Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Asperger's Teens are Also Just Teens

As many of you know, I'm in the process of earning a masters degree in counseling psychology. Along these lines, my new job involves teaching social skills to young people with Asperger’s Syndrome, via theater work. Before I started, I knew a little bit about the disorder itself, and the people who deal with it. I learned a lot more during training week (and all the reading that led up to it). But nothing can prepare one for the infinite variability of real people.

My students are all teenagers, from 15 to 18. I’ve lived with them only five hours a day for a mere two days (and a bunch of talking and writing about them before and after each day, as part of the job). What has struck me more than anything is the same thing that stood out when I started my internship at a college counseling center this past school year: People are people. With disorders, without disorders, these kids are basically typical teens. They are warm, smart, funny and talented. And they are exasperating, underachieving and worrisome. Sometimes all in the same kid. Sometimes all at once.

It’s been very poignant to watch them quickly divvy up into cliques. Each kid is falling into patterned teenage behavior that serves the purpose of identifying them to the larger crew: “I’m a cool kid. You can’t touch me.” Or, “I’m hilarious and over-the-top; I’ll do anything goofy to get your attention.” Or, “I’m mature. I don’t notice the offensive things you do, so don't expect me to join in.”

The particularly difficult thing is to watch the “cool” kids. First of all, they are, of course, anything but. Moreover, though, every once in a while, a little fissure appears in their veneer, and what peeks through is an eager little kid (much littler than the age they are trying to act) who just wants to play. One of our projects in our brief time with them (the summer session lasts only six weeks) will be to see if we can help those young people to let out their inner kid, before society gets them to squash it for good.

That’s a pretty good description of how I want to approach them. I’ve already slipped into a more parental, finger-shaking mode, and I know very well that will just put us on opposite sides of a six-week war, with no winners. We don’t want to represent “society” to them. We want to help them at least take another step in learning who they are, and bringing that wealth to each interaction out in the world.

More thoughts on this anon.


Eric Little said...

I find your reflections deeply interesting--I might not have a lot to say about them, but I'm listening.

thinkulous said...

Eric,, your comment is very much appreciated and quite well timed. We all need a battery charge now and then, don't we? Thanks.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

Gosh, where to start with these posts? I second Eric: you're making keen observations (research, really) that I can't add anything to, especially since I haven't dealt with an "Aspie" before (except for a family member and he's LONG past therapy).

thinkulous said...

Thank you, Muffy! I really appreciate your comments.

The psychology stuff is endlessly complex, subtle and fascinating to me. People -- what they think and feel, why, and what to do about it -- have always been my favorite subject, since I was a teen. Guess it shows when I get into the psych stuff. Hope it isn't tediously specialized for anyone reading.