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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Autism and Asperger's: Defiant Children

I'm sharing a personal story in hopes of providing insight to parents who are having trouble getting their autistic child to cooperate in social activities including educational ones.
  I received a failing grade in physical education my Freshman year of high school. I heard terms like, "defiant, uncooperative," etc. I was never very coordinated or athletically inclined, but that wasn't the problem this time. Our physical education for that quarter was swimming.
   I went to a large high school. My mother had bought me a bikini that covered well, because at the time, one-pieces that fit on one end didn't fit the other. I could buy two-pieces in the two correct sizes. I liked the color of it. It was a dark maroon, feminine but not flashy. I was 14 years old, and had reached my adult size a few years earlier. To provide an accurate picture, I was 5'8" and by sight, completely a woman. Physically and in many intellectual ways, I could match anyone. At 14, however I was still very much a child emotionally. I had no idea how to process or respond to the reactions of others.
   From the school, once dressed in our suits, we had to traverse a grassy front lawn that was roughly 1and1/2 city blocks, then cross the highway, then walk through the public park to get to the swimming pool.
   No one seemed to have a problem with that, so I doubted my self conciousness (that is natural at that age or any) and went along. Did I mention the boy's swim class was at the same time as ours?
   I swam or tried to. I was tired and cold when we got out and wrapped a towel around myself to ward off the chills. Boys, being their normal teenage selves, teased and taunted saying that I was hiding under my towel. They wanted it off, or so they thought, and that's normal too. Well, exhausted, trying to stuff embarassment, and not willing to put up with the teasing, I put my nose in the air, dropped the towell and drug it behind me all the way across the school's front lawn. The brazen boys went mute and many had to wait a while to begin walking again. It was a very quiet walk for me.
   Nonetheless, I knew they'd arm themselves with something to say the next day, so I simply refused to dress for physical education/swimming from that point forward through the quarter of swimming. It seemed like an obvious, simple solution to me to stop the activity that scared/bothered/embarassed me. From that point, I got scolded by the teacher and stared at oddly from the other females. "What in the world could be wrong with HER?!" seemed to be their question. I thought they must be slow, and couldn't figure them out. Couldn't they see this was treated as a jiggle-show, and didn't the boy's taunting bother them. Apparently, not. They didn't seem to mind blind following, and some even seemed to enjoy the attention. That's *normal* too, I guess.
   Ready for a trip inside? I can't tolerate the feel of grass, extreme heat from walking in the sun exhausts me, I loathe being the center of attention, was actually terrified of the attention of the males, cold, the chatter and jeers along the way......SENSORY ISSUES, and the need for coping skills I simply didn't have left me unarmed.
    If your interested in experiencing something close to these feelings, on a very hot day put on a bathing suit, walk roughly 6 blocks through populated areas with extra weights of about 80 lbs strapped to your shoulders. Stuff prickly thistle in your shoes to get the full grass experience.  Get some friends to go with you, and have a few of them clang cymbols in your ears for the duration. Swim a bit while listening to the cymbols, enjoy a moment's respit for as long as you can hold your breath underwater, if you like. Get out, and have a few friends drench you with ice water. Better yet, make it acquaintences instead. Add a full marching band out of tune along with the chills on your way back. Have several of them make lude comments about your body and loudly.
    Want to do it again tomorrow?
    Whenever someone showed what appeared to be aggression, I'd go mute. It wasn't until a few years later, when three of these boys confronted me on a walk home with my younger sister, that I went off. I had to protect her. I screamed at them to get out of their car and face me, telling her to run. I'd grabbed the door of the car as if to come in after them. I'd taken all of the taunting I could, and this day it was going to end. I knew full well I couldn't beat up three boys, but at least I'd save my sister.
   Well, apparently these young men had never seen a female act quite like that, or not me anway. I was quiet, helpful and a generally mild kid. They stopped laughing, refused to leave the car, and got real....ummm...submissive. Interesting how that worked out. I wasn't taunted by them again.
   Now, let's look at it from my parent's point of view. Their daughter wouldn't dress for P.E. She must be "defiant," right?
   As a kid, I loved rules. Knowing what was wanted of me made my life easier, whenever I could figure it out. I couldn't, just could not go against the wishes of my parents....unless I had to. Often I forced myself to do things involving sensory overload just to please them, and that being untrue to myself made me very sick a lot of the time.
   When your child refuses to do something, especially when it doesn't make sense to you, be aware that there is probably a very good reason for it. Be aware that they may not even have the vocabulary to explain it to you. They may not even know, as I didn't, that this wasn't a perfectly normal situation that they just have to put up with.  Importantly,  be aware that scolding, bribing them to do it, punishing them, and rewarding them to do it, only exacerbates the state of being untrue to themselves, putting themselves in possibly dangerous situations and at the very least going through a sensory hell to please you. PAY ATTENTION to your children. They may well know more of what's going on than you do. They are handling their world to the best of their ability. They are not bad kids or defiant. They are not trying to make your life difficult. They are trying to survive.
  On the upside, you're lucky. You've got a child who will not follow the crowd when that crowd gets into things the child feels is wrong. You've got someone who can think for themselves and act on what they feel is right. You have a child with integrity. You have a child with ideas all her own, or as my adult daughter said of her own children, "If any stranger ever tried to offer them candy to get in a car, they'd tell them to go to hell, and walk on!"
   I love a defiant child, and bravo to them!
tina jones


  1. Thank you for sharing this, Tina. It is an opportunity for us to 'walk in your shoes' and be in your skin. Visions of certain children well-known to me spoke your words with you and I believed everything that they said...Kathleen

  2. Kathleen, You're a gift to anyone who knows you! Thankyou so much.