Over the summer Henry expressed interest in making some friends. I tried to start working with him on some things he could do to help him in that area. He said it felt like too much work and it just wasn’t worth it. Sure. I get it. We let it go. But as middle school got underway, we felt we needed to address this topic again with him. Our hope was that if he had just one friend, someone he could connect with, it would help him deal with any teasing or bullying. Then we learned that Easter Seals Midwest has a program called PEERS. It’s a curriculum based on the book by Elizabeth A. Laugeson called, The Science of Making Friends: Helping Socially Challenged Teens and Young Adults. They had a session that started in January. Henry was ready to try the program and was quite excited about the class. They have homework every week such as making or receiving a phone call or having a “hangout” with someone. And he has really embraced it! He’s doing great! Until this latest chapter.
They’ve been talking about how to deal with teasing and working on ignoring or pretending they don’t care. Henry just cannot “ignore”. Like, we can’t even say that word because he freaks out. So, now they are working on being able to tease-the-tease. What are things they can say back to someone without actually saying something negative about the teaser. Such as, “Hey Henry, your shoes are so stupid.” Henry could say, “Yeah, whatever.” Or “Why do you care about my shoes?” Also, they are learning physical actions they can do that would suggest to the teaser that they do not care. (ie shrugging shoulders, eye roll, etc.) To practice these things, BDC thought it would be a good idea do some role-playing with him. Fantastic! I can work with him on this!
Sweet Sister Mary Francis Josephine!!!! My brain hurts. The whole idea of the point of role-play is not a concept he seems to be able to grasp. At all. Nope. It did not matter how I explained it or tried to demonstrate the exercise, he just couldn’t do it. I even had him try to tease me so I could show him some examples. He ended up so emotional he cried about it because he said he didn’t want to make fun of me. Or my hair, or my shoes, or socks or my glasses…even though I repeatedly let him know that I knew he didn’t mean it. Ok. Fine. I switched it back to him and asked him what he would say if someone told him his shoes were stupid? His response was, “Well, no one would make fun of my shoes, mom.” Alrighty. What if someone made fun of your shirt? Tears welled up in his eyes and said that someone had done that to him and now he was all emotional again because I triggered it. It didn’t matter if I tried this in first person, second person, third person or fourth person. Either I triggered him with a scenario or the scenario I gave “would never happen”. I need a drink. And I’m not talking about a drink of water.
Let’s try a different approach. Because the 20 other approaches didn’t work, the 21st would. Right? I asked Henry to give me an example of what a kid at school says to him that really bothers him. “J” from his resource class (of course) calls him “Herny”. Perfect. “Ok, Henry, so pretend I’m J. ‘Hey Herny!’” *blank stare from Henry* “Well, Henry…?”
“I’d leave the room.”
“That’s not an option.”
“But that’s what I’d do!”
“Let’s pretend that you can’t leave the room.”
“Well, I can if I ask to go to the restroom! That’s really what I do!”
*serenity now! serenity now!*
“Henry, let’s try this, you’re in your resource class, you cannot leave the room, you cannot move your chair, you cannot get up-”
“But what if I really have to go to the bathroom?”
“We’re pretending that you DON’T have to go to the bathroom but, if you did, the bathroom is broken so it’s closed. All of the bathrooms are closed.”
“But mom, that would never happen. I mean there is no way they could have school if all the bathrooms are closed all day.”
“Henry, in this pretend story the bathroom is.not.an.option.”
Good gods, give me strength!!!
This continues for 45 minutes. FORTY-FIVE minutes! If I shared with you every scenario and approach to it that I tried with him I’d end up with at least 100 pages of material. If I shared with you every response that Henry gave me, we’d have at least 500 pages of material. Ok, maybe not that much. But it sure as hell felt like that much! And so where did this get us?
The same place we started. We began at point A and ended at point A. I may have failed as a parent on this one but by gods I tried. I really, really tried. I’m just going to toss this one back on the PEERS instructor and weep while I get that drink.