Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Importance of Role Models

I know there is a school of thought that autistic persons cannot form attachments as if they were neurotypical persons. Perhaps it’s because they don’t understand social relationships in the same way or perhaps since they can’t express themselves in NT fashion the psychological world just assumed that the attachments were different. I don’t really know. But one thing I do know is that the boys are very attached to their father. Right now they are both out with hubby and I am alone and it is quiet here on a Sunday morning.

I got to watch my news shows and clean the kitchen and actually bathe in the lack of sound throughout the house. I truly liked it, but I think the thing I liked the best is the fact that the boys love being around their father. I know they look up to him a great deal. Collegeman calls him “the wise sage.” HSB will do for hubby what he won’t do for me and he doesn’t give hubby a hard time.

Truthfully I do think this is age appropriate. It is normal for a teenage boy, to pull away from his mother. She soon may not longer be the most important woman in their lives and he needs to establish boundaries for that. A young male needs to set up his development to basically replace his mother as his primary female companion. I am not upset. Anytime the boys do something that is age appropriate I do a little jig inside. I just wish that there was a girl to go along with this normal development for both boys. I would prefer, however, that they would listen better to me when I tell them something though.

I know I have mentioned that if the school really wants HSB to do something and he is giving them a hard time, they use me as a weapon against him. Now this is just because I am the only one who can ruin his life. I am the parent who is home constantly and I am the parent who oversees the punishment. So I become the bad guy. That is ok. I don’t mind playing the bad guy. Someone has to. It is also true that hubby expects proper things from them and appropriate behavior as well. But I suppose he, in a very masculine way, handles it very differently than I do. I also think that when he instructs them they see that it is coming from an adult male so he has to know what he is talking about. I don’t even think this is a conscience decision or version of reality on their part.

I also know that they also do much better in life whenever their coaches and aides have been male. They seem to need that male role model very badly. I know most children, even if they don’t think so, need to have positive role models and in the absence of ones at home they seek them out elsewhere. I think this is why actors and athletes have become so important in our day and age. Well, athletes always were important role models. If you go back to ancient Rome, the gladiator was the equivalent of today’s sports superstar. But the reality is that young persons need these role models and that it is important that they be found and employed in our children’s upbringing.

I suppose this leads me to think about the single parent, who neither has the time nor may be of the wrong gender to provide that much needed modeling. I had a friend who actually signed her NT child up for Big Brother- Big Sisters since she had to spend so much time with her classically autistic child. She had no family who could step in and help so she found a total stranger who was willing to fit the bill. She had been very pleased with the program.

I also know that there are Boys and Girls Clubs in many areas that provide support and help for families. As do your local YMCA’s or YMHA’s (JCC's) in the area. Many churches and synagogues have youth groups and youth leaders who can provide a child with a much needed role models. Another friend had signed her aspie son up with the youth group at her Methodist church. She really liked the youth minister and her son was happily welcomed into the fold. This was just an added benefit for her son, as his dad was at home, but sometimes even when you live in a two-parent household you can look for additional support.

I would also have to say that one of the nicest parts of this past year for collegeman was that for the first time in a long time, one of his coaches was a very lovely young man. He has a family of his own and has gone back to school to become a special education teacher. His young daughter has an autism spectrum disorder. He is a veteran of the First Gulf War and had gone into business before his child was diagnosed. He is active in his church; in fact one of his references was for his priest. All I know is that collegeman did really well around him and seemed to open up in many ways socially. This made the coach very pleased that collegeman could feel so comfortable with him. I also think in many ways it showed the coach that there is a wonderful future out there for his child as well.

Collegeman has also gotten involved with the track team and will be working a little with the track coach this June to help in the organization of equipment and just to get to know the coach a little better before the fall. The track coach is the husband of one of collegeman’s other classroom coaches. Here is another version of a family man who works and has a family and who holds people to a particular expectation; another good role model for collegeman.

HSB has many good male role models besides his father too. While he has mostly had female teachers and TAs, he has had some very nice male teachers. Again these are always the classes he seems to do better in. He identifies I think, with the male and how the male is supposed to act. I do not think it’s really because the women coddle him. For awhile I had been afraid that that was the reality. You know big brown eyes and chubby cheeks. That all important Cheshire cat grin and the sad little helpless boy look. But that is not the case anymore. Now that HSB is growing up, almost 200 pounds and is proudly sporting a mustache and some chin hair, I don’t think he is seen as someone who can get away with nonsense from anyone. But the men never really seemed to give in to his royal cuteness ever. They seemed to always expect things from him. Don’t know if it just part of the male psyche when they see another male. Don’t know if it is social conditioning that they all expect more from another male. Just know that for HSB it is a good thing.

So I have found that adult male role models are so helpful and necessary for the boys. I do not want to leave it to the sports stars and actors to teach my children what a man is supposed to be. I do not think that the cheaters and liars among the athletes and actors is something I want my boys to think is a good thing. Here is too much drug use, infidelity, amoral behavior and cruelty to others, including defenseless animals, for my taste that anyone should think well of too many of them.

But then again, this past weekend’s Baseball episode where the umpire miscalled an out as safe and cost a young pitcher a perfect game does come to mind to teach true sportsmanship. For in the end when Bud Selig, the Baseball Commissioner refused to rescind the call and left the run as in, depriving the young man of a perfect game, the pitcher took it all in stride. The umpire cried when asked about it though, which was an amazing thing to see. But the pitcher hugged the umpire, and the fans gave the umpire a standing ovation. Sometimes in life you make human mistakes. While it did something in a record book, the important thing here to remember is that the umpire, the pitcher, his team and his fans acted and behaved with true grace and sportsmanship. Here is something to remind our children to look up to and when we teach that all important skill of honesty and integrity I think we can point to this episode.

Another role model that is so important to discuss is that of the service person willing to lay down their life for their country. Today is June 6, the 66th anniversary of D-Day. If anyone ever forgets what D-Day was like all you have to do is watch the first 30 minutes of Saving Private Ryan. If you ever want to be reminded of bravery under fire, watch the story from the Vietnam War called Hamburger Hill. If you ever want to watch bravery under fire, the very long and episodic The Alamo, will also do the trick. One recent HBO movie about the recent Iraq conflict comes to mind Taking Chance. I highly recommend it for it reminds us all of the heroes among us. Personally I watch the reading of the names on September 11th every year to remember, just because I make sure, someone outside the list of survivor families, actually still cares. (I know I am also not alone in wanting to give remembrance on that day.) I teach the boys that role models are not always the ones you see right in front of you, but they are the ones you should never forget.

Role modeling for our children is so important. You need to work hard to find the right balance and know when to let go and let others do the job. My boys do not need me for a role model. They need a male. Luckily they have their father. It is so very important to remember, that while we talk about our children modeling their behavior as part of their therapy and ongoing learning concerning the human social condition, adult role behavior is so very important to include in the program.