Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Expressing Emotion

As I mentioned in my last post, I have two sons with Asperger Syndrome.  One would think with the same diagnosis, my sons would have identical behaviors.  This is true in some aspects; in others, they are complete opposites.

Such as dealing with emotion.

Big Guy tends to repress his emotions by withdrawing and isolating himself.  I remember in elementary school he would have an occasional meltdown, and I would be surprised to learn of some problem he'd been dealing with for weeks without any indication that something was wrong.  Consequently, there are still things which come out occasionally about past events, and my heart bleeds as wish I would have known what was going on so I could have helped my son navigate through those tough times.

Not so with Little Guy.  His emotions are always on the surface and you know exactly where things stand with him.  I'm sure it's healthier than repression...but it sure can be frustrating as we deal with meltdowns on a daily basis.

As we struggle to help my youngest son learn how to appropriately express his emotions, one key component is first helping him identify what emotion he is feeling.  Many times when he is upset, he knows he's full of "bad" feelings but doesn't understand why he is feeling that way.

For example, I was getting ready yesterday morning when Little Guy came storming into my bathroom.  He had the lid to his Lego bucket in his hand and yelled, "I hate this thing, let's get rid of it!  Let's throw it away right now!  I just want to break it!"  And with that, he threw it violently on the floor.

I happen to know my son loves that lid; it's made of "lego" bumps on the top and he often uses it as a base on which to built castles, houses, etc.  I'd seen him using it earlier in the morning, and I guessed the whole incident was based on something which had gone awry with his building plans.

I picked up the lid and reminded my son about our rule of not throwing things.

"I hate it!  I hate all of my Legos!"

"No, you don't," I said calmly, "You're frustrated and upset because it didn't work the way you wanted it to."

Once I put a label to his feeling - frustration - I was eventually able to calm him down and he went back to playing.  

Of course, yelling and throwing things aren't the best coping mechanisms for expressing emotions, so we work hard with Little Guy to help him learn other ways of handling his feelings.  We've had a recent breakthrough which is very encouraging to us, one which Little Guy began doing on his own.

Twice in the past couple of weeks, I've found messages such as this:

This is a note Little Guy wrote to Middle Guy after he'd spent over 30 minutes unsuccessfully trying to convince him to give him one of his books.  It says "I am SAD!"

While I know it won't happen overnight, my hope is that Little Guy will begin using better coping mechanisms on a more regular basis.  Until then, we'll continue to manage the meltdowns while avoiding thrown objects :).

No comments: