“I cannot believe that you let me go around thinking that I was Asian!” These are the words that my 13 year daughter recently exclaimed as we pulled up at our local supermarket. They were quickly followed by my youngest daughter who is 8 saying “But you are, you are Asian” in the most sincere manner, yet with an underlying tone of fear. I personally let out a small laugh, an inwardly felt a sense of achievement that my daughter had overcome another hurdle in her world.
You see my 13 year old daughter was diagnosed with Asperger’s when she was 10 years old. It was not something that I had previously heard of and I had no idea what she was dealing with on a day to day basis. For me the most frustrating thing is the lack of information about girls with Asperger’s. Studies of girls with Asperger’s are much lower in comparison to boys. Girls demonstrate in different ways to boys, especially when they are young and in my experience this meant that teachers and other professionals do not have the information to help her. It also meant that I was left with feelings of guilt and self doubt about how I as a mother did not recognise signs from an early stage that my daughter was ‘different’.
During the process of her diagnosis I made sure that I researched as much as possible about autism, in particular Asperger’s and I was introduced to the works of Tony Attwood. Tony is amazing, his books are clearly written and as you read through chapter by chapter you feel yourself ticking off a mental check list because he has such a clear understanding. http://www.tonyattwood.com.au/tony-attwood-s-profile A book that I found particularly helpful was :
As a result of her diagnosis and for other various reasons my husband and I decided that I would plan my work around her and home educate her and so for the last three years we have spent a huge amount of time together. This has been a huge learning curve for both of us and I learn, from her, on a daily basis. She is inspirational, she is totally amazing and yes she is the best actress I know. Her acting skills were not something that I tuned into to begin with and in fact I will admit that it took me about a year and a half to click on to what was happening in its full extent.
One example of her acting skills is her introduction to coffee. She started to ask me if we could go the coffee shop and if she could have a coffee. We talked about coffee and how its not good for you, how it is a more grown up drink and after weighing up the pros and cons we decided that an Iced Latte would be a good place to start. My daughter, like most young girls with Asperger’s becomes fixated with things, however I am lucky enough to say that she is also very intelligent and was able to limit her new caffeine addiction to no more than 2 a week. She would become a new person with her iced latte sat in front of her, sipping it like a twenty something on a break from her college work. Her ability to adapt like a chameleon to her new surroundings were astonishing, after all a coffee shop is a pretty noisy, crazy and sensory overloading place. In my mind I was trying to think like her and see what had brought about this latest craze.
Then one morning as we were talking through the latest programmes that she had been watching she mentioned Friends. Ah ha ! My brain kicked in and I too watched an episode or two with her. There it was, a bunch of friends who enjoy life, have a great connection and enjoy plenty of laughs despite any issues they face. Who would not want to try and emulate that To date she has watched every episode of Friends at least seven times and there are 236 episodes.
The more I observed her and the emotions she displayed I realised that Friends was not her first attempt at mimicking and copying others to fit in. Without wishing to expose her to the world, I realised that I had witnessed her acting skills from as young as the age of 4. Those of you who have Asperger’s or if you have a family member with Asperger’s will be all to aware of the difficulties of being 4 and not fitting in like the other children at school. Maybe your only option is to act !
One series in particular that she started watching suddenly resulted in her swearing. It was unlike her and it wasn’t meant in a rude or offensive manner it was purely her copying a comedian who was travelling with his father and who both occasionally liked to use the odd swear word or two. My daughter loved the unique connection between the young comedian and his older father. Something about it made her want to copy it, if only in part.
As I have mentioned in my previous blog Florida plays a big part in our lives, so much so that on one holiday my daughter tried to tie herself to a palm tree so that she would not be able to leave. So it was no surprise that she should be attracted to the fantastic series Fresh off the Boat. https://abc.go.com/shows/fresh-off-the-boat/about-the-show After all the characters face everyday challenges in order to fit in with the people surrounding them with their issues mostly due to the cultural differences. Eddie, the teenage son, in addition also faces the pressures put upon teenagers to fit in to society and is a great actor.
So after watching all the available episodes my daughter started to ask why her nose is not like anyone else’s in the family. She then announced that it was because she is Asian. My daughter, I must point out has blonde hair, blue eyes and is fair skinned. This is where she started to bring in some of Eddie’s characteristics and develop a love of Hip Hop, she would spend time listening to Hip and Hop and learning all about the industry, quoting facts and information at an alarming rate. She was adamant that she was Asian and had an ability to identify with this character. It was frustrating, for us all, my 16 daughter would say to her her “Look you are not bloody Asian”, but she remained steadfast. The obsession was not causing harm to anyone it was just concerning for those of us around her who felt that she was opening herself up to bullying and criticism.
Then one day the sh@t hit the fan ! Like most people with autism she hates, no she loathes the supermarket. It has far too much going on, we have lights, sounds, smells, a whole host of sensory issues that are enough to send her running back to her bed to hide under her duvet and so for her she tries to steer herself away from this chaos and chooses to take her mind somewhere else. She does this by getting my attention and asks me repetitively about something. For others they may see it as her being confrontational but it is her tactic to distract herself from her surroundings. On this particular day she made her focus about asking me if she could get brown contact lenses to change the colour of her eyes. As we stood in line waiting to load our shopping on to the conveyor belt the line of questioning became louder, so much so that I could see that it had attracted the attention of an elderly lady who was loading her shopping in the aisle next to us. My daughter was totally unaware of the lady and nor was she aware that she was taking up some small space which meant that it was harder for the lady to load her shopping. The lady asked my daughter to move, but not in a particularly polite way. For my daughter this was a red rag to the bull, she huffed and she puffed and she turned to me and said “This is all because I am Asian, this is abuse”! To which I had to reply “but you’re not Asian are you”. I have never witnessed such utter confusion upon an old ladies face who probably thought that we were as mad as a box of frogs.
My immediate response was that of leaping to the defence of the old lady, but since then my daughter and I have talked through this situation many times and in fairness to her my daughter saw it as abuse.
I am in the process of helping my daughter understand what is right and wrong behaviour, what is acceptable. It’s tough. The old lady did not demonstrate manners, and she certainly did not take time to think through what she was witnessing. Many people these days have mental health and or other health issues and the people who class themselves as ‘normal’ should take sometime to review their own behaviour. So you see the admission from my daughter that she is not Asian means that she is starting to understand that she has this tendency to search for characters that she feels society accepts and to act out these characters. Sometimes it’s nice to escape for a while into a fantasy, I deny any ‘normal’ person who doesn’t we are all influenced by fashion, the media, TV programmes etc. What she has learnt is that you can take parts of a character and adopt it but when it comes to your physical appearance that’s a harder task in hand.