Recently Frankie has been exerting his independence more. He is taking driving lessons. He is walking a couple of miles to see friends. He is arranging more meetings with friends for himself. He is "hanging out" at the town square with all the other teenagers. He is more defiant about what he will and won't do, and where he will and won't go. In many ways he is a typical teenager. I never imagined that he would be this independent. I hoped and I dreamed but I was never convinced. Wow.
I am sure that Kristina experiences some of the same emotions when she thinks about Max as the student council president. Who would have ever thought that would happen? With Max's stance on the vending machine and given his frustration with not being able to accomplish what he set out to accomplish, his parents now have to make some decisions. Do they allow him to quit being president? Do they allow him to change schools? Do they intervene? Do they work with him to overcome his frustration? What is the best response?
We are facing a similar challenge with Frankie and football. Since starting high school a year and half ago, he has played on the school football team. Now he is telling us that he wants to quit football. Why does he want to quit? Is it the time commitment? He is missing out on playing his video games. Is it the hard work? Probably not; Frankie seems to enjoy working out with friends. Is he being harassed or teased? It is always nearly impossible to sort out what Frankie's interactions with others are socially unless I am there to observe them. I really can't rely on his assessment of what is happening socially. I am still not sure exactly what the reasons are for him wanting to quit. I think that it is probably related to his not having as much field time during games as he would like. In addition to football, he has been wrestling the past two years. There he has a bigger role on the team. He has a "rep." He always wrestles at matches. Maybe he sees the clear difference. He isn't asking to quit wrestling.
However, as with Max, Frankie isn't able to really understand what it might be like if he doesn't suit up and play next year. A deficit in Autism Spectrum Disorder is the inability to put oneself in the place of another. This problem extends to a person diagnosed with ASD being unable to put himself in the place of his future self. Frankie can't see himself next year sitting in the stands while his friends are on the field. Max can't see what might happen to him or how he might feel or be perceived if he isn't student council president or isn't at his school next year.
Part of parenting any child is to help him or her see the consequences associated with the decisions that he or she makes. This task is difficult with any teenager but it is especially difficult when you are trying to get a teenager diagnosed with ASD to see the consequences of his or her actions.
Ultimately Kristina does a good thing by taking away the reason Max is ready to "quit" on everything. And his dad is right. He would "survive" regardless. But I do have one issue with how Kristina proceeded with her campaign - I wish she had included Max.
I wish she could have shown him how to do the research she was doing. He will need to know how to bend his rigidity, even though this will be a big challenge for him. He will need to see what it takes to present a differing point of view and how to compromise. He probably wouldn't learn all of these skills just from this one instance. However, the positive resolution of this incident would always be a point that his parents could use as a touchstone for a teaching point in the future - when his rigidity and difficulty with projecting into the future threaten to get in his way again. I only hope we are able to come up with as fine a resolution to ours and Frankie's current dilemma. In the meantime, as always, we will keep working to find the best solution.
Written by Roy Q. Sanders, M.D.
In this episode of Parenthood, Kristina learns there are innovative approaches to getting healthy foods in schools. For ideas on getting healthier food in your child's school, visit the Healthier Middle Schools program.