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The Same But Different

with Susan Wagner

Susan Wagner is a freelance writer and editor, an avid runner and a mom of two boys. She's tentatively navigating the teen years with her oldest son, who has ADHD and an anxiety disorder (because puberty isn't hard enough already). [Insert blog name here] chronicles her efforts to balance science homework, basketball practice and panic attacks without completely losing her mind. Follow Susan on Twitter and Instagram (@workingcloset) and at her personal blog, The Working Closet

How My Aspie Kid Made Me an Introvert

Categories: special needs kid, stress, therapy

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It’s Saturday afternoon; Charlie is at a friend’s house. He’s been there all day, playing football and basketball in the driveway with his friend and two other boys from their baseball team. But now it’s almost dinner time and we’re trying to sort out our plans for the evening. I text the friend’s mother and suggest that we come get Charlie. She texts back: Can he spend the night?

Sure! I say. We’ll bring him some clothes.

And then she says, We’re grilling steaks. Why don’t you all come eat with us?

Honestly, I would have loved nothing more. This family always makes everyone feel welcome and loved, and it’s always fun — for Charlie and for us — to hang out at their house.

But going to dinner there would have meant taking Henry to a house that was already full of kids, and it would have been overwhelming. For him and for us.

So we said thanks, but no thanks. We already have plans. Next time!

My husband and I used to be social people; in grad school, our weekends always included dinner with friends or a bike ride or an impromptu evening of drinking beer and watching basketball.

After Henry was born, we made friends with other couples with small children. On the weekends, we would grill while the kids played in the yard. During the week, while the dads were at work, the moms would organize play dates, which were less for the kids and more for us — it was a precious couple of hours of talking to someone who was potty trained and spoke in complete sentences. Those play dates got me through the toddler years, truly.

We don’t do anything like that any more. I keep up with the other parents at school via Facebook, but our facet-to-face socializing is pretty much limited to visiting with the parents at Charlie’s baseball and basketball games. And honestly, that’s the most I can commit to just now.

Because my Aspie kid — who struggles with social interaction — has turned me in to an introvert.

There are two reasons for this; one is the simple practical side. It’s difficult for Henry to be around other kids, particularly kids he doesn’t know well (and who aren’t already familiar and comfortable with his quirks). He isn’t sure how to act and he annoys everyone and eventually he will announce that he’s ready to go now and can we leave? Trying to socialize with his peers is exhausting and frustrating for him; trying to socialize with Charlie’s friends is even harder, because they’re all about sports and Henry has absolutely nothing in common with them.

As stressful as these social outings are for Henry, they are just as horrible for Wade and me. Henry’s awkward and sometimes inappropriate behavior is embarrassing, which is a terrible thing to say about your child, but there it is. He tends to talk too loudly and crash into things; he wants to climb on or jump off of everything. He will only play games with the other kids if he can be in charge of the rules. And when the other kids don’t do exactly what he tells them to do, he gets frustrated and yells.

We do our best to keep Henry out of situations where this is the end result; we are good at knowing what his triggers are and how much he can handle and what we just have to say no to. But this means we say no to almost every invitation because it’s just too much for him — and for us.

I had my first inkling of how much Henry’s disability would affect my social life not long after he was first diagnosed. I went to dinner with a very close friend, someone I saw two or three times a week and spoke to on the phone every single day. I was still new at telling people about Henry’s diagnosis, still inexperienced at explaining what all those labels meant, but I told my friend everything, including how sad I was about this new normal. And she said, “You know what, Susan? He’ll be fine. He’s going to outgrow it and be just fine.”

My friend was trying to be kind, but she didn’t understand. Other people, over the years, have been less kind, also because they didn’t understand. Either way, I feel like Henry and I are both being judged, and I just want to retreat into a safe place, away from the world.

Which is what Henry does, too, when he’s overwhelmed.

I spend a lot of time alone these days; I work from home and can go entire days without talking to anyone. It still surprises me how much I love that, and how much I need it. I have stopped pushing myself to be more social and just come to accept that this is the new normal. It’s a good normal, honestly, and it’s working well for Henry and for me.

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