I'm Sorry, It's The Asperger's

by Rachel Finnemore
Originally Published: 
A seven-year-old blonde girl with Asperger's, lying on the floor with an angry facial expression
Image via Shutterstock

“I’m sorry. It’s the Asperger’s.”

That was the “heartfelt” apology that my almost seven-year-old daughter came up with, after a raging meltdown in her classroom the day before, during which she verbally unfriended her best friend in the class.

Of course, trying to play the part of the responsible mom of a daughter with Asperger’s, I tried to steer her away from these words, claiming that they sound like an excuse. And, well… NOT very sorry.

I encouraged her to dig deep and find her empathy. Empathy that, although not always present at the appropriate times, I know she is capable of.

“Maybe tell her that you’re sorry, and that you didn’t mean what you said, and that she really IS your friend, and that you’ll never yell at her again…”

“It’s not an excuse,” she replied, bluntly. “It’s the truth. And it’s what I’m going to say.”

Because I persisted in trying to alter her idea of an apology, she left for school on the bus, still anxious, and perseverating on how she needed ME to WRITE an apology for her, because she hates writing and writing makes her hand too tired and cramped, and it needed to be done NOW and it was just all too overwhelming for her.

She declared that she wouldn’t talk to her friend that day. She wouldn’t be able to look at her. She was scared of her.

As I reflected on my feelings of failure as a mom that morning, that I couldn’t make her see things differently, I realized that I was trying too hard. In my efforts to teach her “Theory of Mind,” the concept that other people can think and feel differently than her, I de-valued her own struggles.

This happens a lot. Being as high functioning as she is, people will likely always see her as having more control over herself than she actually has. They won’t factor in sensory overload, or difficulty understanding social situations, or fine and gross motor skill struggles that aren’t bad enough to qualify her for occupational therapy. They will be appalled that such a seemingly intelligent child can throw a regressive tantrum that could rival any toddler.

I sometimes see it in their stares. Hear it in their voices: A spoiled brat. Needs discipline. Parents must not set limits.

She sometimes resembles a modern day Veruca Salt, as she demands a new stuffed animal because having one more cat stuffed animal is the solution to her feelings of overwhelm as she is innunndated with sensory stimulation and social information that is impossible to process in that moment. The object of obsession is tangible, straightforward. It makes sense. She needs a solution, and her frazzled young brain seeks to find a simple one.

No, it doesn’t make sense to us. But to her, in those moments, nothing makes sense. She needs something to make sense.

After her massive school tantrum had subsided on the day she was mean to her friend, she called me from the principal’s office. “I’m having a hard day,” she said. “She told me she couldn’t come to my birthday party, and I said she wasn’t my friend anymore, but I was just being sarcastic.”

“Sweetie, that’s not sarcasm,” I replied defeatedly. Sarcasm has been a point of contention before, as it confuses her. In an effort to relay that she was saying something she didn’t mean, she described it as sarcasm. I made a mental note to find a way to better explain the concept of sarcasm to her, and told her that she should apologize to her friend.

I was so quick to correct her faults. The fact that it’s unacceptable to throw tantrums in school, and yell at your friends. The misuse of the word, “sarcasm.”

In all actuality, I knew that she was disappointed and confused in that moment that her friend politely declined her party invite because her family already had plans. She misinterpreted the situation, and was so overcome with emotion that there was no sorting through to logic. Her feelings were too big, too confusing. She exploded. I felt sorry for the innocent victim who was likely just trying to let her know about the party she wouldn’t be attending. I felt even more sorry for my daughter, who couldn’t interpret this rather cut-and-dry social scenario through her own sensitivity.

So while I’m sorry for the hurt feeling my child caused another little girl, and for the hard time she gives to the adults in her life, and those at the school, and as much as I want her to take responsibility for her actions, not use her deficits as an excuse, and only exhibit her strengths, she’s kind of right when she says, “It’s the Asperger’s.” And she’s young. And she has high-functioning autism that is not obvious to the average on-looker.

Yes, she’s pretty, smart, and charming most of the time. And yes, she will throw completely socially inappropriate tantrums at times, and not fit properly into the box that she’s supposed to fit into. She’ll possibly be wearing a ridiculously sparkly dress while she’s doing it.

It may not look right to them. But, I’m sorry. It’s the Asperger’s.

By the way, her teacher informed me that she did, in fact, apologize to her friend at school that day. She dug deep. She tried. I’m not sure how she phrased her apology, but it doesn’t matter. I’m certain that she didn’t say it the way I would. She found her own way, and I’m immensely proud of her for that.

Related post: What You Don’t Know About that Wild, Unruly Child

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