Sunday, March 10, 2013

Thinking Errors: How to Jump in the Deep End of Aspergers Emotions

I've been doing a lot of soul searching the past few weeks, and lots of research, and phone calls, and crying, and more phone calls . . .

This school year we attempted to put Sam back in public school, to allow me to find some part time work and contribute to family finances. No such luck, but inevitably better since I am needed at home right now. Sam did so well for about a month, and then started to deteriorate, both emotionally and academically - this is a first. Being a tween involves so much more social pressure to fit in, and Sam just doesn't. He wants to, but it lasts only so long before kids don't want to play by his rules, or always hear his ideas. And kids can be mean, so friends become enemies with little advanced notice.

By Halloween, it was clear we needed to find an alternative, even if temporarily. After Thanksgiving, and a visit to Vancouver to spend time with his grandmother, we registered Sam in a day treatment program. We hoped that the limited stay in a less stressful environment would allow him to learn, or practice, emerging social skills, and work on his emotional development. After 9 weeks, we saw very little progress, mostly sporadic, and little transfer of skills to the home environment.

Every one of his therapists, and even school administration, recommended a change of placement. But rules are rules, and everything has to be documented and supported by data. And there wasn't enough of either as far as the school district was concerned. So back to school he went, so he could fail again and the district could take data on it. What a completely illogical way of treating special-needs students. And how naive I was, even after 6 years of never getting the resources he needed, to agree to this.

After just one month, and many absences, and suicidal meltdowns at home, we pulled him out permanently. But the meltdowns have yet to stop. They get worse with every one, and we are keeping the crisis line number handy, just in case. It should never have come to this. And I keep asking myself why, and how can I help him? Where do I even begin?

I found an article, inspiring this post I might add, that I will be rereading and sharing ad nauseam, because it explains the errors in thinking that I believe are the entire base to all of Sam's meltdowns. I don't know if understanding them will help me help him, but I hope so.

My Aspergers Child: Helping Aspergers Children Eliminate “Thinking Errors"

In brief, there are five thinking patterns discussed in the article: over-generalizing, minimizing/maximizing, emotional reasoning, fortune telling, and all-or-nothing thinking.

  • Over-generalizing is when the child uses one event to assume future outcomes. For example, Sam believes that because his brother Liam (4) refuses to hug him, that Liam must not love him.
  • Minimizing or maximizing is essentially "making a mountain out of a molehill" and vice versa. For example, Sam frequently believes he has no talent because of the things he can't do, and minimizes his artistic abilities and skill at building elaborate structures in Minecraft. This also happens with blowing mistakes out of proportion and thinking about the worst possible outcome. We hear this a lot too, like when Sam goes out to find neighbors to play with, and the first one isn't home. He then says that the other kids probably won't or can't play either, and he will be bored all day.
  • Emotional reasoning is the confusion between feelings and reality. For example, when Sam plays with his brother, Liam hits him sometimes. Sam feels hurt and angry, and assumes Liam is doing it deliberately.
  • Fortune telling is making predictions or assumptions with no supporting evidence. Frequently Sam will have a meltdown in the middle or towards the end of the day. If he has been enjoying privileges, he will often say "I guess this means I won't get ___ today" (like to play the iPad, or a trip to the store) when I have made no comments about what he can or can't do in relation to his behavior.
  • Finally, All-or-nothing thinking is, well, thinking in terms of always and never, and is related to minimizing and maximizing - this is the extreme version. So when Sam doesn't get to play with a particular friend, he "never gets to do what he wants," Or when he can't have ice cream, he "never gets anything" and we are "the worst parents in the world."
In many cases, we see all five of these combined into the ultimate meltdown, on top of sensory over-exposure, and anxiety, and it results in Sam believing the only way to stop feeling this way is to not be alive. It's very scary. And yet, I still believe there is a solution out there, there is help, we just haven't found it yet. I hope that's not an error in MY thinking ;)

- Adrienne

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