Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"Tony" (follow-up)

I wrote about "Tony" two weeks ago, and you guys sent in some thoughtful and interesting analysis, based on how I described Tony's behavior. I'm going to use these comments anonymously, because this is a sensitive subject, but like I said, they're thoughtful and worth sharing. In order of submission, we have the following.

I am a teacher (and we learn to look out for these things), and it sounds like that kid needs to be checked for Oppositional Defiant Disorder. I had a 7th grade student with this problem, and things only get more unpleasant as they get older. Of course, even for a teacher, bringing this sort of thing up with parents can be difficult.

You say he's willful, but maybe it's just something in Tony that is more willful then Tony.

I'm not saying that this next bit might be it or anything like that, but an explanation why this caught my attention.

An aspect of something I got to deal with last year was ADHD. What this is that biochemically the brakes on the brains don't work well.

In ADD this means that thoughts go where-ever they want to go regardless what's in front of someone. The extra H in ADHD, the 'hyperactivity' is basically poor impulse control.

So when someone says to not press this big red button your immediate instinct is to press the button to see what happens. But you can 'catch' the impulse, put it aside and then forget it.

With ADHD it takes a constant effort of willpower just to have something like a stream of consciousness. The willpower it takes to control an impulse is something quite beyond what a kid can do (though an adult might, which is why it was thought that kids 'grew out' of ADHD).

What I am saying is that there might actually be a 'disability' as you put it.
That Tony does what he does because he can't help it. And he then would cry if he's being punished because he tries so hard, and it takes so much effort to do right when he can or not to do worse or not to do wrong all the time.

From your description, it sounds like "Tony" might be a case of High-Functioning Autism. HFA children are pretty normal in most ways: motor skills, cognitive thinking, etc.; but they are almost completely void of basic social skills. Failure to greet/acknowledge people, talking at inappropriate times or speaking on subjects that are irrelevant to the current conversation, focusing obsessively on a single subject, frequent outbursts of expression, inability to relate to peers, routinely drifting off to "own little world." All of these are symptoms of HFA or Asperger's Syndrome, something Bill Gates had a form of as a child, and are part of what's known as Autism Spectrum Disorders.

I speak from experience-- my son was diagnosed as HFA/Asperger's. He's 9 now, and although he has friends at school and gets along well with people in general, he has a very difficult time holding normal conversations with them. When he becomes interested in a certain subject (his current fixation is Transformers-- he can tell you the name of nearly every TF from any series), almost all of his conversations must contain something about that subject, whether it fits or not. Often times, it's extremely difficult to break or interrupt his attention on his favorite subject to get him to focus in class or participate in group activities (he's in Scouts) as a result. The thing is, once you understand what's going on with children like this, it becomes difficult to walk the fine line between proper discipline and encouragement with them as an authority figure. But does make it somewhat easier to deal with in general.

Your comment "He's just kind of bizarrely inappropriate, like a kid who's never been around another kid in his whole life and doesn't know how to act" stood out to me.

On a hunch, head to wikipedia for:
Asperger's Syndrome

Ask his dad if "Tony" thinks of the world as a set of black and white rules, not relations of people that have shades of gray between the black and the white.

Also observe if "Tony", when he talks to someone, watches the movement of their mouth instead of the focus of their eyes.

It's not a guarantee, but as variants of autism often go undiagnosed, it's helpful to go through a mental checklist.

Part of autism/Asperger's is not being born with the "relationship manual" already in the brain, and having to learn proper relating by trial and error, and/or direct education of a set of rules.

Autism/Asperger's does not excuse poor behavior, but it can indicate that "good behavior" must be explained, in meticulous detail, not just modeled.

If Tony is somewhere on the spectrum of it, his dad may or may not know, or know, but be in denial.

The above info is offered to you as a way of possibly constructively working on a relationship with Tony, who might have a desperate need for order, structure and rules of behavior, but not know how to ask for it. It may be necessary to specifically state directly to him, "nnn is a rule for anyone on the soccer team" as opposed to "don't go to yyy place because zzz." He might even need "nnn is a rule for you, when you are with this team."

Like I said, thoughtful and interesting analysis of what might be going on with "Tony," and I appreciate you guys taking the time to think about what I wrote and consider the possibilities.

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