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Role Model

I’ve previously alluded to Mr. Sowder asking me to class to discuss Simon’s assertiveness. Or, rather, his lack thereof. When another boy in class or on the playground gets too rough with Simon, he dutifully says exactly what the school counselor taught him to say:

“No. Stop. I don’t like it when you do that.”

His voice is not raised, and his tone remains polite.* And the other boy? Well, he does nothing of course! It’s like he doesn’t even hear Simon. Meanwhile, Simon grows increasingly perplexed because he doesn’t understand why he’s being pushed/sat on/yanked on in the first place and really doesn’t understand why his friends don’t listen when asked politely. He wouldn’t do any of these things. He’d listen to his friends. Of course, he’d rather play a real game like soccer or basketball than some chaotic chasing game in the first place, which is part of the problem.**

It doesn’t pay to be old for you age at recess.

Sowder suggested we act out some scenarios to help Simon, read some good books on the topic, and possibly even put Simon in a more contact-oriented sport or the martial arts. I don’t have much interest in the third, but the first two ideas are solid. So we talked about how to assert oneself without breaking the rules, and we acted out some common scenarios. Simon understood us a little. And then something wonderfully terrible happened.

It was at our last soccer game. One of the boys on our team, I’ll just call him C, has Asperger’s and was a coaching challenge throughout the season. C would push and/or trip kids at every game or practice.*** His parents deferred to the coaches’ authority, but honestly, we were all just parent volunteers, and dealing with C was way above our pay grade. Plus, it’s hard enough to corral eight other six- and seven-year-olds for a practice drill (one other kid had attention and maturity issues); it’s impossible to do that while providing constant vigilance for another.

As a result, I regret to report that many of the kids got pushed or elbowed at least once per game or practice. We did our best, but it often wasn’t good enough; I feel bad for the other players. Anyway, fast forward to our last game of the season. C’s last practice had been disastrous (I had to pull him out), so I was watching extra closely in the game. And sure enough, minutes if not seconds after being put in the game, he threw an elbow and hit Simon’s friend Declan right in the stomach.

I signaled the ref and went to pull C from the game. And Declan—poor, polite Declan who loves soccer and had taken one too many elbows or shoves all season—blew his stack:

“Stop hitting me!” he screamed. “Just stop! Why are you always hitting and shoving people? What’s wrong with you? Stop it!”

Declan’s face was red, and his voice was loud and assertive. He meant business. But he did not hit, shove, or elbow back. He blew his stack while following all the good-boy ground rules. I wanted to hug him, and not just because he was hurt after being elbowed.

In the end, Declan resumed play. C watched from the sidelines with his parents. And Simon and I had a great talk about what happened in the car. “Be like Declan,” I advised. “He had it exactly right.”

I am thrilled to report that when Simon’s best friend got too physical with him one day last week, Simon started with his usual line. When that didn’t work, he trotted out a loud and angry sounding “No! Stop it! Why are you pushing me?” And you know what? It worked!

Standing up to a friend is totally different from standing up to a stranger. But it’s a start, and I’m thrilled that Simon at last made some progress. I’m also really, really grateful to Declan for showing him the way. And I feel more thanĀ  little dirty that I benefited from a sweet seven-year-old’s distress.

*His tone was polite because he is almost always polite. In fact, Simon has the best behavior in his class. I know this because he finished his class star chart (for good behavior) more than a week earlier than the next best behaved kids in class, both of whom are (not surprisingly) girls. The words “polite” and “well mannered” feature prominently on every single report card. Now that his politeness has become a handicap, I feel like I can state it plainly without being an obnoxious braggart.

**At the school spring festival last Friday, Simon spent the entire time playing soccer (what else?) with older boys. Much older—most of them looked to be in 4th or 5th grade. No issues arose from this. In fact, at one point Matt overhead a kid taunt his friend with this zinger: “Man, you just got schooled by a kindergartener!” He’s also finding gym days less traumatic now that he has found the two or three other kindergarten boys interested in playing basketball with him.

***Poor C also had difficulty following the game now that he plays in the older division. With its spacing, need for coordination, and focus on non-verbal communication and cooperation with peers, I’m not convinced that soccer is a great fit for the child with Asperger’s. It certainly isn’t a good fit for this particular child. I’m working on a way to communicate this to the league steering committee without sounding unkind or impatient.

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