For the sake of protection, privacy, and anonymity, I had previously chosen to keep the gender of my children a secret. I’ve carefully edited out the “he’s” and the “she’s” from my writing so that their genders aren’t revealed.
But, here’s the thing. The gender of my teenager with Aspergers is kind of a big deal. Why? Well, because most would assume a teenager with Aspergers is most likely going to be a boy. Even though I’m not specifically writing for my viewers, I think its important to discuss the specific challenges of having a teenage GIRL with Aspergers.
Yes, my oldest child, my first born, is a girl with Aspergers. I want to try and sum up her essence in this post, so that you can get to know her.
She’s never been a girly girl. Her life hasn’t been filled with pink frilly things and Barbies. I thought maybe she was more of a Tomboy, but I learned that doesn’t really fit either. I introduced her to sports, thinking that maybe she would have an aptitude…but she was never interested. Being a “team” player eludes her. She’s not motivated to improve, practice, or work at anything. So, we tried tennis, softball, and basketball, but she really never “fit” in those situations.
Growing up, I tried to introduce her to as many of the arts as is possible. She was my compass, my everything, and I wanted to give her opportunities I didn’t have as a child. We watched a Karate lesson – nope, not interested. I put her in dance – mildly interested, but she is awkward and clumsy, and wasn’t interested in things like dress rehearsal, wearing makeup, tights, etc. Allof this was impractical to her.
I attempted to teach her piano – but that was like teaching an 8 year old how to make excel spreadsheets or something – she just was not interested.
Her friend “Jack” played clarinet in beginning band, so she decided she wanted to be in band too. She chose alto saxophone. She took to it quickly- prodigy like. Although, she was never motivated to practice her sax, so she never expanded her ability to it’s “full potential”. She just wasn’t interested or driven by external goals. If she wasn’t obsessed with it, she would not “work” on it. However, she was making friends (all boys) who were sharing some of her interests and accepted her goofy, inappropriate, outgoing-ness. (Jack later went from long time best friend, to boyfriend, to no-friend – which is directly related to Aspergers).
Later, she decided on her own volition, that she wanted to learn how to play a Zelda Theme on her keyboard. She asked me to find the music online to print, and she sat down with it at the keyboard. She understood, from her saxophone experience, how to read treble clef, but didn’t have any clue on the bass clef. She finally asked me for help. I showed her the basic differences in the staff between treble and bass clef ONE time. In addition, she had no idea where the notes were on the keyboard, and I gave her ONE lesson. Within
a few days she was playing the Zelda Theme and reading bass clef. I was amazed. What took me 5 years of piano to learn, she picked up in less than a week. She’s just so damned brilliant, and when she is self-motivated (maybe obsessed is the right word), she can do things that are superhuman. Seriously. This piece of music is somewhat “easy” as it is in the key of C. But for someone who had never read bass clef, never touched a piano before, to learn it this quickly was amazing to me. Soon she was asking me to download many of her favorite video game, cartoon, and anime theme songs so that she could learn them.
That lead to her joining the drum line, and teaching herself how to play the vibraphone… Which, selfishly, was my FAVORITE extracurricular thing she has ever done. But, I knew, I had to be somewhat nonchalant about my love for this interest. “Encouragement” does not always work with an Aspergers child. I loved the driving rhythms of the drum line. I loved going to her competitions. There was nothing boring about drum line. It kept my ADHD very interested, and even my little ones could go, because the power of it all held their short attention spans.
In her Freshman year (9th Grade), music was dropped – also directly related to Aspergers – and I will tell that story later.
In grade school, she found great popularity being the first “Mascot” for the school. This was difficult and wonderful all at the same time. The costume provided her with anonymity, where she didn’t have to worry about “saying something stupid”. She could be goofy and not get in trouble for being
too loud, inappropriate, or obnoxious. However, she was supposed to learn the cheers and practice with the cheer squad. The cheer squad included an evil stepsister who felt embarrassed around her. Cheerleaders were worried about things that never even occurred to my daughter. There was nothing in common. She never felt comfortable in that environment. The social bubble of the cheer squad is one that she will never penetrate – and you know what? That is JUST FINE BY ME.
I also enjoyed this activity with her, but again, it only lasted one year, because of Aspergers.
For someone who can kind of “take or leave” people, she has a penchant for things. I’ve had to closely monitor what she keeps, as she could easily become a candidate for that hoarders show. When I divorced Numbnuts (her dad), I felt a lot of guilt over the disruption it was going to cause her. In result, I let her build strong attachments to things, and for many years, I didn’t make her get rid of anything. She has always loved stuffed animals, and treats them like family. Couple that with F’Bomb (her grandmother) and her hoarding tendencies and desire to buy and spoil the grandkid with
collections – creates a recipe for disaster. At one point, I had a 2 car garage attached to a very tiny apartment. I had at least twenty 100 Quart Sterilite containers stuffed full of stuffed animals in my garage. These were items that simply would not fit in her room anymore, but she would NOT get rid of one thing.
