Tag Archives: high school

Autism And Adolescence: Preparing For The Storm

1 Aug

I was educated in the 80’s at a girls-only Catholic school that was run by nuns. The school was high on academic excellence, and a high percentage of its graduates went on to achieve some pretty impressive things. At the same time, though, the school fell flat where it came to life skills training, and many of those people who wound up in noteworthy careers also struggled in various areas of their personal lives.

Throughout high school, I frequently found myself being summonsed to the principal’s office. The principal was a mean old nun named Sister Elizabeth, and she hated me simply because I was not a clone of my cousin, who she had taught at a different school several years previously. Every visit to her office was the same, regardless of what alleged infraction had sent me there. First, Sister Elizabeth would ask me why I couldn’t be like my cousin, and then she would put on a grave face and say, “Whether you throw a teaspoonful of mud or a bucketful of mud, you’re still throwing mud.”

What the hell was that supposed to mean?

I mean, I was the shy, socially awkward kid in my peer group. I wasn’t exactly a trouble-maker, and when I did hit a difficult patch in eleventh grade, my troubles were directed towards myself, and barely caused a ripple beyond my immediate group of peers. I was never caught smoking under the bleachers, I never swore at a teacher, and I never had a pack of condoms fall out of my pocket while running down the hall. Interestingly enough, the person who all of this did happen to was never, to my knowledge, sent to see the dreaded Sister Elizabeth.

What the school laughably called “sex education” happened in the form of a couple of talks given to us by outside counselors when I was somewhere around tenth grade. The talks had the following central theme: if you have sex before marriage, you will undoubtedly go through teen pregnancy and a life of poverty and deprivation, and your child will be a juvenile delinquent addicted to drugs, and when you die you will go to hell.

We were given some very basic information about the different forms of contraception, and then told not to use any of them on the grounds that they were a sin. The only acceptable forms of birth control, we were told, were abstinence and the Rhythm Method (which, of course, was reserved strictly for marriage, because of the whole going-to-hell thing associated with sex).

In retrospect, the timing and the subject matter of these sex education talks was kind of funny. By the time we had to listen to them, most of my peers had been sexually active for at least a year and probably knew more about contraception than the people delivering the talks. To my knowledge, there was only one teen pregnancy in my peer group, and it happened after we had all graduated high school.

Things today are very different. Kids are maturing physically at a younger age than my generation did, and for the most part, society seems to have let go of the notion that teens just shouldn’t have sex. There is an acceptance that they are going to do it anyway, so we may as well equip them with the tools and knowledge to do it safely. I am all for that, although I certainly wouldn’t want my boys to be experimenting with sex until they have reached  a certain level of emotional maturity.

The question that is plaguing me is this: how do I deal with this topic where my son with autism is concerned? He may only be turning eight in September, but time flies, and before we know it he will be entering the world of pre-adolescence. His physical maturation will far outpace his social development, and I worry about the time when he will have physical drives that he will not be emotionally equipped to deal with.

And so I have decided to start seeking out resources and advice on this topic now.

That way, when the storm of adolescence hits, I may have a fighting chance of helping my son navigate his way through it all.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alamosbasement/3661120171)

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Spotlight On Friendship: Jenny

8 Jul

Today I want to tell you about my oldest friend. Not “oldest” in the sense of being geriatric, but “oldest” in the sense of being the person who has put up with my nonsense for longer than anyone else.

I met Jenny at the start of fifth grade, when we were both new kids at our school. I remember us standing together at the front of the classroom on our first day, being introduced to our new classmates. Both of us felt as if we were different to the other kids in our class, but we felt an immediate kinship with each other. By recess that day, we had become best friends.

Over the next several years, as we saw friendships form and dissolve all around us, Jenny and I were inseparable. Her personality balanced perfectly with mine. She was the one who was good at art, I was the one who was good at math. She was bubbly and outgoing, I was more reserved. Our core values were the same, and we had enough common interests to be able to bond. But we also had enough diversity to retain our own individuality.

I was shy and socially awkward as a teenager. The only person I could really open up to and be completely myself with was Jenny.

When we were in high school we made a promise to each other, that we would be friends forever, and that when we were old ladies, we would sit together on a porch doing our knitting. When we discovered just how crap at knitting I am, we amended the promise. She would do the knitting, and I would keep the coffee flowing. We’re planning to be manic old ladies, permanently buzzing from caffeine.

In my late teens and early twenties, my life went a little weird. I went away to university, and when I came back, I had learned some very difficult lessons from the School of Hard Knocks. I’m not sure if Jenny realizes how much of a salvation she was for me at that time. I was feeling out of sorts, and she was my friend. I was feeling directionless, and she got me a job in the same office where she was working. I felt adrift, and she was my safe harbour. She helped keep me grounded.

And then, to my eternal shame and regret, I let her down. I did something that hurt her, and that cost me the only true friendship I had ever had.

Life went on, but I never stopped thinking of Jenny and kicking myself for my own stupidity.

A few years after my split with Jenny, I had installed myself in a solid career and bought my own apartment. One evening after I got home from work, my phone rang. I did not immediately recognize the voice on the other end, but then the realization dawned on me: “Holy crap, it’s JENNY!”

We went out for pizza and caught up. I told her I was sorry. She said she forgave me. I cried – tears of regret at having hurt her, and tears of joy that I had my best friend back.

And I really did have her back. Over the next several years, we stood by each other for all of life’s major events. I caught the bouquet at her wedding. When she had a baby she asked me to be the godmother. When I became a mom myself, she was the first person I called when I came home from the hospital. She comforted me at my dad’s funeral, and although she couldn’t be there for my wedding, I know she was thinking of me.

The strongest of friendships can survive any storm. Jenny and I had our storm, and it was a big one. But in the end, our friendship survived, and endures to this day, even though we live on opposite sides of the world.

At some point a few decades from now, a porch somewhere will be waiting for two old ladies, one doing her knitting, the other making coffee.