Now here is that letter itself:
My daughter is eleven and she was diagnosed with Asperger's this February. I have a hard time being brief, but I'm going to try. We didn't consult for help until she was clearly having an abysmal time at school with other kids and literally believing she was an alien who wasn't "made" for family and friends, kindness and respect, and wanted to die of loneliness and the despair of not being able to do anything right or alternately force her gregarious social self to become a loner who used her isolation to protect herself from the whole business.
At five, I sent my daughter to an alternative school with a child-led pedagogy and a beautiful community-based learning environment. Lots of opportunities for freedom and responsibility, leadership, creativity, etc. I didn't know she was on the spectrum, but I did know she had a strong personality and that she was likely to be singled out for it. Part of my hope was that she would not be labelled and pathologized at this school, but rather supported in developing her strengths and the necessary skills to use her personal power to be a leader without being a tyrant, etc. The school has done a beautiful job of focusing on her strengths, but... I wish I'd had more information about her challenges sooner.
Now, I have a child who thinks she is a freak, who contemptuously rejects the forms that consideration for others takes, as well as not quite grasping why these things are important (which, being at *least* half-aspie myself, I understand) OR who hates herself for not doing the things she knows she could be doing to make relationships better and feeling deep shame and anxiety as a result. Sometimes it feels like she apologizes for simply existing and being human with human needs.
I want my daughter to be herself and be okay, I always have. I want to celebrate her creativity, her caring for vulnerable beings, her beautiful voice, her awareness of deep subtle things, her sensitivity, her earnest efforts... and I want to see her less crippled by the anxiety and shame of trying to navigate the NT social world and failing. She tries so very hard, she does what seem to be the "right" things and still it doesn't work. She doesn't trust any "help" to actually be helpful for her. And my heart breaks because I remember my own struggles to grasp the importance of manners and social graces, I remember how much it made me feel like it was all about making myself small and not asking for anything, not expressing my truth, my feelings, my needs, pushing them so far away that I couldn't even identify them myself because otherwise they would overwhelm me with their urgency and sabotage my efforts to fit in, to be safe, to stay out of trouble. I was an adult before I made any peace at all with these things... but I survived because I am academically gifted and creative and my special interest is human emotion and behaviour itself. My daughter hates academics, loves art, and really doesn't care why people do what they do.
I have no idea how to help her. Part of me wants to help her learn the NT social rules, not based on good or bad, but just on the kinds of responses their presence or absence evokes in others (myself included). I want to support her to be able to make her way in the NT world... and, I also want to be sensitive to her needs for integrity, for the dignity of her own being. I want to let her be different and celebrate that - but at 11 she sees nothing to celebrate in being a freak as she puts it, and none of the strengths I see in her matter one iota to her in the face of her difficulties. She hates her Aspergers, hates herself by extension, and experiences the entire world as mean and full of personal insult and sabotage... Trying to show her that there are things she can do to help make things better with other people just translates in her heart to the belief that I'm saying it's her fault they are mean to her. In those moments, she believes that I think she deserves it. Which I most certainly do not. I don't know how to help, and I don't think she's ready to try to understand why other kids respond to her like this. It just hurts too much.
It's so hard when we are told (and I know because of who I am) that she can learn to fit in and be the "normal" she so desperately wants to be... and yet trying is such a complex proposition for her, so full of earnestness and anxiety and franticness and shame. And I know that, if she is anything like me, the world will eventually see her as normal, expect her to *be* normal and know all the things instinctively that "normal" people know and do... but inside she will never quite feel she belongs, when she is tired and stressed, she will still transgress the rules and be seen as socially inept, long-term friends will still tire of her innate processing of the world through her own experience, her use of sharing to connect instead of listening, and eventually object loudly or leave. And she doesn't have the self-containment that I did as a a child and now. I'm not my mother and I haven't forced my daughter into a box of stifling social appropriateness or taught her that intense emotional distress gets punished or ignored. Maybe that was a disservice, as her peers certainly have different ideas about those things...
She is seen as normal, but spoiled and childish, defiant and impulsive. Sometimes, I wonder if it's better to be seen as one who is not "normal", who is atypical, who has a reason or an excuse to be different, but then that often translates to sympathy for a broken thing, and she is not broken, though she feels that way. Compassion is in short supply somewhere lost between unrealistic expectations and dismissive pity. I don't which is better/worse.
It's taken me years to get over myself in my reaction to her hostile and "disrespectful" behaviours to understand her rage as protective, to learn to reach beneath it to touch her vulnerability, to discover her distress, to name it so she knows she is seen, to hold her in it. Except now, she has learned to reach her vulnerability herself and own it, and she has no skills to manage her anxiety, her shame, her hurt in a world that doesn't see her, doesn't respond in ways she experiences as caring. And she doesn't want to learn the skills she is aware that kids her age already know: it's humiliating for her. So she gets angry and resentful again.
I try to get help, but I, too, am reaching a point where I don't find the help helpful. I am torn between wanting to help her find the motivation to learn the things that could help alleviate some of her social distress (because when she wants to do something, she is very capable) and wanting her to have supportive help that doesn't try to change her, to cultivate places that can accept and help contain her emotional intensity. She gets too much information about how everything that matters about her is wrong and in need of reshaping. She feels like a baby because she can't do those things. And, I'm also a human being trying to manage my own sensory overwhelm, my own needs for consideration, just like the rest of the world she has to deal with. I can't always accommodate, and I'm not convinced that being accommodated all the time would serve her, either.
It's very confusing and heartbreaking and frustrating. I suppose my question is, with a child who has the potential to "fit in" with the NT world, and who very much wants to but tangles herself in knots trying... do I pursue social skills training and help her shift how she presents herself (which she doesn't really want to do) or do I encourage her to be her Aspie self when on an every day basis, even at home, her self-expression generally gets lost in reactions to her delivery? I want people to be able to see all my daughters wonderful gifts... I want her to be able to see them... but right now, they are so obscured by this pressure (inside of her and out) to get it right. And she's smart enough to have figured out that most kids just would never accept her if she continue to approach them without fundamental changes in how she behaves that really go deep into who she is or isn't. She rebells or tries to mortgage her soul to pull it off and neither gets anyone anywhere.
So much for brevity. Thanks for sitting with me long enough to read all of this. Feel free to excerpt bits if you decide to respond.