A Page of the Aspergers Chronicles

This essay was written for my Behavioral Economics Class.  It was supposed to be 500-800 words.  That is really difficult and a challenge to write a bunch of stuff and then have to delete it down to the bare bones.  They give you a break and allow 880 words; but if you go over, you cannot save and submit your essay.  Makes sense, as the graders don’t want to receive tomes.  But (don’t tell anyone) I sort of cheated.  A couple times I used dashes and other ways to link words together without a space and so stay under the minimum.  Where there’s a will and a bit of chutzpah; there’s always a way.

Intro:  I understand this assignment is supposed to be a structured essay with citations.  There was a time when I did this well, but it has been thirty years since college. So, if my style of conversational tone and humorous outlook bleed too much and deviate from the parameters – oh well.  Now that I am old, I can wear purple, and do just about anything else I want.

I am the mother of an 18-year-old with Aspergers.  Joshua * is a high school senior headed to University in the fall.  That teens are stubborn is common knowledge and one hardly needs a research study for documentation. Teens with Asperger’s are all the more stubborn due to their difficulty adjusting to social environments, awareness of thoughts and feelings of others and sensory difficulties. This is counterproductive, because acquiring social thinking skills and accepting feedback of capable mentors may be the difference between (1) a young adult who completes their education, becomes gainfully employed, lives independently and enjoys relationships (2) a 35-year-old who plays video games all day, still lives at home and whines on social media about how unfair the world is.

So, while an overall goal for my son prior to  leaving the safety and support of home is to help him grow into a (1) and avoid the fate of a (2); one current goal is to work on his appearance self-monitoring.  Joshua is meticulous about hygiene in the area of his bodily cleanliness and clothing.  However, he is recalcitrant in regard to shaving regularly and completely, dressing appropriately and keeping his enviable curly, golden brown locks styled or trimmed. Could a new decision=changed default preferences?

There is a history of behavioral techniques that either did not work or would not be feasible long-term.  Hence the meme, “If you know one kid with Asperger’s, you know one kid with Asperger’s.”  Predictably, a lot of trial and error; hit or miss is involved.

Once the family was preparing to go out to dinner for my husband’s birthday.  Dad asked Joshua to shave and change his appropriate-for-lounging-around-the-house-but-not-for dinner-at-a-nice-restaurant clothing (even in casual Southern California.)  “Why does it matter?  I’m not hurting anyone,” Joshua insisted.  Dad explained that if Joshua failed to comply, he could stay home.  That seemed rather harsh, but Roland* has never been the disciplinarian, and when I got in the car, Joshua was triumphantly there too; ratty shirt, loose sweatpants, unshaven.  Josh knows his dad makes threats and rarely follows through.

Details about the facial hair:  A nice, well-maintained beard or even the two-day growth look which the millennials consider sexy wouldn’t be problematic.  However, Joshua sported a patchy mess plus thick sideburns that haven’t been in style since I was in high school.

Research demonstrates that a teen is more likely to listen to a friend if they tune out family suggestions. So, I enlisted his best pal Will* to apply peer pressure.  “Dude, those sideburns went out in the 70’s.  This isn’t the Partridge Family.”  This was to no avail.

The next day I was shocked to see Joshua in the bathroom, electric razor in hand.  I waited until he was finished as I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of this magical moment.  “You look great!  I love to see your handsome face. I guess you got tired of the face fuzz?  I tried to sound casual.  “No,” Joshua replied.  He pulled some bills out of his pocket.  “Dad gave me $50.”  Perhaps this is stretching the parameters of Dan’s research a bit, but we know that when you pay someone for something that they would (or should) do for free, you have to pay them adequately.  But Joshua’s dad wasn’t thinking about the long-term implications of his incentive (read bribe.)  Once a financial reward or penalty is employed, withdrawing it can lead to a worse situation (daycare example).  Totaling the pain of paying, Josh needed to shave twice a week, which would add up to $100 per week, with a yearly expenditure of almost $5,000.00  At that rate, we could either afford to pay our son’s University tuition, or keep him clean shaven.

Ready to tear my own hair out in frustration, a flash of insight appeared.  A few days ago I picked up Joshua wearing a hastily donned knit top from one of my thinner incarnations.  Currently, I am over fifty, carrying at least twenty-five extra pounds; and that is being generous.  Although hidden from sight, except for my son once he entered the car, Joshua expressed his displeasure, repeatedly with disgust,  at how unattractive my extraneous matter appeared over tight-not-so-skinny jeans, and evidenced discomfort with proximity, insisting a change when we arrived home, and that I agree to not subject him to such offensive exposure again.

I propose an experiment; a contractual arrangement.  Mom will cover the muffin top as long as Joshua achieves/maintains a presentable appearance according to negotiated standards.  However, if Joshua fails to comply with the grooming code, mom won’t either.  Instead of picking Josh up at the train, mom will meet him outside his last class.  No need to purchase materials for this research project; I have a closet full of size eights to stretch over my fourteen frame.

Ariely, D. & Norton, M. I. (2008). How actions create—not just reveal—preferences. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12(1). (Working paper version.)

Recognition of faux pas by normally developing children and children with Aspergersyndrome or high-functioning autism

S Baron-Cohen, (Essayist’s note: the first author is comedian Sasha Baron-Cohen’s first cousin, and an adult with Aspergers.) M O’Riordan, V Stone, R Jones… – Journal of autism and …, 1999 – Springer

“Growing up on the Spectrum,”  By Lynn Kern Koegel, Claire Scovell LaZebnik (Feb 23, 2010), p. 162

Parenting a Teen or Young Adult with Asperger Syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder): 325 Ideas, Insights, Tips and… by Brenda Boyd (Oct 21, 2013)

The Parent’s Guide to College for Students on the Autism Spectrum by Jane Thierfeld Brown, EdD, Lorraine Wolf and PhD (Jan 10, 2012)

Thinking About You, Thinking About Me by Michelle Garcia Winner (Sep 2007)

Socially Curious and Curiously Social: A Social Thinking Guidebook for Bright Teens and Young Adults by Michelle Garcia Winner and Pamela Crooke (Mar 1, 2011)

Social Fortune or Social Fate by Michelle Garcia Winner and Pam Crooke (2011)

https://www.socialthinking.com/Michelle Garcia Winner.

Warning – by Jenny Joseph. When I am an old woman I shall wear purple