A timely conversation with my son

A couple of days ago, my son brought up something that happened in his High School band, not to him, but to someone else. He was very upset about it.

It appears that one of his friends didn’t get an opportunity everyone in the section felt like he should. From what my son told me, I can understand the confusion and frustration.

Most of all, my son said, was the explanation his friend got from the director. Of course, his friend asked the infamous “why” question that seems so logical and natural, yet is often met with surprising disdain or illogical responses. That happened in this case, where the answers, especially one, didn’t make much sense. I doubt that requires a formal diagnosis of autism to come to that conclusion.

My son’s friend was seemingly being “punished,” judged unfairly, out of context, without given a chance to prove he was up for the task. It all sounded sketchy, though one can’t know for certain. My son accepts there could be reasons his friend wasn’t told, but it also could be a mistake for those in charge. According to my son, his friend had been practicing dutifully for some time, preparing for an audition. Instead, he didn’t really even get a chance, as the director decided based on a rather dubious situation in the past, where his friend was not prepared but was willing to step in and try. If I understand the facts correctly, his friend was punished for being helpful and subsequently not given a chance to demonstrate he’d fixed whatever deficiencies he had in his playing, especially in a proper context and not one where he couldn’t be fairly judged.

“You may never know why.”

It so happens that on the very day my son talked to me about his situation, I was trying to forget about very traumatic events at my previous job while preparing to go to my new job. I was being mindful not to make conversation about me, and I told my son that. However, I did take the chance to explain some of the similarities, as best I could tell, between what happened to his friend and some of my experiences.

When I asked my son if he was considering quitting band – something I think would most certainly be a horrible idea – he said that, even though he’s not always happy, he wants to see his friends. I also asked what else he’d do instead, and he said that was the problem. I have said the same thing regarding returning to work. What else am I going to be doing?

My son made the astute observation that if he weren’t in band, he’d still be upset about what had happened, but then additionally be upset because he wasn’t there. I told him he was right, as I’ve been living that scenario for some time!

If nothing else, my perseverance to find and start a new job has hopefully demonstrated to my kids to never give up. They know my last job was very stressful, especially the final year or two, and I’ve been able to share some of those general reasons with my children, when it’s pertained to present decisions they are making.

It’s not easy. This is not easy for my son, his friend, or anyone else involved. Did one or two people have it out for his friend unfairly? I don’t know. Did someone make a mistake? Probably. Are they likely to admit it? Based on my experience, no.

One thing I told my son was there is no point to continuing asking. People who are unwilling to explain their actions or do so truthfully are not likely to suddenly change. Some people seem to lack that ability or desire, as much as that’s counterintuitive for some of us. They will allow you to crash and burn rather than admit they, even if they have a decent reason, made a mistake.

On the flip side, like me, he’s often been too eager to apologize the moment he believes he may have made a mistake. Fortunately, he’s gotten better at recognizing this. Getting him into therapy at a young age has been very helpful. Life is still a challenge, but I am trying to help my children as best I can.

Here are some of the autistic (or general) lessons I got to share with my son, though he already seemed to understand most of them:

  1. People are frequently illogical.
  2. People make mistakes.
  3. Many people don’t like to admit their mistakes.
  4. Not all mistakes are equally harmful, but it can be tricky to sort out.
  5. Don’t expect apologies or good explanations when someone upsets you.
  6. Don’t invalidate your feelings.
  7. It’s OK to be upset or sad and to express that, even if others invalidate you.
  8. It’s good to talk to others about your feelings. (Well, in theory; it doesn’t seem to always work out for me.)
  9. How do people make you feel about yourself?
  10. Some people will hurt you even as you are defending them. Sadly, they just don’t care (as my boss liked to tell me.)
  11. Just because you forgive someone doesn’t mean they will forgive you, even if their mistakes have hurt you worse than you have hurt them.
  12. The people least likely to apologize are usually the ones who have caused the most pain. While you are apologizing to them for doing something that made them hurt you, they will already be figuring out how to hurt you even more.
  13. Some people hurt others because they find it enjoyable. It doesn’t make sense.
  14. Trust your intuition, but realize you could be wrong.
  15. Other people have intuitions too. Some people don’t seem to have much intuition at all.
  16. You probably don’t have all the facts.
  17. Nobody most likely has all the facts.
  18. Balance logic and emotion. This is key!
  19. You won’t get all the answers!
  20. No two situations are the same.
  21. People will let you down. That is a guarantee.

22. Don’t try to fix all the problems.

  1. Your friend appreciates you for just being there for him, and he knows you can’t really do anything about this situation.

It’s been a very difficult week for me, but it has been for my son as well. It has been for billions of other people, I’m certain. There are enough illogical decisions made by humans who are, for a variety of reasons, overly emotional from time to time. It’s a wonder our species still exists.

I hope my son’s brain can handle the stresses with his High School band. It’s frustrating, but I hope he can learn, much earlier than I did, about how neurotypical people think and act. I’d like to think he has some advantage, and, at least, he is not being made fun of by his parents (and others) for the first thirty or forty years of his life.

And, the friend he feels bad for and was defending probably is not going to turn on him. He’s seen what can go wrong when you defend the wrong people. However, when my wife does it, it allows bad things to continue to happen to others – typically to me. Likewise, when I defend others, the result tends to be the same. Either way, I feel like I’m the one who gets hurt. So, I hope I can help him avoid being both victimized and subsequently minimized.

In this case, he should be OK. For one, his father is listening and does understand, even though I’m still learning. He has good tips for me as well! I do worry about the future of my children because I have too many wounds to count from people I thought were my friends but turned out to be only “friendly,” only for as long as they could use me for something. (Then, they go on to the next “friend.”) My experiences with my job and my family (parents) in general this past couple of years certainly haven’t helped. We have some solidarity in being misunderstood.

For now, I’m sticking to my “friendly, not friends” approach with people. And, I’m so exhausted of being hurt that it feels good to not care so much about silly neurotypical concepts anyway. Those tend to backfire for autistics, probably because we are actually doing them without knowing they were only hypothetical. Friendships may all be hypothetical! Yes. They might as well be. I’m glad my son has some friends now, and I hope he always will, as long as they are as good to him as he cares about them. I worry he’s already made them too many cookies, an act of sincere kindness, but one that can easily be exploited or trivialized. But, that’s another story.

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