Her room always looks like a war zone. She happily sits amongst the chaos in the middle of all her stuffed animals. Somehow, they bring her comfort. I finally got her to pare some down, and many of the ones in the garage had to “disappear” during a move. The thing is, she could inventory 300 missing stuffed animals by memory, and years later will ask what happened to George the red monkey, Bob the green snake, etc. and will know exactly when and how she acquired the item. I’ve been teaching her how the accumulation of “things” can get out of control. She saw it first hand with F’Bombs hoarding (more on that later, too). So, she’s been learning to let things go. She does well when she can give her toys and stuffed animals to kids that she knows. She feels better about letting it go to a good cause, like another kids enjoyment.
She gets very distraught if someone “touches her stuff” or something breaks, gets lost, etc. Ever since she was very small, she seemed to care more about her things than people. I’ve had to teach her the logic about how people are more important than things. We still have
these talks today. I assure her that if it can be replaced, repurchased, remade, or rebuilt, then it will be okay. As a little girl, she would cry and cry if something was lost or broke..then she would wipe her little tears and say, “Ged anudder wun mahmah?” I would love her, hug her, dry her tears, and say, “Yes baby, we can get another one sometime”. I would HAVE to fulfill that promise, because she would not forget.
She has her own sense of style, which is based around television, cartoons, video games (Zelda) and anime. She loves anime. I wonder why this phenomenon is so prominent in the Asperger’s population? She is an avid drawer, of mainly anime. Maybe it’s because anime is so popular, so its somewhat socially acceptable and “cool” to know so many facts and recite scenes from it? All of her friends are into anime. This is how she has been able to fit in. She loves to buy anime apparel and she wears it daily. She loves cosplay too. Her outfits have been the start of many sincere conversations about anime. The thing is, she fits in by accident. She doesn’t buy the things because she thinks others will like it, she buys it because SHE LIKES IT. It’s just an accidental side effect that this helps her seem
less awkward in social situations.
She has what is I believe is called delayed echolalia, where she can recite things word for word, whether it be a conversation, a tv show, favorite lines in a movie, etc. She recites them obsessively when nervous around new peers. I’ve watched her recently, stand with a group of 3 kids in our neighborhood – one her age, and two younger, and recite an episode word for word. She is completely oblivious to how uncomfortable it made them. They wouldn’t look at her, and was slowly trying to move away, but she kept getting into their personal space adamant to finish the recital. I finally interrupted and told her we had to go. It’s so hard for me. On one hand, I don’t want her to worry about what they think. I don’t want her to worry about how people might feel in her presence. I like that she’s outgoing, loud, funny, obnoxious, and seems to be completely immune to the social pressures of teenagers. But on the other hand, she was completely unaware of how uncomfortable her obsessive recital made everyone. I think these kids, for the most part, like to be around her. They always call out to her, say hello, and ask her to come outside and play. But, at the same token, I can tell that they sometimes find her obsessive communication tiring, and awkward.
As a female, there is more of an expectation put on her to be sensitive and show empathy. The little bit of information out there about Aspergers and girls talks about the diagnosis of Aspergers due to the girls ability to adapt, be quiet, and observant. Well, that’s not my girl. We have endured social situations together where her untimely assertions of her observations and blatant truth left people believing she was a spoiled and impolite, child. I have been told that I wasn’t “hard” enough on her, that she has an unappreciative and disrespectful attitude. I ignored those jerks, and stayed my course with what I believed she needed. I understand her,
for the most part. That has been the saving grace in this situation. I have stuck up for her, advocated for her, and protected her environment. I haven’t pushed her to be like a normal kid, a normal girl, or to keep up with the “Jones”. I have allowed her to just be her. I understood why she related to boys better than girls, and didn’t see that as a “danger sign”, but as a very positive and safe place for her. Admittedly, that gets to be a tight rope walk dealing with a 16 year old girl, as now the intentions of boys are much different than when they were 10 years old.
She’s bright, funny, quirky, intelligent, and caring. Yes caring. She cares in her own way. She gets emotional like any other teenage girl, but there’s an added obsession and awkwardness about it. She over-cares on some topics, that she really shouldn’t find important. Then, she under-cares about things that should be quite obvious. I can’t make her “care” about anything. I can only explain the logic of situations to her, so her behavior will show more respect surrounding the subject or person. This has worked because she does have a heart of gold and would never intend on hurting, frustrating, or annoying anyone. She just can’t tell when she does. If she’s told about it afterwards, she will obsessively apologize and has a hard time letting her “mistake” go.
I love this kid. She, is so amazing to me. As she continues to grow into the ages where she independence is expected, it gets tougher and tougher. She has had boyfriends, and I can’t get a “read” on the situation because she only reports from a very narrow point of view with no consideration for context. That’s hard as a mom. I’m very intuitive, but can’t get enough information to know how a social relationship is going. She often misreads it, will obsess because a teacher doesn’t like her, and then I’ll ultimately find out that she is one of the teacher’s favorites. On the other hand, she’ll drive someone absolutely nuts, barrage them
with text messages, and have no clue that she’s being avoided or shunned.
She’s also artistic, and when she obsesses on something, she does “award winning” work. I could go on, and on, and on. There is so much to write about this beautiful girl. Yes, it’s been a challenge to see things from her point of view, but it’s also made me appreciate the richness of life and the trivialities of emotions. A lot of human struggle is all in our head – and we would all be less distraught over things if we just stuck to facts and logic.
So there it is, my beautiful Aspergers child is a teenage girl.