The Trash Talking Twins.

And my Son’s quick lesson on the Sticks and Stones rule of life.

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Nick with his new hair cut, same as the old cut. / Photo by KidZond.

 

I know my kids. So when my son Nick sat down next to me at the table, I could tell something was wrong. His facial expression was pained, his eyes red rimmed, but no tears. He looked at me and I stopped my conversation with my friend to turn my attention to him.

“What’s up buddy? You okay?” I asked. Of course he wasn’t okay. He was on the verge of tears. Did he get hurt? We were at a local trampoline park. A twisted ankle is fairly common here. But that wasn’t the case.

“Some little kids are being mean, in the dodgeball court.” He said blinking rapidly. I nodded.

“What are they doing?” I asked him.

“Saying mean things, calling us names, calling me names.” He said.

The trampoline park we were at has two dodgeball courts. My son and daughter take lessons at the park, along with a family friends oldest daughter (Their youngest daughter hangs out while the older three are in their lesson). We hang out after the lessons to let the kids play while we adults talk about what is going on in our lives. It’s a nice time for all of us, kids get to play together, we get to catch up.

Rarely is there ever an incident at the trampoline park. Everyone behaves, and the staff are excellent in monitoring kids. They do a great job at keeping teenagers and little kids from mixing so as to avoid possible injuries from kids getting too wild.

But this wasn’t the case, the kids trash talking my son were younger, a set of boys, twins.

Nick was upset, wasn’t sure what to do. He likes playing dodgeball, and has even joined tween games. To the credit of the tweens who usual play with younger kids, they pull their throws, so as not to hurt the younger players. Now he was the older kid, and the younger kids were calling him names. Making fun of his throws, calling him ugly and stupid.

I told him he could do one of two things. Either go play somewhere else, the trampoline park had many activities for him to do, or he could let the boys know he wouldn’t play if they continued to be rude to him. He went with the later.

It didn’t end well.

Ten minutes later my son came back angry, so were our friends two girls. The Trash Talking Twins at first accepted Nick’s peace offer to play, but then went right back to their talk. They became more aggressive and even started to use foul language. This shocked all four of our kids. My friend asked his daughters what happened, I talked to Nick. The story unfolded that the twins cared little about playing nice.

Because of the time, all of us were leaving for the night. Nick kept a look out for the twins, but couldn’t see them. He saw them in their car, but by then it was too late for me to talk to their parents.

Thoughts of Sticks and Stones. 

At home Nick was still talking about the twins. He was still upset at how they talked to him, and as he said “for no reason”, which bothered him most. He was upset, he was angry. I let him know those are normal emotions. I also asked him who else was there playing, he told me no one. And when the four of our kids left, the twins were left alone, no one wanted to play with the rude boys. I told him that is what happens when you are rude to others.

Then he shocked me.

Nick told me he thought about hitting them, about yelling at them, and calling them names. He wanted to hurt them like they had hurt him. But, he felt that was wrong, and it would just get himself into trouble.

I was surprised by this, it was very mature for an 8-year-old to have that restraint. That when twins insulted him, called him an F’er that he kept his cool. He did not lash out in anger, but simply walked away.

The Trash Talking Twins just used words. They didn’t assault him, didn’t hit or push him. Just used words that cut deep. Yet those words stirred an anger in Nick he hadn’t felt before. One that he wanted to solve with violence. Yet he didn’t.

It was a moment for me. My son acted like a Man that night. Not the little boy he is. He could have taken the low road, lashed out, but instead rose above it to walk away. He also confided in me his thoughts and feelings about the incident.

I told him I was proud of him, and that his actions were the correct ones. In this case, walking away was best. If he needed, he could defend himself from a physical assault, yet this wasn’t the case. Talking trash back to the twins would have also gotten him nowhere. It is doubtful they would have cared.

I don’t know the Trash Talking Twins story. I don’t know their upbringing or home life. They were younger, maybe a year younger, maybe a little more. To say that I wasn’t totally shocked by their behavior would be a lie. I’ve known kids like that, even in my day and age.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is walk away from a hostile situation. To turn the other cheek and leave. It is easier to get down in the gutter and slug it out.

Before School today, my son told me he was still upset about the Trash Talking Twins. That he even dreamt about them. This situation, and it’s repercussions, will be with him for a while I think. A life lesson that is a bitter pill to swallow. Like the comeback we all wish we said but didn’t, Nick will be haunted by what he could have done but didn’t. He may not know it now, but in reality he will be a better person for it. A wiser person.

And now the Moral of the Story. 

If you haven’t noticed, the world is full of Trash Talking Twins. Just go on Facebook, or Twitter to find them. Our political leaders do it all the time, as does those in the Media and even in our entertainment world. These days, we revel in Trash Talk.

Yet we ignore the repercussions of such talk. Although Names will never hurt me may seem true, it isn’t. Like my son, that name calling can lead to thoughts of anger, desires to commit violence. They leave just as much of a lasting impression as being hit.

Most of us will never cross that line, never lash out at someone physically just for something that is said to them. However, as we become more like the Trash Talking Twins, we risk escalating the violent reactions of those we offend. Even from those gentle souls like my son. The other day my son took the high road, but in a world that puts Trash Talking Twins on a pedestal will he always stay on that road? I don’t know. I can only hope so.

 

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Take this stick and swallow your feelings.

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A diagram showing the difference in Male/Female arguments. / Illustration by KidZond – don’t laugh.

