So Em really has hit a breakthrough and a breakdown all at the same time. As she finally realized she was “safe” from school situations and it was a “safe” time and place to allow suppressed anger, anxiety, and fear out; she came to an emotional crossroad. In the process of coping and dealing with this, she made some poor choices, caving to the year round peer pressure and set up accounts in Facebook, email and Skype without our permission. We hadn’t decided if she was ready or not. Now we are in damage control and fixing them so they are set up to protect her from cyber bullying and stranger dangers.
You see, Em was a target of bullying and pressuring all year. Some of the social things like Facebook and email were more of the peer pressure of “how come you don’t have it” and “your parents are stupid”. Instead of dealing with it, she shut it out and it got in her head. She did it one day and by the next day, I knew. Suddenly her world was crashing around her. Truths had to be told that she had sheltered herself from dealing with. There was also this need and want to protect us from her pain.
She started to tell us things about the year, we weren’t fully aware of. Or we only knew half the story. We knew there was “mean girl” trouble. We knew that there were the ones that lied to her, lied about her, “mean” teased and stuff like that. Yet, we didn’t know about the most important one. There was one girl that was hitting her. And it wasn’t just hitting her with a hand. It was a fist with a knuckle protruding.
She would hit Em. Em would tell her it hurt and she needed to stop. She’d hit Em again. So, Em would tell an adult. Not the same one. It would stop for awhile. Then start again. Only to repeat the cycle for a good chunk of the winter and spring it sounds. I’m not sure any of the adults aware of the situation were aware of the duration of the bullying going on. This was supposed to be Em’s friend. She’s struggling to understand people change and drift apart. Some get better and wise. Others get older and meaner.
Em is confused. She is hurt. She’s trying to understand all these feelings at once and going into an emotional exhaustive state. Understandably so. In the end though, the good coming out of it will make us all better and stronger. We’ll be able to figure things out more.
In talking with her though, we talked about some of the challenges from this year. Once she understood what I meant when I said social cues we had a very enlightening conversation. For the record, we went over social cues by pulling up the definition on Wikipedia. It states:
A social cue can either be a verbal or non-verbal hint, which can be positive or negative. These cues guide conversation and other social interactions. A few examples of social cues include:
Social cues serve several purposes in social interactions that help to clarify people’s meanings and intentions. Cues help provide clues as to whether or not one is being accepted or rejected by those around them. They also provide more information about a person, group or interaction that allow for a higher degree of intimacy and quality of contact. One of the most important impacts of cues on social interactions is the reduction of ambiguity.
When we were talking about them, Em was shocked at how many she actually doesn’t understand. I asked what happens when she is with her friends and she missed social cues, now that she understood what it meant. She said her friends acted and felt awkward. So I asked did they explain to you what they meant or what you missed. She said most of the time most of them did. It would then make her feel awkward.
Aside from the obvious happy, sad or angry, Em really doesn’t get social cues. She guesses at them. Or she stresses and tries so hard to understand it and finds it difficult. When asked why she told us because to her, it just doesn’t make sense. Yet, here she is trying to understand the difference between anger and frustration, sad and lonely, happy and excited. She is trying though. She’s learning to ask questions to get clarification on ones she’s unclear on.
She struggles to look into people’s eyes during conversations. It’s actually pretty common for children on the spectrum. She will glance into the eyes or look at their foreheads or eyebrows. Today I asked her why she doesn’t like to look into the eyes of people. She told me because it makes her very uncomfortable and anxious. Sometimes in our lives we are forced to look at people in the eyes. I asked her how it makes her feel when she is forced to do that. She responded with it made her feel unsafe and nervous. Without it, it essentially could be removing a key in reading social situations for her.
We don’t force it. We encourage her to do her best. We are back to using ABA techniques for dealing with social scenarios. Posing questions to her and then working through appropriate responses. It’s helped her in the past. I just hope it helps her again. In the meantime, she is also using Skype and videos to help her understand those cues and practice conversations with a few of the people who get her struggle and want to help her.
She’s actually not bullied by many kids in her class. A lot of the kids try to understand her and not laugh at her when she struggles. They try to help her without making it obvious. Sadly though, in middle school there are always a few that will be mean. Unfortunately, it only took a few to cause pain. Was she a target of bullying because of her Autism? No. She doesn’t think so either. So does think though being different made her feel like a target. In her mind it’s mainly because a lot of the teasing and bullying came from them telling her lies or telling lies about her. She struggles to decipher when someone is telling the truth or telling lies. She’s a literal thinker and has to think outside the box.
Every day that passes, she works harder to understanding people around her. She watches TV shows and movies trying to see if she can tell who is lying as the show unfolds. She is trying to understand what is normal behavior and “Hollywood” behavior. We spend time talking when we can. It’s going to take time. Yet, we WILL get there. Time. We’ll take whatever it takes.
And bullies watch out this year. We are making sure this year doesn’t repeat itself.