Susan's Blog

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Simply Positive Can Be Negative

I posted a question yesterday on one of my autism email groups (which consists of autistics and non-autistics, some of whom are also autism parents). I was wondering, as I often do, about how we figure out who are children are and what they are feeling. How much is projection, and how much is observation/reality? This question applies to any of one’s children. But I was especially thinking about Nat, and how I have come to think of him: as my Innocent, my Good Egg/Hard Worker, and my most Spiritual Child.

It was fascinating and illuminating hearing back from some list members. What I heard was that although it is harmful to cast your child in a negative projection/concept, e.g., a “Devil Child,” my “Bad Seed,” “Brat,” etc., it is just as harmful to cast your child in a simply positive projection, especially if you believe that your child is only this one thing, for example: “Angel,” or “God’s Child,” things like that. That you do your child a disservice by seeing him in just this one way, positive or negative, because you deny his human complexity. Any person may be all of those things and more, at some time or another. It is impossible to fully know another human being.

I agree with this, because I know how horrible it is to be summed up and then often dismissed. I hate when people think they know me, just based on a few signs. But just as horribly, I am guilty of it all the time. I do that with all of my children — maybe with all of my loved ones. It is wrong; but it sure makes life easier. I think of Ned in particular ways, whether he agrees or not. And Max and Ben, of course. I think of one of my best friends as “Stable,” and God bless her for that, at least one of us is. And the thing is, I don’t think of Natty as being able to communicate with the angels or anything like that (I don’t even believe in angels!). It’s just that he always jumps up to go to synagogue, when the other two of my boys sulk about it. And he knows all the prayers, and happily endured a bar mitzvah. So he is my Spiritual one, simply because he is moreso than Max and Ben. But he is not just that.

I guess that the danger with getting to know an autistic human being is that the signs I go by typically with others for information, are not necessarily there with Nat. He does not necessarily smile even if he is happy. He talks to himself when he is happy but when he talks to us he becomes anxious. There is clearly a lot going on inside him, and that is the part that is both wonderful and tragic: that he is every bit a multifaceted young man as Max; but it is so much harder for me to discern his unique parts.

I believe that we are all human and so even if the signs Nat sends out are sometimes not what they appear to be, I think that I can interpret what I see through my own filter, because that’s all I’ve got for now. I think it is better to try and interpret and even be wrong, than not to try at all. Trying to connect is better than not, in my opinion, though I’m sure there are those who do not see the value in connecting. And of course you always have to keep in mind your large margin of error, and continue to try to understand what he means when he does or says something, rather than what you think he means.

Does this make sense? Your thoughts?


interesting. We tend to have a handful of generalizing nicknames both positive and negative for my children. I call Tristan an angel quite frequently, because of his impossibly cherubic smile. It’s just, infecting. I can be really depressed and he’s got a light up the room smile, that just makes it all better (my girls have their father’s petite smile, that just looks really cute). Some people have even suggested, oh, he smiles that big because he doesn’t understand how not to. And then I grin at them… Nope, it’s just hereditary. I just don’t smile as often as he does. And even though my smile is as big, it doesn’t tend to have the pure joy coming out of it, that his does.

But he’s also the Poopmeister 3000 when he’s got a messy diaper, esp when he’s gotten it outside of his diaper and, say, on the walls.

— added by Navi on Wednesday, November 12, 2008 at 2:04 pm

I think the feedback you got on the listserv yesterday was very useful for me, as well.

There’s a danger in assigning “roles” to our friends and loved ones though; that is that we sometimes limit the possibilities for growth and change. But you know that.

I am trying hard to just see Nik as a boy —a growing, changing, flexible, fluid child full of surprises (both good and bad!). It also helps me be a better mother (I think/hope) in that I don’t have the luxury of being lazy with him. Don’t know if that makes sense.

— added by Niksmom on Wednesday, November 12, 2008 at 2:10 pm

Hello Susan,
I found your blog on a search for positive thinking and was happy to find here a very thought provoking question about how to see our children, and I think this applies to any child. Some of the issue is about possibly misattributing explanations to the behaviors we see, but the other part is not wanting to limit our kids by assigning roles. I agree that a label positive or negative can box us in. The point that I hear is saying you are the “xxx one” whether good or bad, is that it makes it seem permanent and as one patient said to me today– it makes them feel like they have to “live up” to that idea. Wow, here we are complimenting our kids, and it is getting transformed into more pressure. I wonder if it would make a difference to use similar descriptors but to make them more of a process comment rather than a sort of definitive label, e.g, rather than saying, “Nat is my spiritual one,” saying instead something like–often when Nat prays, it is inspiring, I feel it, it moves me.

That may not be a difference that makes a difference, but to my ear it sounds like the second version doesn’t set the expectation that it always has to be that way.

In any case, thank you for this idea, I will continue to think about it.

All best,
Tamar Chansky

— added by Tamar Chansky on Wednesday, November 12, 2008 at 7:02 pm

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