 

It was one of those conversations that stick with you. I was in my late twenties, over at a friends, who was in a rocky relationship with his spouse. We were discussing relationships and he drew a diagram like the one above. A very simply diagram.

The purpose of the diagram was to explain how men and women argue, or discuss issues that affect their relationship. Men tend to argue linear. They build on point A to point B, to point C and so on. Women do the same, yet point E may be vitally related to point B, and even point B may involve point Q. Women’s arguments tend to be interconnected.

I was amazed by this revelation, it made so much sense to me at the time. Of course, this diagram is a very broad generalization. Not all men argue in a linear fashion, nor do all women build their arguments like a spiderweb. I’ve often wondered what the marriage therapist was trying to tell my friend and his spouse.

I will say, that over the years, the idea that men and woman look at things differently has stuck with me. I have had discussions with women in my life that I saw the spiderweb, knew I was going to lose the argument and eventually be rolled up in a silken web only to be devoured later. I have also had these conversations with men, usually managers, who find ways to make sure it is your fault.

For the most part, I don’t take credence in the diagram anymore, it’s cute, a generalization, but not accurate.

 

Inside Out

 

Yet the other day the diagram popped back into my head. I had a different perspective on it. One I am still pondering about.

We were at home watching the movie Inside Out again. If you never have seen this 2015 Disney/Pixar movie it is a much watch film. The story revolves around a tween girl named Riley that is uprooted by her fathers new job. They move from Minnesota to San Francisco California. What makes this simple premise work is the little people inside Riley’s head. Her emotions that live inside her head and operate the control room.  For adults, there are a myriad of little gems in the story that will elicit guffaws. From the Train of Thought, to memory of a jingle that just won’t go away. An earworm from Hades.

But what really caught my eye were the Islands. Called the Islands of Personality in the film, these little places were meaningful things in Riley’s life that became so special they have their own place (island) in Riley’s mind. Each island is connected to Headquarters (control room) and the ‘little voices’ inside Riley’s head can look out on the Islands of Personalities. I noticed that the islands were connected by a straight line, like a conduit or synapse to headquarters.

Looking at those connections, and watching my autistic daughter giggle at the movie, made me think about something she has recently started to say. And I wondered, are those connections really a straight line of thought with her?

 

Swallow your feelings

 

About a week ago, my daughter handed me a small stick and told me to “take this stick and swallow your feelings”. She giggled, and so did my son. (I did not swallow the stick, just so you know.) I did asked where this phrase came from. Did it come from a cartoon? A video game? A friend. My son told me that Alexis just said it. She made it up he said. Honestly I am not sure that is true, but wherever it came from, she had taken a liking to the phrase.

She used this phrase most of the week, then on Friday we all sat down in the evening to watch a movie, Inside Out.

That is when the old diagram and the conduits to the Islands of Personalities started to merge in my mind.

What you will find often enough with young autistics, is that when you ask them a question, there is a delay in response. In school, this can sometimes be seen as not knowing the answer to a particular question, but in reality, it is processing time. Autistics seem to have a delayed response. This, I should note, is the appearance to us Neural Typical people. Not necessarily what is going on inside their heads.

With High Functioning Autism, I have found more and more there is scant research and information as to how they think. Most of the research is devoted to making them behave like us, conformity. While that isn’t wholly a bad concept, I personally think it’s a little off. Personally, I would rather they would work with Translation than Conformity.

Translation works like this. My daughter has emotions. She isn’t dead inside. In fact she is vibrant with emotions. She just can’t get them out for you to see. Or when she does, she selects the wrong one. Her islands of personality do not have straight paths, in fact, they are a spiderweb of paths. She has to sort through the tangle web to find the correct response. Sometimes, the paths get crossed, or intertwined. Yet while the character Riley from the movie had Emotions that controlled her from Headquarters via a console, in Alexis’ case, the console is a little glitchy. She may select one emotion, yet another comes up. Much to her chagrin.

These are the things I work on with her. Helping her learn what is the ‘normal’ response to a situation. How to deal with emotionally charged moments, and to seek out the proper response. I don’t force her, I guide her. I ask questions, and if the response is incorrect to what society expects, I do my best to explain. It is not a perfect method, it is time-consuming and well, frustrating at times for both of us.

The common method now is conformity. Basically taking away and giving, to make an autistic conform to societal rules. This method may work better for some, I’m not knocking it, have used it to a degree, yet I don’t feel the carrot and stick method works that well with HFA. They will outsmart you, and use it against you.

 

Spiderwebs

 

It was the combination of the movie, and my old friends diagram, and her new catchphrase that gave me a new insight into my daughters mind. What exactly the stick represents, I really am not sure. Yet swallowing one’s feelings? I have a hunch that is how she sees our world. That maybe, more often than not, she has to swallow her feelings rather than express them. Because expressing her feelings is hard, yet swallowing them? That is easy for her. Better to leave them inside rather than select the wrong emotion.

Yet, it comes with a price. Like the stick in the metaphor, to swallow a stick would be a hard thing to do, getting stuck in one’s throat, tasting nasty and dry. Leaving you with a bad taste, and a sore throat. Emotions, and our ability to express them correctly, is hard enough for those of us that do not fall into the Autistic Spectrum. For autistics, the wrong selection could be catastrophic. So, swallowing the stick is sometimes better than selecting the wrong emotion.