Aspergers: Coping with the pressures of middle school...

Question:

I'm worried about how my 12-year-old son with Aspergers is going to cope with the pressures of middle school. That is a difficult age for any child and most people don't accept him as he is. My husband thinks we should focus on making him more acceptable to the majority, but I don't think he should have to change who he is. I haven't heard from anyone who has been through those middle & high school years and I am terrified!!

Answer:

This is a common fear that parents of spectrum kids have. Middle school, as we all know, is cruel to everyone, and especially to those who are different. How do you let your kids be who they are while still protecting them so they don't emerge traumatized?

I feel what is most important is not to let your kids feel ashamed of who they are. If they've got a spark to them, they've got things they're interested in, don't kill it by making them conform. Most people lose that spark naturally when they get older; there's no reason to do it prematurely. Don't take away one of best things your Aspergers child has going for himself: his passion for living life, even if it's living life on his own terms. If he wants to fit in, he'll ask you how to fit. It'll come, but let it be when he's ready for it rather than force him into a cookie cutter existence.

Some Aspergers kids go through middle school so excited about their passions that they barely notice they're the odd ones out, or if they notice, they don't care (probably not a lot, but some). Others are unfortunately bullied quite a bit.

There are a few things you can do to try to either prevent this from happening or minimize the effects if it does. First, use his talents and passions to find him a niche in the school where he can succeed. The drama club is a natural place. Many quirky kids find refuge in drama clubs; and if he can succeed in school plays, then he has one place where he belongs and can be accorded respect. If there's a particular subject he's interested in, see if he can start a club and find other kids interested in the same thing. Or find if you can a group outside of school interested in that kind of thing. Buffer him so if he does encounter some rejection he will already belong to and have found success in enough other activities that it won't really matter so much. Perhaps you could encourage him to take interest in a particular teacher, especially in a subject he enjoys, so he could have an ally at the school. Teachers were always invaluable support people to me when I was in school.

If he does encounter problems, try to find ways around some of the biggest trouble spots. For example, he could eat lunch in a classroom instead of the lunchroom if the lunchroom is problematic. If bullying does occur, hopefully you can work with him and the school to minimize the amount of places that it occurs. Keep reminding him of how great he is, and let him cry to you if he needs to. But the most important thing you can do, it seems, is continue to let him be who he is because it's not worth losing yourself for a bunch of junior high kids, and give his outlets where he can succeed so he's not as bothered by the junior high kids. Also, if he's into it and they're available, a support group for Aspergers teens may be valuable.


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