Raising children with special needs changes the way most run-of-the-mill parents see childhood and its inherent risks. Our concerns and fears move quickly from “Will they be picked last in gym class?” to “Will they make it through school?” From, “Will anyone show up to their birthday party?” to “Will they end up another statistic, like an addict, or fall victim to suicide?”
Every parent worries, but when you raise what I call an extreme child, it’s like walking on eggshells in your own home. Every emotion can be explosive, and most are unpredictable. Feelings cause frustration, and most extreme children struggle with articulation and expression. These difficulties cause major riffs when children are young and trying to navigate the treacherous waters of friendship.
Here are five reasons why extreme children sometimes walk the fine line between loner and lonely:
1. Our Kids Are Very Literal
When your child is on the Autism Spectrum, diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or one of a myriad other diagnoses, they tend to live in a black-and-white world. Their diagnoses do not affect their ability to see in color, but they do weigh heavily on their success in grasping basic social constructs—such as sarcasm or joking.
You can’t ask my son why some commonly shared jokes are funny or you might get a very serious response like my friend received from her son, who is on the spectrum: “Mom, I do not know why people keep telling Uranus jokes.”
He isn’t too young to understand. In fact, many of our kiddos are academically advanced beyond their years. But their emotional age is stunted in some way, creating a chasm where is comes to relating to others their age.
2. Our Kids Demand Fairness
Because of their black-and-white world, our kiddos require a sense of fairness when playing games, playing dress up, or playing house. It doesn’t matter what the rules are or who made them, it is important that everyone follow the rules and that each player/participant is treated equally and fairly.
These students can be sent into complete meltdown mode if one person receives more of an advantage than another, if they do not feel they were treated fairly, or if they notice someone cheating. This causes other kids to respond with a sense of annoyance or frustration to our kids when our kids insist that everything be equal or fair.
3. Our Kids Can Be Bossy/Controlling
Many of our kids enjoy being organized and having things together before starting to play a game or a role-play activity — playing cops and robbers or teacher. They want to know that their pretend desk is set up just right and all of the items on it are color-coded and in order. So when another child comes in eager to play and messes something up, it can cause our little ones to turn into dominating CEOs of the playground.
No child looks for that in a friendship, so our kids are sometimes ostracized by the majority of the class.
4. Our Kids Have Trouble Problem-Solving
Even though many students and children with mental health concerns or behavioral diagnoses are academically advanced, because of their struggles to relate to their peers, they generally falter when attempting to problem solve. They can sweep through advanced mathematics without hesitation, but that is no match for building rapport with classmates and walking themselves through trouble on the playground.
Because our children struggle to identify emotions and articulate feelings of frustration, this can become a recipe for an explosion in times of trouble. Other kids have trouble understanding why our kids may have outbursts of anger instead of talking through things as they have been taught. This makes our kids outcasts or they are made fun of by their classmates.
5. Our Kids Struggle to Follow Directions/Rules With Multiple Steps
Daydreaming, inattentiveness, or a lack of impulse control all have our children struggling to keep up. This leaves our children in a constant battle to maintain pace, and it can make them feel like they are less than, bad, or not enough.
Add to this their trouble with articulating feelings or identifying emotions, and a close game on the playground may result in a meltdown or explosion of behavior for an extreme child. As parents, we cannot always protect our children from this, but we can help them to debrief the situation and focus on how they could respond more appropriately the next time, once they’ve calmed down.