle Garcia Winner? She uses the words "expected" and "unexpected" to explain a lot of issues. Maybe this problem is one that could be helped with this curriculum. For example, you could ask what is expected behavior when one has broken something. Getting problems wrong that he knows very well is unexpected behavior. I'm not super familiar with the language (I only use the basics at school), but I'm told it's very helpful. Good luck.

Melisa Wells October 17, 2010 at 8:42 PM  

I totally get why you are worrying about age 13 (or just "down the road"), but really, focus on the NOW. It seems like you're doing the right things and consulting the right people, and over time this might get nipped in the bud. Keep the faith!

Michelle October 17, 2010 at 9:47 PM  

Unknown Mami - I do, too! The knowledge of what could happen down the road spurs me to act today - now the key is figuring out what to do next!

Tracey - Nope, definitely no guarantees. This one wasn't about the grades but about finding a way to punish himself. I love that you've found out how to help Justin though.

Kim - I hope so, too. She did observe him at the end of last week and will work with him this week, so I look forward to seeing what she says.

Carole Lynn - I absolutely agree that the younger you catch things the better. The social worker is a clinical SW who is used to dealing with gifted kids on the spectrum - which is Mister Man. I'll give her a chance and see what she has to say, but Plan B isn't far behind.

Tara - Oh absolutely. I know I can only control the here and know and not even him, but it is concerning.

Pat - I am glad for so many of you that you haven't experienced this. I'm anxiously awaiting the social worker's phone call!

Kelly - He definitely is - and does. I was talking to a friend of mine about this tonight, and she made a good point: it's hard to know if it's the giftedness aspect of him or the Asperger's aspect that brings this out. Fairness and a deep rooted sense of justice are such a part of both of those.

Mrs4444 - I am actually. And interestingly enough, his pragmatic language group just this past week started working on expected and unexpected. I already have some behaviors I want to add to the chart he and his classmates created!

Melisa - I am for now. It's hard sometimes not to let your mind run away with you though.

Eileen October 18, 2010 at 7:17 PM  

Michelle, I came looking for this post because I knew you were working on something thst was troubling you. I'm sorry this is what it turns out to be about. You're right, it is a tough one. When I was little, if I felt I did something bad would sleep on the floor instead of in my bed to punish myself. I have no idea how I thought of this, but it sounds similar to your son untying his shoes.
As an adult I can see it boils down to being ashamed of myself and what I had done.
I never did anything else to express my self-loathing, but it changed through the years to where I could win a prize winning fight if I had to beat myself up.
You already are getting great tools to help him. Keep up the good work and help him know it's okay not to like behaviors or mistakes, and that's different from not liking himself.
Let me know if I can help or give more insight if you want it.

Michelle October 22, 2010 at 9:13 PM  

Eileen - I absolutely agree with you on the shame. And yes, while I do worry about the physical components, the mental aspects are just as troubling. I will be getting in touch with you - thank you!

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